The police procedural is a show that has been made and remade more than a couple of times, covering everything from the detectives working cases as in the "Law and Order" franchise, to the forensics of the investigations such as in "CSI" and its spinoffs. These shows are mostly dramas, dealing with the motivations and conflicts of the people investigating these cases, but comedic police dramas have also been attempted with varying success rates. Often these "police comedy dramas" are more than a little formulaic, seldom venturing beyond what the characters feel about the case of the week or the romantic tension between the female and male leads. These shows aren't necessarily bad, and they fare well with general audiences due to their "safe" nature, but their derivative nature can become tiresome for those who have seen more than a few police dramas and know the ropes. "The Unusuals" is one of those shows that comes along to defy these conventions, with a snappy sense of humor that dares to be absurd, distinct quirky characters with complex motivations, pasts, real personal problems, and some very involving drama.
"The Unusuals" deals with the humorous chaos and often grounded reality of the lives and work of the detectives in the second precinct police station in New York. Detective Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn) of the NYPD is transferred from Vice (short for "Vice Unit", which investigates matters such as narcotics, pornography, and in this case prostitution) working undercover as a prostitute, to the second precinct in order to do internal affairs house cleaning at the request of precinct commander Sergeant Harvey Brown (Terry Kinney) who believes the fact she comes from a wealthy family yet decided to become a police officer makes her incorruptible. She is paired with Detective Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner) as her partner and begins investigating the death of Walsh's former partner who was a crooked cop.
The precinct's detectives turn out to be quite the colorful bunch: Walsh once played major league baseball, yet stopped playing and became a cop. Detective Henry Cole (Joshua Close) is a devout christian who has a dark criminal past and once lived by another name. Detective Allison Beaumont (Monique Gabriela Curnen) is Cole's partner, who has been having problems with her rent due to a perp suing her for breaking his neck. Detective Eric Delahoy (Adam Goldberg) is a mustachioed loner who's been diagnosed with brain cancer and is refusing to seek treatment or confide in anyone due to having nobody close to him. Delahoy's partner Detective Leo Banks (Harold Perrineau) is obsessed with not dying at 42 years old, like his father and grandfather did for inexplicable reasons, and wears a bulletproof vest at all times. Detective Eddie Alvarez (Kai Lennox) isn't paired with anyone, and in fact barely knows the names of his fellow officers after spending a full year at the station due to him thinking of himself as a lone wolf, and his snobby, bureaucratic nature. On top of that, Eddie Alvarez likes to speak about "Eddie Alvarez" in third person.
Throughout the run of the show each of these characters grow and develop in meaningful ways, their cases often forcing them to confront their own problems and change as people. During all of this you'll never lose sight of their humanity, they feel guilt, pain, anger, and fear in a very real way, and are often reluctant to change or reach out. Their witty and sometimes crude banter draws you closer and makes the dramatic moments in the show stand out all the more clearly. Even Alvarez changes for the better and learns he can, and will often need to, lean on his fellow officers for help and support. The characters, their pasts, and their development is simply brilliantly written and very well executed by a competent cast.
Interestingly enough, there are a few less than great things about the show which are mostly minor, but still present. First and foremost, the pilot episode simply had too many characters and plot elements to introduce, and the tone was perhaps a touch too silly. The first episode is fair, but it's not the show's best as it's lacking in the drama department, and is a somewhat weak starting point which may drive potential viewers away (in which case, it's their loss). Another problem is that the intro, which is fairly simplistic with a synth trumpet musical background, is perhaps a bit too simplistic and a tad bit cheesy, which sometimes contrasts a bit too sharply with the openings of the more dramatic episodes. It's kind of weird to have the semi-cheesy theme playing immediately after a supporting character has been shot in a diner robbery. Aside from that, the music which plays during aerial shot transitions between scenes can also be iffy at first, but it'll grow on you after you "get" the New York feel of the show.
The Unusuals is an unusually refreshing breath of fresh air with its deep characters, its punchy humor, and the perfect balance of the two that the show delivers If you can get past the rocky first episode, you'll find a unique thoroughly rewarding show waiting for you in the following episodes. As of the time of writing (2/26/2010) I'm eagerly waiting to purchase to box set, and hoping this show will be renewed and not become another firefly.