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TV Review: NCIS: Los Angeles

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One of the things that makes the original NCIS a great show is its ability to deftly blend comedy with its dramatic storylines.  The characters on the series aren't just investigators, they're… well… characters.  That alone truly sets NCIS apart from CBS' glut of procedural dramas.  Why then the new NCIS spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles would opt to tone down the one thing that makes NCIS different is a little hard to explain.

Several weeks ago I wrote about watching the backdoor pilot for NCIS: LA, the two-part NCIS episode "Legend."  I said that the characters showed potential to be interesting, but that until I screened an actual episode of the new series it would be impossible to truly judge it based solely on the backdoor pilot.

Having now watched a full episode of NCIS: LA it appears quite certain that while the show fits perfectly into CBS' procedural drama bread-and-butter milieu, the show almost wholly lacks the quirkiness which makes NCIS so palatable.  Gone is the hard-nosed elder statesman and leader of the NCIS team, Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), and in his place, are G. Callen (Chris O'Donnell) and Sam Hanna (LL Cool J).  While both men are fine actors, they seem to have been cast more for their looks and potential 18-49 demographic appeal than for what they can truly bring to the roles.

Humor is brought to the table, mainly by the addition of Linda Hunt to the cast.  She plays Henrietta "Hetty" Lange, and runs the NCIS: LA division, which, even though Rocky Carroll appears as Director Vance from time to time, puts her more in the Vance role on NCIS than the Gibbs one.  There are other people in the cast who seem as though they'll bring an element of humor to the proceedings as well, but they all remain secondary – or tertiary – to O'Donnell and LL's characters and therefore the humor remains subdued at best.

Instead of humor, the show seems to offer a "more is better" type of philosophy which just ends up playing out as a "more is more" one.  In addition to having more gunfights, the show, very interestingly, has more still shots heading into and out of commercial.  Though they weren't present initially on NCIS, a hallmark of the show has become a still (or nearly still) black and white image being shown upon returning from a commercial break, and the show progresses over the course of that act until it arrives at that image.  NCIS: LA doesn't use just one image, instead opting for an excessive series of them, all of which (it seems) occur at some point during the act.  As with the casting of O'Donnell and LL Cool J, it seems like a deliberate choice on the part of the producers to try and "liven" things up and, hopefully, play towards a younger audience.

On the plus side, the overabundance of technology I noted in "Legend" has been greatly minimized.  There are still fancy computers which can do impossible things present, but the technology in the premiere takes a backseat to the characters, something that wasn't the case in "Legend." 

NCIS: Los Angeles might be a massive success for the network – they do procedural crime shows better than anyone and have a great track record in recent years with them – but that doesn't necessarily make it a good show. The problem is simply that NCIS: LA  appears to be yet another in a long line of such dramas on the network and with little to differentiate it from them.  Yes, this may be the only show CBS has that is located in Los Angeles and features members of the NCIS Office of Special Projects who like to go undercover at the drop of a hat, but that's not really enough.

Me, I'm going to stick with Jethro Gibbs and company this fall rather than hopping over to LA.

NCIS: Los Angeles premieres September 22 at 9:00pm on CBS.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • The jury is still out…

    I agree with all the comments but my biggest problem with the first episode was the weak writing. The plot “twists” were something anyone with a brain would have seen coming. I will probably watch the next episode to see if the writing improves but I’m already thinking I won’t be following this show for long.

  • Erik N Jones

    I love the original NCIS but I was left disappointed with the spin off, NCIS LA. Not only are the notable character traits gone with LA but also missing is the science and forensics that made the original NCIS so very interesting.

    If the writers were to incorporate the lab and (ME)Medical Examiner roles, along with the autopsy and crime scene investigation that NCIS does, I beleive that this series would truly soar.

    If not, then it is only a humorist version of CSI with a little “Beverly Hills 90210” thrown in and very little “crime show” genre that NCIS and CSI are famous for.

  • Martin N

    I was very disappointed with episode 1. As Mr Lasser writes, Linda Hunt does not play the Gibbs leadership role as Mace did in the pilot “Legend”. I’ll watch maybe one more episode.

