The quirkiness surrounding police work is hardly new, but that’s the shaky foundation for “The Unusuals” — a puzzling ABC series seemingly predicated on the notion that New York detectives are every bit as eccentric as the perps they take off the streets. The premiere represents an uneven introduction to the denizens of the second precinct, with — to hark back to the “Blues,” as in “Hill Street” and “NYPD” — an ensemble heavily tilted toward Belkers and Medavoys. So while the show does qualify as slightly unusual, its ability to be consistently interesting is another matter.
The pilot filters these madcap characters through the eyes of new arrival Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn), who is transferred from vice to homicide after a prologue ostensibly included strictly to show her in hooker garb. She is assigned a typically gruff, unshaven partner, Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner), who is preoccupied investigating his last running mate’s murder. “You don’t kill a cop in New York,” he grumbles.
A few desks over, though, is an almost entirely different, more overtly comedic show. The focus here is on the odd-couple pairing of fidgety detective Delahoy (Adam Goldberg) and his nervous partner Banks (“Lost’s” Harold Perrineau), who insists on wearing a bullet-proof vest even when sitting at his desk.
As constructed by series creator Noah Hawley (“Bones”), “The Unusuals” appears to have been strung together from the “C” plots that once provided a colorful garnish on “NYPD Blue,” capturing the strange characters apt to cross the cops’ path, as well as the personal foibles and excesses associated with police work. Yet without a firmer base, that template feels wispy. Nor does it help that the otherwise-talented Tamblyn looks too young to be believable, unless this is supposed to be “Doogie Howser, P.D.”
For all that, the series has assembled a promising cast, including Perrineau, Goldberg and Terry Kinney as the unit’s snarling captain. In addition, there are vague hints at more sober storylines to come — if, thus far, little reason to emotionally invest in them.
The show’s prospects look equally suspect, given that it’s supplanting “Life on Mars,” another offbeat Manhattan-based crime show that was more daring and executed considerably better. ABC thus faces a potentially unpleasant scenario: Because while Walsh may sayyou don’t kill cops in New York, unless “The Unusuals” surpasses expectations, the network might be forced in short order to wipe out two whole squads of them.