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Special Unit 2 (2000)
Created and produced by Evan Katz
review by Daniel G. Jennings
This show works because it doesn't try to take itself too seriously. It tries to entertain and amuse us and succeeds admirably. The plot is simple - in an alternate reality a wide variety of mythical monsters such as trolls, gnomes, dragons, gargoyles, gremlins, etc. are real. These creatures are links to other intelligent races that evolved on Earth and now live secretly.
Unfortunately many of these links like to eat people. Since these links are a major menace to public safety and property values, Mayor Daley of Chicago has taken notice of them and formed an elite task force of the Chicago police department called Special Unit 2 which is charged with hunting down and exterminating the links. (Obviously the links aren't smart enough to vote.) Special Unit 2's headquarters is in a secret base underneath a dry cleaning store near the Chicago loop and the elite unit has weapons that are far more powerful and technologically advanced than the military's.
Like Men In Black, Special Unit 2 is a lot of fun, and is successful because it doesn't make any political statements. The characters have cool looking weapons to blow up the links with and there are lots of entertaining subplots. The show supposedly focuses on two detectives which, naturally, makes for every tired old cop show cliché you could think of but since both the actors and writers know tongue in cheek humour is the show's objective, it works. Michael Landees plays the cynical veteran detective who wants to blow everything away, and his performance works but it might work better if he was a little more over the top or out of control.
Alexandra Lee plays his partner, and she steals the show. Lee is a really beautiful woman and a good actress who knows how to make her beauty part of the show. She has a wonderful look on her face that tells the audience, yeah it's all a big joke and I'm in on it so let's laugh together. Fortunately both actors know the show is supposed to be fun and look like their having fun playing with the neat weapons, driving the cool car and clowning around. Both are cocky and tough and there's none of the overbearing angst that sometimes infects Buffy and Angel. Nor do we get any of often dreary and redundant cynicism that often makes The X-Files and Le Femme Nikita boring.
Although Lee and Landees are supposed to be Special Unit 2's focus. Two very talented character actors in supporting roles often steal the show from them. Danny Woodburn, plays a criminal informant who is also a gnome, he's a sleazy money-grubbing crook who is also a neat freak. Woodburn plays the role perfectly and gets a lot of laughs out of it. Fortunately the writers know exactly how to use this talented little actor.
Veteran American TV actor Richard Gant, plays Special Unit 2's gruff no-nonsense commanding officer. Gant avoids the impulse to do too much comedy and instead makes the character stiff and tough. This plays perfectly off of the sillier supporting characters like Woodburn and the field officers. It also helps push the humour along.
There are a few weaknesses, I wish they'd show more of the Windy City, one of America�s most colourful environs and try to give us some flavour of the place in the way that Angel shows us around Los Angeles and does a pretty good job of spotlighting the older areas of that great city. Lots of comic moments could come from that.
Lee and Landes work perfectly together but I just hope the writers can keep avoiding the old TV cop show cliché of conflicting partners and make them friends, say a pair of merry pranksters who love their job and know how to fun doing it. Like the surgeons on M*A*S*H rather than Cagney and Lacey.
The only real problem I see with Special Unit 2 is that sooner or later the humour will run out and it'll get old after awhile. Then it will become just another repetitive mess of TV and sci-fi clichés like Hercules and Xena did towards the end. Hopefully, the producers will know when to pull the plug on this show. In conclusion, Special Unit 2 is good light entertainment that avoids deep issues and just tries to amuse us. I just wish more TV shows would learn how to emphasise humou and absurdity like this one does.
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