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Gung-ho 'Unit' is serviceable

''You get to shoot guns, jump out of planes, and come home to your family," Scott Foley's gung-ho rookie says about military life in ''The Unit." ''It's damn near perfect."

If that line tickles your fancy, this is your series. Foley speaks it without irony, as a shout-out to the men and women in the service. He plays a newbie who's so excited about guns and planes, he forces his unhappy wife to live on an Army base so he can continue to shoot and jump. As ''The Unit" works to honor American soldiers and reassure us that the country is in superheroic hands, it almost forgets about the horrors and personal compromises of wartime.

Set among yet another one of TV's elite forces and their families, the action drama fits after ''NCIS," where it premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 4. That's two hours of testosterone -- or, as a woman in ''The Unit" calls it, ''Boys Town" -- in one sitting.

David Mamet created ''The Unit," and Shawn Ryan, the creator of ''The Shield," is one of his co-executive producers. And these two extraordinary talents have done an average job with what is a surprisingly unimaginative premise. Based on former commando Eric Haney's book ''Inside Delta Force," the idea is that this special team doesn't technically exist. It fights ''hostiles," most of whom are Middle Eastern, but it gets no credit since it needs to be invisible. And so Foley's Bob Brown and Dennis Haysbert's Jonas Blane travel covertly around the world taking down evil with plenty of gunfire, and yet they get no thanks. Tonight, they work to save a plane of hostages from terrorists.

''The Unit" also spends time back at the base with the Unit wives, mostly Molly Blane (Regina Taylor) and Kim Brown (Audrey Marie Anderson). This material is as generic as the global maneuvers, as the women suffer angst about their husbands' dangerous lives. They don't know details about their husbands' missions, and they are forbidden to disclose that the Unit even exists. They only have one another. While they appear to be strong women, they have an almost cult-like docility as they forgo their own ambitions and dreams to support their husbands' choices. Taylor is a nice presence on the show, but her character is bland. ''You say you love him," she says to Kim regarding Bob. ''Now are you brave enough to act on it?"

''The Unit" looks and acts like so many other military action shows. The dialogue has hints of Mamet's trademark terseness and poetry, but it also has more than its share of clunker lines such as, ''You aren't in the Army, you're in the Unit." Haysbert makes a good action hero, as he shouts his commands with none of the ambivalence of his best-known TV character, President Palmer on ''24." But unless Mamet and company plan to add more layers to the show and its characters, he doesn't have enough facets to be particularly engaging on a weekly basis.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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