Friday, June 09, 2006

today : The A(lpha) Team

I don't know how big a hit show The Unit is. I was attracted to watch it by David Mamet's name. He's an interesting writer who has done some pretty good stuff. Hmmm, I thought, yet more evidence of quality artists involved in TV.

And sure enough it's okay. Like Spooks, it sticks to the conventions of tension drama with a side order of domestic strife. The action is sharp and realistic, the violence kinda hurts. Jonas and his men (including Brad Pitt-a-like Bob) are attractive characters, given that they are tall, muscly, stubbled, invincible and carry big guns.

However. There are huge problems. The main one is the the entire set of underlying assumptions behind the premise. The ideology. In Spooks the spies are often pushed into morally ambiguous territory by politicians. The lines between good and evil are blurred. When Adam throws a terrorist over a balcony it is shocking and there is a questioning both in the responses of other characters and in his own reflections. When Danny has to assassinate a bad guy, the entire episode focusses on the act of crossing the line and what it means both politically and personally. It shows the weeping and vomiting. Tom's exit story involves him actually crossing a psychological crevasse and questioning the very nature of the job itself.

In The Unit the Special Forces bestride the globe, despatching terrorists, assassinating drug dealers, rescuing wayward Americans and generally defending 'freedom' by any means necessary. And they do this by pointing guns at children, exploiting the general public and basically stomping all over local and international laws with total impunity.

Which is all very well. However, nobody ever questions the reasoning and moral authority behind the 'deployments'. Whilst the morality of the colonel is questioned because he is making the bi-backed beast with Mack's wife, he manages to avoid anyone questioning his moral authority as a leader. The Unit answers directly to the President but I have never heard the President's name in the script, apart from once or twice when Jonas evokes him to reinforce his right to be in charge.

It seems that American TV shies away from politics in any real sense. Even the West Wing spent as much time explaining how tricky and difficult governing is, and showing how only tricky and brilliant lawyer types can navigate the maze.

The clue to what The Unit actually is, is contained in the first few seconds of each show. A voiceover tells 1979 Congress approved an elite secret fighting force...It's a familiar opening. There are other clues. Jonas and his men are called the Alpha team. When imprisoned they improvise an oxyacetalene torch to cut through bars. They pretty much always win.

Yes, you guessed it. The Unit is nothing more than a post 9-11 remake of the A Team.

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