Lost Before Retail: Special Unit 2
Throughout the course of television history, there have been many shows. Lots of these shows are bad and many are good. The ones that withstand the test of ratings and become popular, for one reason or another, stay on the air and eventually get released onto DVD. The rest fall into obscurity, where even good shows never see the inside of a store. Special Unit 2 is one such show.
Let’s consider some genres: crime dramas and monster of the week, two oddly similar categories of ongoing mediums. In a crime drama, we follow law enforcement (or law enforcement-esc people) as they find that some crime has been committed and they must figure out who-done-it, why they did it, and catch them. Some well known crime dramas are Law and Order, CSI, and NCIS. A monster of the week story, involves a group of people encountering a new enemy be it supernatural or sci-fi, figuring out what it’s after, and stopping it. Good monster of the week stories are Scooby Doo, Star Trek, and kid’s shows like Power Rangers. If one genre weren’t specifically about unusual beings and the other mostly focusing on murderous humans, they’d be the same thing.
Special Unit 2 cuts out the gray area and makes crime drama and monster of the week one and the same. In the realm of SU2, all your monster nightmares are real. But make no mistake, they don’t call upon magic or the supernatural forces, this is science fiction. All the monsters represent different kinds of life that branched off in unexpected ways, and many are of course groups of humanoids that evolved separately from us many, eons ago. For this reason, all the monsters are put under one category and simply referred to as “links,” as in the missing links from Darwin’s theory of evolution. Now they are their own unique species, with their own unique needs and tendencies. It’s up to Special Unit 2, a shady division of the police to stop the links from breaking human laws and more often than not, killing people.
Our story follows Kate Benson (Alexondra Lee) and Nicholas O’Malley (Michael Landes), a pair of detectives who work for Special Unit 2 in Chicago. Kate has been seeing Links all her life, never turning away from something unexplained or unusual. Nicholas, or Nick, is a renegade, taking an unusual amount of pleasure in hurting Links. In a few ways, Kate and Nick are opposites. This includes, but is by no means limited to, their views on relationships and their attitude towards Links. But Special Unit 2 isn’t your usual buddy cop show. These two actually work very well together and agree on how to deal with each individual Link. Kate and Nick do argue and make fun of each other, but it’s always just that, fun. They are friends and ridicule each other in the way that only close friends can right from the start.
“We evolved from the greatest creatures to ever walk the Earth and you evolved from
monkeys.” – Gargoyle
Characters & Such
Joining our two main characters are some standard character archetypes. You have the stern, but almost fatherly Captain Page (Richard Gant), who yells a lot but always keeps the goals of SU2 in mind. Next is the brains, Sean Radmon (Sean Whalen) from Season 1 or Jonathan (Jonathan Togo) from Season 2. Sean and Jonathan are essentially the same person, a nerdy guy who has an almost divine knowledge of Links, who tells everyone what they’re dealing with each week, and usually coming up with some solution to the problem for Kate and Nick to utilize. The last character of merit is Carl the Gnome, who serves as comic relief and as a criminal informant with ties to Links throughout the city that they use to get information.
As the previously mentioned genres for Special Unit 2 imply, each episode is only loosely connected to the rest, focusing on the Link that’s giving them trouble that week. Supporting characters come and go, serving their purpose, never to be mentioned again. SU2 is very formula and basic when it comes to story, staying true to its genre. But there was also a heavy focus on humor, mostly involving witty banter, that made SU2 feel more fun than you would think.
This is going to be short. SU2 isn’t that special in the mind of a cinematographer. The camera is almost always well placed, but never really interesting except for some of the transitions. The lighting was good, that is to say it looked real and wasn’t distracting. The sound effects were sometimes cool, but didn’t always make sense…and then there’s the music.
