TV Eye

Testosterone on tap

<i>The Unit</i>
The Unit

Where have all the women gone? Oh, I see them on TV, all right, but as I watch them, I get the eerie feeling that I've stepped back in time when the men were men and the women belonged to the men. In other words, I feel like I've stepped back into the 1950s. Now, don't let the fact that you don't see pert little housewives vacuuming in heels and pearls fool you. There's a definite 1950s vibe going on, and it's creepy.

Two cases in point: The Unit (CBS) and Pepper Dennis (WB). The Unit premiered three weeks ago, and I have to admit, I'm hooked. I'm a fan of Dennis Haysbert (formerly of 24), and I'm a sucker for undercover spy dramas. Created by David Mamet, The Unit is so doused in testosterone you might grow facial hair just watching it. But that's not what disturbs me. It's the wives on the home front, keeping house, keeping the peace, and, most importantly, keeping quiet about their husbands' real jobs as Special Forces operatives.

While there are glimmers that the series wants to cast the wives in a laudable light, I can't help but wonder why these women – particularly Jonas Blane's (Haysbert) wife, Molly (Regina Taylor) – are attracted to this life. Are they unsung patriots, or are they trapped in circumstances beyond their lot in life? If this were the 1950s, I might be inclined to believe the latter.

While much time is spent on the newest wife's struggle to acclimate to life as a secret agent's wife, it's Taylor's Molly, whose relationship to her beefy husband is more maternal than marital, that leaves me the most perplexed. In short, if Molly and Jonas were getting it on as much as the other sex bunnies on this series, I might be less worried about what seems a throwback to the 1950s wife. Still, I'm watching, and I have been watching since the series began.

Not sure I can say the same for the new WB series Pepper Dennis starring Rebecca Romijn. Billed as a romantic comedy, Romijn stars as an ambitious TV reporter, who veers schizophrenically from a driven wonder woman to a damsel in search of her knight in shining armor. It's not that I don't think there's room for a show about an ambitious, beautiful woman trying to make her way in a man's world. What irritates is how her world is presented in such plain colors: men are cads; women are nothing without men; and the world would be perfect if only the right man would show up. I think male-female relationships are more complicated than that. Unfortunately, Pepper Dennis goes for the easy laugh.

The Unit airs Tuesdays at 8pm on CBS. Pepper Dennis premieres Tuesday at 8pm on The WB.

Watch this!

City of Men, the Brazilian TV series by the creators of the Academy Award-nominated feature film City of God, makes its U.S. television premiere on the Sundance Channel Tuesday. Like City of God, the series centers around two teenage boys growing up in the Rio de Janeiro slums, trying to lead a normal life while confronting drug gangs, grinding poverty, and firsthand knowledge that death is just a wrong turn away. Skillfully veering from fanciful animation to stark realism to confessional documentary, the series has no comparison to anything on U.S. television. It premieres Tuesday, April 4, at 8pm on the Sundance Channel.

Finally, a decent TNT original movie: Avenger, starring Sam Elliott, based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth (The Day of the Jackal). Elliott stars as Calvin Dexter, a former Special Forces operative during the Vietnam War. When a drug lord kills his daughter and the justice system fails, Dexter hunts down his daughter's killer and avenges her death. So begins his murky, underground work as a man who takes on hopeless cases in search of justice. After backgrounding Dexter's past, Avenger smartly veers into the present, where a U.S. tycoon hires Dexter to find his missing son. He does, but the news is not good. Neither is the fact that a known war criminal is the cause of the young man's disappearance. That would be bad enough, except that the CIA is working with the war criminal, setting Dexter on a collision course with CIA Deputy Director Paul Devereaux (James Cromwell). Between them is CIA agent Frank McBride (Timothy Hutton). A loyal agent, McBride becomes conflicted when he realizes his job is to protect a war criminal while hunting down and eliminating a genuine war hero. This triumvirate of conflicting wills, uniformly top-notch performances, and ultimately an unclear resolution in the war between good and evil make Avenger engrossing.

Avenger premieres Sunday, April 9, 7pm on TNT. Additional air times occur throughout April. Check local listings.

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Pepper Dennis, The Unit, City of Men, Avenger

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