Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
3 out of 5 stars
It seems like too many TV programs have been avoiding the unusual. There are about five television genres and — with the exception of a few standouts — they all have the same predictable plots. ABC’s new crime-comedy “The Unusuals,” however, merges genres in an attempt to break with often-used molds.
When off-duty NYPD Detective Burt Kowalski is murdered, Casey Schraeger (Amber Tamblyn, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”) is promoted and paired with Kowalski’s former partner, Detective Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner, “28 Weeks Later”) to find the killer. However, Sergeant Harvey Brown (Terry Kinney, “Canterbury’s Law”) reveals to Schraeger that the department is corrupted, and her real job is to uncover the detectives’ many secrets in hopes of nabbing the infiltrator.
“The Unusuals” doesn’t just feature gritty murder crimes. In fact, its best moments come from smaller cases that ordinary crime shows would never think to feature. In the premiere, Detectives Eric Delahoy (Adam Goldberg, “Saving Private Ryan”) and Leo Banks (Harold Perrineau, “Lost”) tried to bring down the man responsible for a number of cat thefts. First disappointed to be stuck with such a dull assignment, they ended up taking it too seriously, and humor ensued when the detectives gave the cat thief a hardcore interrogation, right down to shoving a bright light in his face.
One particularly original element of the show is that it comes back from commercial breaks with amusing broadcasts from dispatch — one instructed officers to watch out for a man dressed as a hot dog who “may or may not be yielding a samurai sword.” The dispatches also provide an excellent example of the level of detail in “The Unusuals”: The hot dog-samurai-swordsman as well as the other suspects described by the dispatch can be seen in the station’s background throughout each episode. These clever moments give “The Unusuals” a style distinct from other crime shows.
“The Unusuals” is comprised of an impressively talented cast, and its characters have well-defined, bizarre personalities. Banks is a safety freak who never removes his bulletproof vest, but his partner Delahoy seems a bit eager to get himself killed in the line of duty. Their opposing natures lead to a genuinely comical relationship, and each actor plays his role commendably.
The most disappointing aspect of “The Unusuals,” though, is that it’s not really that unusual (apart from the wacky subplots). There weren’t many surprises in seeking out Kowalski’s murderer — the romantic chemistry between Schraeger and Walsh is pretty predictable, and the corrupt detective is revealed in the first episode. It’s all a huge letdown for those who like to theorize along with the protagonist. The show’s promotional ads boasted “a different kind of cop show” and shoved the idea down everyone’s throats, but, while “The Unusuals” is definitely not boring, it’s also not the ground-breaking masterpiece ABC makes it out to be.
Still, the characters’ wit and intelligence and the strange cases they try to solve compensate for some of the show’s predictability and unoriginality. These qualities may be lost on those who are put off by the show’s reliance on subtle cleverness and weird subplots rather than its main storyline. Hopefully, new twists will be presented as the series continues and “The Unusuals” will earn a spot among TV’s best.