SU2 had no illusions about how long it would really last. There are enough pop culture references to make anyone who wasn’t there scratch their head into oblivion, and that is reflected in the music. Pop songs from the early 2000s are often used for transitions and fun. There was an “original” score for the show, but that mostly consisted of rock and roll style guitar bits that weren’t always used in the smartest of ways. The theme though, I love the theme song for Special Unit 2; it’s all rock and roll guitar and it never apologizes for it. The intro, punctuated by the guitar and mixed with scenes from the show, shows a number of different Links and all the crazy crap that they get up to. It suits the show perfectly and still holds a special place for me among my favorite theme songs.
As a whole, Special Unit 2 isn’t much to think about. Being a crime/monster show, there wasn’t really an overarching story. In reality there are only maybe two or three episodes that you need any kind of background to understand. And all of those episodes are connected to an underlying subplot/conspiracy involving Nick O’Malley’s last partner. Those aside, you could watch almost any episode in the short, 19-episode series without being lost. Heck, you could scramble the order of the episodes and you wouldn’t even notice. Special Unit 2 knows who it is and why it exists and doesn’t betray that, ever.
If the above doesn’t say it, I will: I loved this series. SU2 is a wonderful mixture of action, monsters, and humor. The characters are one part smart-ass, one part cop, and one part action hero. There wasn’t any real depth to the characters or anything important the show had to say. It didn’t make you think or even touch your emotions that much. These are all things that I usually would say make a show not good, but not Special Unit 2. It never tried to be ground breaking or dramatic or thought provoking, it was just fun.
Believe it or not, my favorite thing about SU2 is the way the characters interact. Despite lacking emotional depth and investment, the characters are still very real. To summarize a scriptwriting teacher I had, “Never include anything in a script or dialogue that doesn’t serve to advance the scene or the plot. Real conversations are pointless and nonsensical. Do not include anything that doesn’t need to be there.” And I understand that, but I also know the motto of a good writer, “Show, don’t tell.” And Special Unit 2 is my greatest example of how to write friends. Kate and Nick are friends, they know each other, call out each others shit, poke fun and support each other through humor and respect. There are so many shows where we’re told the characters are friends, but we only see them together to move the plot along. In the case of some dramas, I’ve only ever heard the characters making plans to hang out so the plot can ruin it. But in SU2, they feel like friends, and they feel like your friends. For better or worse.
Speaking of worse, the science in Special unit 2 makes less sense than Star Trek. SU2 if science fiction and it plays fast and loose with that term. There is more than one instance where the science is properly explained and just swept aside as “We don’t know,” which may make more sense in reality, but makes my inner nerd smack his head against the inside wall of my skull. I would accept “the life force being sucked out of virgins” better if they admitted to being fantasy or supernatural, but no it’s supposed to be straight up evolutionary sci-fi. Then again, I might as well try to explain how there is a war in the Terminator future, when the fallout of that many nukes would irradiate the air for decades, not to mention the nuclear winter and lack of oxygen producing plants. Every sci-fi has its problems, I just wanted to point out SU2’s.
“We just saved some guy’s life, killed some vicious Links, and blew up something big. I’d call that a pretty good night.” – Nick O’Malley
Why No Retail?
Special Unit 2 was not nearly popular enough. It had two seasons, neither of which were even close to the standard 22 episodes. It was a time filler with a small budget and no true hopes of lasting success. There also isn’t that big a fan base or demand for the series, no studio could make that much money on it. So Special Unit 2 has and likely will never reach a commercial market, for which I am very sad.
Special Unit 2 is owned by Paramount and was originally air in the U.S.A. on UPN. Last I knew, the SyFy channel has the rights to air the show, but to my knowledge hasn’t since they were Sci-Fi and isn’t listed on their site anymore. If I’m mistaken about Special Unit 2 being released to DVD LEGALLY, I apologize and please tell me where I can buy it!
If you know a show that was canceled and never made it to the open market, list them in the comments below. Or if you want to share your favorite moments and memories from Special Unit 2, feel free to do that too.