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.