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‘Unit’ benefits from current events, fears

Playwright David Mamet is creator, executive producer
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Jack Bauer is about to have some company. For four years, he and the other members of the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit on Fox’s “24” had to save the world pretty much on their own. Now, reflecting society’s growing awareness of violent extremists, a new TV series has been developed to deal with them.

“The Unit” is notable for several reasons, not the least of which is the involvement of David Mamet, one of America’s great dramatists, as creator and an exec producer. Mamet’s previous experience as a TV action series writer consisted of a single episode of “Hill Street Blues.” Of the 13 episodes in the initial order, Mamet wrote two episodes, directed two and revised others. His teaming up with Shawn Ryan of “The Shield” creates high expectations.

The verdict, based solely on the premiere, is favorable. “The Unit” is filled with thrilling action and heart-pounding adventure. What’s more, it expands the scope of the drama by including military wives, depicted here as being as courageous and steely nerved in their own way as their husbands. Mamet’s best known dramas often wrestle with the nature of the human condition or the impact of contemporary culture. In the premiere, at least, such philosophical musings take a back seat to a meat-and-potatoes style of entertainment (like Mamet’s less well known scripts for “The Untouchables” or “Ronin”), that is no less satisfying.

The testosterone-laden new series was inspired by Eric Haney’s book, “Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counter-terrorist Unit,” an account of his experiences in the covert Army unit deployed to handle messy situations with force and stealth. Each episode is largely self-contained and features a couple of action stories, as well as a glimpse into the homefront, where the cult of secrecy seeps into every facet of domestic life.

Dennis Haysbert, whose character’s assassination on “24” set the current season in motion, stars as Jonas Blane, the team leader, a flesh-and-blood reincarnation of Sgt. Rock of comic book fame. He’s joined by Mack Gerhardt (Max Martini), Charles Grey (Michael Irby), Hector Williams (Demore Barnes) and rookie Bob Brown (Scott Foley). Their commander is Col. Tom Ryan (Robert Patrick), who is tough and morally flawed.

In the opener, while the guys are saving the world in Afghanistan and Idaho, Jonas’ wife, Molly (Regina Taylor) gives a crash course to a reluctant Kim Brown (Audrey Marie Anderson), Bob’s wife, on the new rules of confidentiality that will be imposed on her.

Excellent editing and cinematography maximize the impact of otherwise ordinary special effects. Direction manages to impart thrills while avoiding most of the action cliches.