  • boadicea

    I love NCIS, so was excited when I heard about LA coming out. After the two shows so far, I’m not impressed and probably won’t continue watching.
    The boss lady is annoying and unbelievable, the psych guy is like that guy in college we all hated because he overanalyzed your every move…and then had to show off his intelligence…
    The two ‘other’ NCIS guy and girl are so boring I can’t remember their names. LL and Chris’ roles seem superficial…(i’ve been given no reason to care for or identify with them…whereas, for instance, the guys in NCIS:DC remind me of my brothers…)
    The secret office is kind of silly…
    Just nothing sets right with this show!

  • w4la

    What a lousey representation of such a great show as NCIS! Changed the channel after 25 minutes. If this show lasts 3 episodes I will be amazed!

  • KeithSoCal

    Just a number of observations: 1. Office setting- the elaborate facade that they work out of doesn’t work. It should be set in a nondescript warehouse or some place that has something to do with the navy. 2. Peter Cambor’s role on the show doesn’t doesn’t fit unless there’s some other role he can also do on the team, maybe a demolitions expert or something. 3. Linda Hunt is a great actor and it just seems that her character makes no sense she is a wasted on this show.

  • crunchycon

    I love NCIS, so I, too, was looking forward to the spin off. I’m lukewarm at best. The nicest thing I can think to say is that everyone’s trying hard. WAAAY too hard. The geek is too geeky (somehow McGee manages to avoid that); the shrink waxes too faux-philosophical (without Ducky’s humorous edge);, and the “tough chick” could probably be taken down by Ziva in six seconds flat- without Ziva losing an ounce of charm. And there’s no character to hold it together. I think Linda Hunt’s a fine actress, but her character is too ill-defined. What is she supposed to be – an accountant or a personal shopper? I say the program needs a major overhaul and quickly. Definitely not the worst thing on TV, but it should be much better with the pedigree it has.

  • Aaron

    I have been a long time fan of NCIS, but feel insulted at the writing of the new NCIS Los Angeles. It is a smack in the face to previous fans and also to the actors in the new series. I have seen some of the actors before, and know that the fault is in the writer and or director. What a joke. Such a joke that I had to come to this site and say so. Please feel free to contact me if you want a better show, from a non experienced writer. It cannot get any worse. U guys suck.
    Customer Aaron

  • What a joke. Such a joke that I had to come to this site and say so.

    Should we be flattered, or…?

  • When Ziva and was rescued on the NCIS opener, I thought it was one of the best episodes of almost any show I’d ever watched, so when NCIS LA played out afterward, I figured I just wasn’t giving it a fair chance.

    After watching all of NCIS LA so far, I’ve pretty much come to the same conclusion as everyone else. The things that make you laugh are the things that you see that are familiar in your own life experiences.

    NCIS LA just doesn’t seem to have anything to cause me to identify with any of the characters.

    It’s not going to last long on eye candy and gun fights, and plots I can solve in the first 10 minutes.

    Good review there Josh…

  • randa457

    Another Miami Vice 1984 shoot’em up!

  • louise

    Wow, so happy to find this site, so darn disapointed in the new ncis, so boring and the old lady is awful, what happened to the blonde in 1st combined episode? I just can’t watch it, that house reminds me of what I imagine a “woe” house looks like !! The writers are terrible…let’s hope they improve..

  • louise

    My word, not one comment since mine, was hoping something had changed on that boring dead show…..I have stopped watching…sad

  • Craig

    This is a very, very bad show…period. One of the worst I’ve seen. Last nights show opened with a cab driver picking up a fare in the middle of the day in downtown L.A. He turns a corner and the guy pulls a gun on the cab driver, who manages to get away. He gets shot in the leg and then the Killer walks up and shoots the guy point blank. Magically there were no cars, no people, no cops…anywhere!!! Are you kidding me? Along with awful script writing, unconvincing characters, and a girl whose crazy left eye is so distracting, and you have a show that is very hard to watch. I have tried to give this show a chance, but I just can’t watch it anymore.
    The worst thing about this show is the people who might miss the show that follows, ‘The Good Wife’ which is a jewel in the CBS lineup and one of the best on Television. CBS…please kill this show!!!

  • louise

    I just can’t believe this show is still going, just bad, boring show…I agree The Good wife is an outstanding show, wish it followed NCIS….

