A (Fighting) Man's World

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A (Fighting) Man's World

This is Associated Press TV Writer Frazier Moore Watching Television for KCRW.

All due respect to the mothers being honored on Sunday, I want to talk about guys. And about a popular drama celebrating guys who work together and stick together. A kind of crew doing what has to be done ...even when it gets a little rough. Guys who work odd hours, in out-of-the-way places, and with none of that "whattaya-mean-you-gotta-work-late?" flak from the wife.

No, I'm not talking about The Sopranos. The show I mean is CBS' military drama The Unit.

A hit with viewers since premiering in March, it travels with a covert team of Special Forces operatives -- five tough guys -- on top-secret undercover missions. If they're not dashing off to Afghanistan to take out a Taliban leader, they're dropping everything to go rescue missionaries hiding out in the Philippines.

And when the phone call comes and each guy gets his orders, his wife responds the right way: She suppresses a sigh.

You say you're tired of the wimp-ification of guys on TV? The Unit will never be mistaken for The Eunuch!

Airing two episodes both this Tuesday and next at 9pm, it comes by its guyness naturally. It was created by David Mamet, whose writing revels in the male psyche. Executive producer Shawn Ryan was creator of the gritty cop drama, The Shield. And The Unit was inspired by the experiences of supervising producer Eric Haney, who served in the Army's secret counter-terrorist Delta Force.

So the tales of The Unit are not only gripping, they have the ring of authenticity. And the message is clear: For the men of The Unit, it's all about discipline. Teamwork. Ever-present danger. And deep, dark secrecy. They're not in it for the glory.

But it's the women who live a truly thankless existence. Left behind at the base here in the states, these wives and mothers carry on their domestic routine, bonding in their men's unexplained absences while they are held responsible for guarding secrets they will never know.

On The Sopranos, there's something quaint, Old World, about the gender gap. Mob-wife Carmela Soprano puts up with a lot of macho crap from Tony, including, of course, his infidelities. Still, she lives in grand style. He provides her with a lavish home and, not long ago, surprised her with a Porsche SUV. She is richly rewarded for looking the other way.

It's a different situation with the wives of The Unit, in their modest homes stretching their modest military paychecks.

I know: The men are heroes fighting for their country, not mobsters shaking down waste disposal firms. But in the life the women have chosen -- or, perhaps more accurately, the life chosen for them by their men -- there's a special sacrifice.

On one episode, Molly, whose husband is the Unit's leader, spoke to the other wives about "Our will that keeps the home fires burning, that lets our men leave and walk into harm's way."

It was a proud speech, and defiant, and also pretty sad.

With global terrorism raging, The Unit grips us with its timeliness as it follows its brave men into action. But where the home fires are burning, it's an unabashed (and odd) throwback to an age when women still knew their place. On The Unit, this is a man's, man's, man's, man's world, as James Brown put it. Which makes these women, however patriotic, really desperate housewives.

Watching Television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV Writer Frazier Moore.