The First Season
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All photos © CBS
Reviewed by Will Harris
hat CBS should have created a spin-off for “NCIS” is hardly a surprise, given that it’s one of the most popular shows on television – not that anyone who considers themselves cool will admit to watching it. Indeed, if there’s any surprise to be had, it comes from the fact that it took so long for them to bring such a series to fruition. Maybe it’s because the network was worried about having to endure the kind of jokes they’ve suffered through with the “CSI” spinoffs…except, no, wait, everyone knows that TV critics think they’re cool, so surely CBS didn’t think the media would take enough notice of an “NCIS” spinoff to make fun.
Actually, “NCIS: Los Angeles” is pretty hard to ignore. Part of that comes from having two highly familiar actors serve as the face of the series – Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J – but just as much of it comes from executive producer Shane Brennan going out of his way to make southern California pop as brightly as possible. That’s not just on the outside, either: the headquarters for the NCIS: LA team is currently one of the most impressive sets on television, and I should know, having been there.
So we’ve established that this is a visually appealing show. But what of the other aspects of the series?
First, a bit of background for you non-“NCIS” fans. At the tail end of Season Six of “NCIS,” viewers were introduced to the NCIS: LA team: Special Agent Callen (O’Donnell), Senior Field Agent Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), operational psychologist Nate Getz (Peter Cambor), Junior Field Agent Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah), and tech operator Eric Beal (Barrett Foa). After completing the necessary team-up with Gibbs and the rest of the gang, Callen headed home, only to be shot down in the middle of the street by unidentified assailants. Cue the closing credits. What a way to bring viewers over to the new series come the fall, eh?
When “NCIS: Los Angeles” actually premiered, however, a few additional characters had been added to the mix. Linda Hunt joined the cast, playing Hetty Lange, the team’s operation manager (who looks more than a little bit like Edna Mode from “The Incredibles”). Also on board was Adam Jamal Craig as Dominic Vail, the obligatory “new guy” whose presence allows the character to offer expository dialogue.
Despite following the same approximate format as the show that spawned it, it still takes “NCIS: Los Angeles” a few episodes to find a proper groove. O’Donnell and LL Cool J have chemistry from the get-go, but the early scripts have a tendency to hand them back-and-forth moments that scream, “Look at us, we’re buddies!” There’s some uncertainty about how to handle the character of Hetty, flip-flopping between portraying her as a mythical figure within NCIS who knows everything about everyone and an after-hours hipster who sings Bon Jovi at karaoke bars, but they eventually focus more on the former. After making fans happy by bringing Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) to L.A. for a one-off case, the show decided to get serious about forging its own identity, starting – appropriately enough – with “Pushback,” an episode which resolved the mystery of who shot Callen. It’s at this point when you actually feel that “NCIS: Los Angeles” is its own show.
It is not, however, where the show really hits its stride.
I don’t mean to dismiss the first half of “NCIS: Los Angeles: The First Season,” but if you’re an “NCIS” fan who really wanted to be sold on the show but dropped out early because it just wasn’t grabbing you, then I’ve got some viewing advice to help you. First, go back and watch the “NCIS” episodes that introduced the characters, which – how convenient! – kick off the set, and then watch the series premiere again. Move from there to “Pushback,” so you can find out what happened to Callen. After that, however, it’s time to jump to Episode 13, and that’s when you’ll say, “Okay, I’m in.” For those who haven’t seen the episode in question, it’s entitled “Missing,” and it involves a member of the team sending out an “Agent in Distress” call, but I hesitate to tell you any more about it, except to say that it begins a plot arc that continues through the remainder of the season that will keep you gripped whenever it returns to the forefront.
“NCIS: Los Angeles” is, at worst, TV comfort food, which really isn’t such a bad thing at all. After “Missing,” however, it’s a show which is as fast-paced and entertaining as the best episodes of “NCIS” itself. In other words, it’s coming along nicely.
Special Features: Although fans may be disappointed by the limited number of audio commentaries (there’s only one, and it’s from Shane Brennan on “Identity”), hopefully they’ll be pleased with the featurettes that have been included on the set: “Inspired Television: ‘NCIS: LA,’” “The L.A. Team: Meet the Cast and Crew,” “Inside the Inner Sanctum: The Set Tour,” “Do You Have A Visual? – Inside the OPS Center,” and “Lights, Camera, ACTION! – The Stunts of ‘NCIS: LA.’” Also included is the video for LL Cool J’s “No Crew Is Superior,” as well as a look into the making of the video. Lastly, CBS has kindly included the two episodes of “NCIS” which served as the spin-off point for this series.