“Unusuals” harkens back to old police drama … not necessarily in a good way

I watched about 2 minutes of the premiere of the new ABC drama (or dramedy) “The Unusuals.” I didn’t give it a full 44 minutes Wednesday night, but the scene I watched was lifted from a classic crime show from 15 years ago. Well, I don’t know if it was a homage or lifting.
That show of yesterday was the incomparable “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” What was the scene? It was the one where Baltimore detectives are interrogating a suspect and they hook up to a “lie detector.” The gag is, and has always been, that the lie detector is really a photocopying machine but the detectives have done a convincing enough job to dupe the subject into thinking that it was a real polygraph.
The gag involves the subject placing his hand on the scanner while the detectives ask a series of three questions. The first two are gimmies — Is your name John Doe? Do you live on Clancy Street?
The suspect would tell the truth, the detective would push the “Start” button and, lo and behold, the copier would spit out a piece of paper with the subject’s handprint and the word “TRUE.” Of course, the detectives had arranged the paper tray in advance to obtain that very result.
The third question is crucial — did you kill the victim? The subject would lie and somehow the polygraph would know this — the paper that emerges says “FALSE.” Faced with such overwhelming evidence, the suspect then confesses.
Something similar did happen on the “Unusuals,” although it was after one of the detectives showed the suspect body parts in a cooler and imitated the victim’s voice.
I can’t say the creators of this new show were lifting from “Homicide” — It’s apparently a very old tale (according to Snopes.com). In modern storytelling, the Xerox polygraph was in David Simon’s 1991 book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” and it cropped up twice in TV shows based on Simon’s work or created by Simon himself — “Homicide” and “The Wire.”
That’s where I first encountered the story, although even the source material alludes to the incident happening in Detroit.
Regardless of where the polygraph by photocopier originated, I wonder why we’re seeing it again. It’s a good gag, but shouldn’t a new show strive for new ground at least for the first few episodes?