  • louise

    Just heard NCIS LA has been renewed, god awful show……

  • William Scruggs

    I have a problem with the reality of the military life portrayal to the actuality of military life. This comment is specifically about NCIS L.A. the last episode that aired. The problem that I had with it is that the black(identifying race) male that on the last episode that got shot was an E-7 in the Navy. Before he left the barber shop in the first few minutes of the show he adjusted his garrison cover to a correct position. The first problem that I have with this is that a Chief(E-7) in the Navy would not need to use his first and middle finger to get this measurement correct, second, he would not do this in a mirror inside closed doors or inside any building. Any military person will not put a military type cover on in doors(meaning a public place). A Chief(E-7 as shown on his ID)would not need to make this space approximation with fingers, he would know where to put his cover accordingly, most Chiefs have been in the military at least 8 years by the time they make Chief, when they make Chief it literally takes an act of Congress to get them kicked out or discharged. I hate the fake part of the military that is portrayed in the show, although, I love the show itself. Please keep doing what you are doing but try to correct the military B.S. that you are portraying. Thanks…..

  • Landon G.

    I don’t get it. How do people enjoy this show? The action scenes proceed like Walker Texas Ranger, the plot tries to be intriguing and keep you guessing, but everything in it you can see from a mile away and every character and situation seems like it’s stolen from another movie or show! The whole show is just INCREDIBLY cheesy. It just really bothers me that so many Americans claim to enjoy this type of television, but then again, Jerry Springer and Professional Wrestling is apparently still popular too. Go figure.

  • Karen Fouts

    I only like NCIS LA because of Heddy. They need to bring her back and get rid of this douchebag Hunter! Come on. Not every show has to have some cold-hearted, power tripping wench.

  • Graham

    This show is just god awful. Haven’t been tempted to watch it before but watched an episode in the latest 2011 series.There seems to be a little girl telling everyone what to do inside the office?She’s obviously a woman but seriously looks and sounds like a 12 year old.Is she the directors daughter? What awful casting.The show just lacks cast chemistry of any kind and I take issue with Chris O Donnel and Uncool J being ‘fine actors’.Compared to who..Kermit the Frog? NCIS is an entertaining show and clearly this tripe is designed to cash in on the originals’ popularity.Awful and unwatchable but 12 year old girls who dream of being the brains in a government law enforcement organization probably love it.Give Kermit a badge and the lead..he’s more entertaining.

  • Rebecca Young

    I think ncis la is a joke…no comparison.

  • Lisa

    I love NCIS Los Angeles; it shows a different perspective and unlike other shows i.e CSI who make completely different adaptions all the time, NCIS LA is really good. You have to actually sit down and watch with a real unbiased mind. I don’t even watch the normal NCIS anymore because it lost its charm whereas ncis la has it. Great show!! 5 Stars.

  • Jonny

    This show is so horrible the very worst worst worst part is that old hag hetty or what ever her name is. it is all by it self a reason to not watch it. nobody would make a 300 old hag a boss of a team like that. It’s stupid. maybe if they got a new boss I could be watchable. the rest of the detectives are good actors. but not for this show. the original ncis is a awesome show. mark Harmon is awesome ever since the movie summer school he made. that movie is a classic. now if they wanted to make the show about ncis la. they should of used all the original cast. they could add a few cast if they wanted too. All they had to do to keep the show great is that. I could understand them wanting to freshen things up. you know. new sets. new headquarters. New director. New desks and scenery. But watch what happens when gibbs gets to work and sees his new boss hetty. he’ll get that old hash thrown out. gibbs would quit before working for that weird old hag. or he’d kill her lol

    • neil

      I agree I simply cant stand that old short women she’s not good for the show. They need someone dynamic who can act

  • adrianne

    I am so very pleased with the (new to me in England) series NCIS LA. I did not think any
    show could match the incomparable NCIS, but the LA show makes an excellent
    sister ship to the mother ship. I will not make this a long post, but its best feature is
    its brilliant casting – the chemistry between the two leads working wonderfully. My
    congratulations to Shane Brennan – as we say in England, give that man a biscuit.
    If you or any one associated with the show chances on this, please ignore the
    malicious and badly-thought out comments below – the fact that the show is going
    to Season 5 speaks for itself and silences them. I fizz with excitement waiting for
    the next episode for both shows.