Here’s the skinny: Dennis Haysbert plays a member of a covert team that works under the U.S. Special Forces. Think of it as the original Mission: Impossible with a bigger budget and bigger explosions. Now take out all the character elements and good performances that made the former what it was, and you get The Unit.
You would think under the pens of such people as Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and David Mamet (Heist), this would make one hell of a series. Instead, I have the impression that CBS wanted to make the show to support a pro-military image. Some of Ryan's and Mamet’s style does creep in with some sub-plots involving the wives of at least three of the members who are often at odds with their husbands professions.
When the script turns away from the women in their lives, the rest of the episodes (the two that I have seen) seem standard issue military adventures. In one, an undercover agent informs the team that a group of terrorists seeks to spread a virus. In another, members of the unit get caught by snipers and Haysbert’s group has to come to the rescue. No one gets killed, the world is saved. The end.
Obviously the name CBS didn’t attract actors such as Haysbert (or actors such as Robert Patrick and Scott Foley, who play the other members of the team). Mamet and Ryan were the drawing point here. Perhaps if these individuals met on a network like HBO, I think the series would have come across better, especially with writers like Mamet and Ryan, who are supposedly experts at crafting conflicted characters.
The actors, including Haysbert, seem to feel uncomfortable with what they are handed. Even when they are together in the field, the chemistry doesn’t seem to exist. In some scenes, it appears Haysbert alone is the only actor able to surpass the low quality of the episodes he’s handed (he’s even given a complete solo at the end of one episode where he takes out the terrorists by himself) while everyone else sits in the background.
On the other hand, that may be good for Haysbert, who later on in 24 took a back seat to the story of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer.
The Unit seems like a poor choice to exploit the talents of such men. I do understand why Shawn Ryan and David Mamet (as well the actors) made the choice, they want to break out of their shells and show their range. Hopefully this series is a stepping stone to something greater that can showcase their talents better – maybe even on CBS.