Reading the credits on The Unit drew serious saliva from quality-TV junkies: The Shield’s Shawn Ryan and ace writer-director David Mamet co-created and exec-produced the four-season CBS drama about the Army’s elite Delta Force, and Dennis Haysbert, fresh from his turn on 24, stars. But lofty expectations weren’t met: The Unit played out like an adult (or maybe young-adult) version of The A-Team—a fantastical imagining of a covert counter-intelligence force equipped with moral clarity, superhuman skills, and a MacGyver-like knack for getting out of any scrape.
That said, all four seasons of The Unit are compulsively watchable, and often crackin’ good fun. Haysbert leads a small core of elite soldiers on missions throughout the world—assassinations, hostage extractions, high-stakes poker games, seductions of hottie fellow operators, and more. No matter where newbie Scott Foley, badass Max Martini, and good-natured experts Michael Irby and Demore Barnes end up, they know the language, they know the weapons, they have contacts, and they have targets. It’s a fantasyland version of America as righteous, law-defying roughneck cop of the world, but one so outlandish (even though the series is based on a real operator’s autobiography, Inside Delta Force) that it’s easy to skip over the politics.
It’s harder to skip over the unit wives, who started the series as basically half the show. With their husbands away on secret missions with no fixed return dates, the wives had to be given something to do. While the idea of these ladies keeping a big secret was interesting to explore for a while, it quickly became obvious that the political assassinations were far more interesting than finding out who was sleeping with guest star Summer Glau. In The Unit’s final season, the ladies became wrapped up in a conspiracy and were drafted by the team’s boss, played by Robert Patrick. It was a shark-jumping moment in a series that started halfway over the shark, thus not entirely unwelcome.
Still, the talent was there to make The Unit an engaging lark. Mamet wrote some episodes in each season, which was clear when characters started dropping strange pearls of wisdom and talking over each other. Mamet regulars Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay had lengthy guest arcs, too, playing tricky characters straight out of Heist. (Even Mad Men’s Jon Hamm guested for a while, as a sissified left-wing lawyer hitting on a unit member’s wife.) Those bright spots, coupled with a little forgiveness for mainstream-TV maneuvers, provided loads of half-empty fun.
Key features: Featurettes, deleted scenes, and commentary from Shawn Ryan, much of the cast, and other behind-the-scenes players.