In the Zone

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With David Mamet, you know what you’re getting. In films like Glengarry Glen Ross, and The Spanish Prisoner, he makes no secret of his love for sharp, staccato dialogue and his fascination with the group dynamics of strong men who have secrets to keep. So when he encountered Eric Haney’s book, Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit, it was a perfect storm. What could be better Mamet fodder than a top-secret militia that comes complete with its own macho vocabulary? But instead of making a movie, or even an obscenity-laden cable series, he (and producer Shawn Ryan of “The Shield”) created “The Unit,” now in its second season of clandestine maneuvers on CBS. These soldiers don’t get to cuss, but they do like to call each other by code names like “Blue 6” and use poetic banter under pressure: “How’s the world look to you? Light and bright.”

In the real world, Delta Force is off the radar until something goes wrong (see Blackhawk Down or the botched 1980 rescue of hostages from Iran), but in TV-land, we are treated to all the on-target shoulder-launched missiles and morally questionable yet necessary assassinations that makes primetime worth living. In many ways the show resembles Mission Impossible, while justifying its killings using the anti-terrorist logic set forth in “24.” Each week, a team of pros—led by the golden-throated Jonas (Dennis Haysbert)—find themselves in “deep kimche” in some forlorn part of the world. Using their survivalist wits along with all kinds of cool pyrotechniques, aircraft, electronics and a lot of rope, they extract themselves, kill the villains, eliminate threats to the homeland and bond in manly ways. Episodes often start in mid-escape, allowing viewers the pleasure of piecing together the plot from the inside out.

A unique perk of Delta Force is that its men are able to go home between missions. This allows “The Unit” a secondary arc, an Army base “Peyton Place” populated with sexy tomboys who dabble in infidelity and addiction to painkillers while trying to raise children and keep their husbands’ job under wraps. There are surprisingly few shower scenes considering the soldiers’ grime and the steamy performances of desperate housewives Abby Brammell and Audrey Marie Anderson. But, given a helicopter crash in Siberia or a team member trapped in a Bulgarian prison, sex will just have to wait until sweeps week.

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