TV Rewind: The Unusuals Is the Quirky Noah Hawley Procedural You’ve Probably Never Seen

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TV Rewind: The Unusuals Is the Quirky Noah Hawley Procedural You’ve Probably Never Seen

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

Before he was a media darling leading shows like FX’s critically acclaimed Legion and the award-winning TV adaptation of Fargo, Noah Hawley was just another hustling TV writer trying to land his big break.

That break finally came in 2009 with The Unusuals, even if this short-lived ABC procedural flopped and was axed after just six episodes—with the network burning off the remaining four installments once the show’s cancellation was confirmed. Although the series is just a footnote in Hawley’s illustrious career now, running for just a three-month window from April-June during the 2009 spring season (alongside shows like Lost, Life on Mars, and Pushing Daisies if you need a reminder of the era), standing on its own, The Unusuals was one of the most creative and weirdly ambitious cop shows to ever grace network TV—and holds up surprisingly well (aside from a few homophobic gags that were common for the time, but feel understandably dated in hindsight).

The series followed the crew of the New York City Police Department’s 2nd Precinct, where each detective has weird secrets and character quirks but still somehow manages to work together to accomplish impressive police work. It could likely best be described as a dramedy, threading a clever needle in the cop procedural space. This being a Hawley project, you could feel his sense of humor bleeding through, though it wasn’t afraid to get into the grittiness of what a cop show can be at its core.

Always with an eye for talent, Hawley assembled what would become an absolute A-list cast for his motley crew of misfit detectives. The core group includes Jeremy Renner (Det. Jason Walsh), Amber Tamblyn (Det. Casey Shraeger), Harold Perrineau (Det. Leo Banks), Adam Goldberg (Det. Eric Delahoy), Monique Gabriela Curnen (Det. Allison Beaumont), Kai Lennox (Dt. Eddie Alvarez), and Joshua Close (Det. Henry Cole).

Of that list, you have an eventual Avenger in Renner, Perrineau looking for a change of pace coming off his stint on Lost, Tamblyn making her transition into more adult roles after The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Joan of Arcadia, and character actor Adam Goldberg just absolutely killing it with that mustache (Hawley would go on to bring Goldberg back for a stint on Fargo a few years later).

Looking beyond the core cast, you’ll be surprised to find even bigger stars among the guests and supporting actors. Adam Driver and Miles Teller show up as criminal suspects, Betty Gilpin has a guest role as an assault victim, and Cristin Milioti pops in as the occasional police sketch artist. We did mention Hawley has an eye for talent, right?

Revisiting The Unusuals through the lens of the work Hawley has made in the decade and a half since the show was (briefly) on air, his style and vibe is all the more resonant from episode to episode. Goldberg’s Det. Delahoy is suffering from a brain tumor and has trouble keeping reality and his own hallucinations straight when he starts seeing his high school sweetheart wandering in and out of scenes. Perrineau’s Det. Banks becomes obsessively superstitious and is crippled with fear that he’ll die before his 43rd birthday, to the point he spends one episode locked in his apartment trying to solve a potential murder across the street through his binoculars, a beautiful and fun homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Then there’s Joshua Close’s Det. Cole, a former felon himself who changed his name to try and start a new life as a cop—a storyline ripe with drama as his past comes back to haunt him. It isn’t afraid to dabble with heady topics along the way, as the crew runs into a psychic who predicts her own death—which actually ends up happening.

The show also zigged where you might expect it to zag when it came to romance, a refreshing twist that sidestepped the far too common will-they, won’t-they trope. Renner’s Det. Walsh and Tamblyn’s Det. Shraeger are partnered up in the pilot, but don’t expect the two pretty people to immediately fall into the usual romance cliches. Instead, Renner’s Walsh is already in a relationship with Curnen’s Det. Beaumont, while Walsh and Shrager’s partnership is treated as a true friendship. No ‘shipping sparks required.

In a 2009 interview ahead of the show’s premiere, Hawley himself said he was fascinated with trying to find a new way of making a police procedural. Looking back, it’s easy to see he succeeded, though sadly not enough people realized it at the time.

“What’s the story that’s really going to resonate with our characters and our audience? We’re called The Unusuals. There’s an unusual nature to each case. Sometimes it’s the case itself that’s unusual. Sometimes it’s how the investigation goes,” he said. “For me, I’m always trying to find the fresh angle on these stories because, after 20 years of Law and Order and 10 years of CSI and all those procedural shows, we’ve seen all those crimes solved. The question is, how do you make it interesting again and it’s to tell stories about these particular people. I like to say on this show, the characters don’t solve the crimes but the crimes solve the characters, so we’re always looking for a case that will play into each of the characters and whatever they’re going through.”

It was the kind of cop show that doesn’t fit the “cop show” mold at all, which explains why it didn’t make it past 10 episodes in a field crowded with the more typical. It was a hard sell for audiences looking for a traditional procedural, with Hawley just as interested in the weird lives of his stable of detectives as he was about the cases of the week they end up tackling along the way.

But thankfully, we still have 10 incredible episodes in one of the first worlds Hawley had a chance to build, which you can find streaming on Roku or track down a DVD of the full series.

Watch on Roku

Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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