You’ll like it if you already like: Kingsman, Agent Carter, Scorpion, Quantico…
Likely timeslot: Sunday at 8 or 9; Tuesday at 10; Wenesday at 10
Writer and producer Kenya Barris -who co-created America’s Next Top Model back in the day- is on fire! His comedy Blackish is winning major awards, his comedy pilot Libby & Malcolm starring Felicity Huffman & Courtney B. Vance looks like a sure thing for a series order (read the preview here), a Blackish spin-off is in the works (but I don’t think ABC should move forward with it) and now comes Unit Zero, a hour-long dramedy with Toni Collette he executive produces that looks like another winner… even if it’s about losers. Is the alphabet network, where he is under an overall deal, trying to turn him into their comedic Shonda Rhimes? He has found his own style -making political statement and starting a conversation while being funny- and might have two hours of programming next year. That’s a really good start.
“At its core, this show is about outsiders, those of us who don’t fit in. It celebrates everything that’s beautiful about being different” said creator Lindsey Shockley about Unit Zero when the project was sold to ABC last summer. And she’s not lying. That is exactly why I found this pilot script so refreshing, apart from the fact that you don’t stumble upon a show labeled as an action spy dramedy every day. Those characters are instantly endearing and special, starting with our heroine, Jackie Fink, who just gave birth in her forties. And now she’s stuck with the father, who was just a one-night stand she’s not in love with (yet?). She’s a whip smart nerd with an unsinkable spirit and a beautiful mess. She’s perfect for Toni Collette, who already proved in United States of Tara she’s able to play anything and everything with brilliance.
Then there’s Brianna, her fearless (black) best friend, looks tough but hides a lot of pain inside; Azeema, a young foxy Muslim-American college freshman who’s just starting as an intern in the CIA; Midge, an overweight delightful woman in her late fifties who was an olympic biathlete in her youth; and finally the man of the team, Phineas, a tone deaf genius who’s (not so) secretly in love with Jackie who (not so) secretly doesn’t really care. With its female-fueled cast, Unit Zero pulls back the curtain on what it’s like to be a woman in a historically male-dominated field, showing underrepresented voices. And that’s another reason why it’s unusual and enthusiastic.
This character-based procedural with strong serialized elements doesn’t take itself too seriously, constantly deflecting highly dangerous situations with humor. They’re all very funny in their own way and their world is bigger than life, as are their crazy (unrealistic?) high-tech inventions they test in the field. The action scenes are insan. Jackie slaloming through traffic is something I definitely want to see. Especially since she’s wearing a jet-black punk wig, a leather skirt and combat boots so she can be mistaken for a badass hacker called “Lonelyheart”, dominatrix style, right in the middle of Acapulco with a cartel running behind her car.
Everything moves fast and in style. Think the movie Kingsman (with a lesser budget probably). Music plays an important role with classic energetic hits like “Dancing with Myself” by The Donnas in the opening sequence. The whole point of the pilot is to asemble the team after Jackie made a huge mistake her first day back in the office that could threaten her future in the CIA. They all decide to help her. The rest is history! Despite everything that’s happening, the emotions in there are real and it makes the show very complete.
Unit Zero is a joyful and thrilling ride alongside characters you can only root for who will move you, make you laugh hard and think a little. Suddenly, “action spy dramedy” is a thing, a thing that you’ll like and want. Will it be a hit for ABC? It surely looks like one.