I believe in New York City police procedurals like I believe in the sun: No matter the day, no matter the time, somewhere on earth the sun is shining — and someone is watching an episode of Law and Order on cable. Tonight, ABC is rolling out a new NYC cop show that hopes to distinguish itself from the other hundred NYC cop shows by virtue of its quirky detectives.
At first glance, The Unusuals looks like just another police precinct where women are under-represented, but the central character in this quirky comedy/drama is the often under-appreciated, always super-talented Amber Tamblyn, and that alone is reason enough for a second look.
Tamblyn plays Det. Casey Shraeger, a former undercover Vice officer who gets transferred to Homicide in tonight’s pilot episode to investigate her co-workers’ secrets. And, lucky for her, everyone in Homicide has a secret — if by “secret” you mean “paralyzing eccentricity.”
One detective’s hyper-fear of early death makes him reluctant to ever take off his bullet-proof vest, while his partner’s secretly untreated brain tumor makes him brash and reckless with both their lives. There’s a Bible-thumper, an egomaniac who refers to himself constantly in the third person and then there’s Tamblyn, whose secret is &mdash SPOILER! — that she comes from old Upper East Side money. (Which she may or may not have taken from Traveling Pants co-star and real life pal Blake Lively/Serena Van der Woodsen.)
Television Without Pity recently interviewed the former Joan of Arcadia star about her return to TV. With characteristic honesty, Tamblyn said she wasn’t a fan of police procedurals, and that she disliked the dialogue for that part of The Unusuals (“I absolutely hate it. Nobody can ever make me like it…”), but the other actors and fresh ideas drew her to the show anyway.
“It was a combination of things. I don’t know if I specifically was looking to do television, but it came about because it had an incredible cast, and it seemed like such an interesting storyline and concept, and there was nothing else on television like it,” Tamblyn said.
ABC continues to compare The Unusuals to M*A*S*H, and while that may seem like an awful lot of hubris for a mid-season show, the bizarre police bulletins — “Be on the lookout for a man in a hot dog costume last seen running west on Houston Street. Suspect may or may not be wielding a samurai sword.” — do play over the episode like loudspeaker announcements on M*A*S*H, giving the gravity of stuff like murder a kind of comedic feel.
Tamblyn agreed that her new show has some similarities with M*A*S*H; but she also compared it to NYPD Blue, Hillstreet Blues and yes, even The Wire.
“I think it’s got some sensibilities like that,” she said. “As far as the actors making the characters more than the procedural part of the show.”
The Unusuals premieres tonight on ABC at 10:00 EST. Will you give Tamblyn & Co. the chance to set themselves apart from your DVR’s backlog of one dozen other detective shows?