"Unusuals" brings offbeat humor to cop drama

Mon Apr 6, 2009 9:34pm EDT
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By Randee Dawn

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - "It's the NYPD. If you're not a little confused, you're not paying attention."

That's Det. Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner), a cop with a murdered partner, talking to his replacement, the young Det. Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn) -- just promoted to homicide from vice duty. Why her? Because the 2nd Precinct has secrets, and her new boss, Sgt. Harvey Brown (Terry Kinney), needs an outside man (well, woman) to help him root out troublemakers.

ABC's new hourlong cop procedural features a set of cops that includes a former ballplayer/diner owner; a Dalton school grad hiding her pedigree; a cop with a brain tumor; one who always wears a bulletproof vest; and a Bible thumper who sympathizes over your loss of your partner -- while shrugging that he's probably burning in hell. Behind all that lurks a disembodied dispatch operator voice making random announcements a la "M*A*S*H."

That's a lot of eccentricity, but creator/writer Noah Hawley ("Bones") meshes humor and pathos with deft plotting and dialogue (in the born-again cop's devilish past he committed "wanton acts of teenagery"). If it seems familiar, you're onto something -- producers Denis Leary, Peter Tolan and Jim Serpico have been dancing this tune on FX's "Rescue Me" for five seasons.

The show's far from flawless. There's an odd lack of atmosphere in the squad room (boy, it's quiet) and on the street (despite on-location shoots, New York feels depopulated). And while the decor is sufficiently gritty and industrial, many of the cast look as if they're from "Life on Mars," which this series replaces. When did it become the 1970s again?

That aside, "Unusuals" is a rapid-fire, clever mix of style and content -- with the bonus of having one of TV's best collection of actor orphans: Harold Perrineau ("Lost") and Adam Goldberg ("Entourage") may never get their own shows, but along with "Joan of Arcadia's" Tamblyn and character actor Kinney, they make for an unparalleled ensemble cast.

Overall, a solid setup. Now all "The Unusuals" needs is for someone to start paying attention.

<p>Cast members Jeremy Renner (L) and Amber Tamblyn answer questions during the panel for the ABC series "The Unusuals" at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles January 16, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>