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Law & Order: Los Angeles -- TV Review

The Bottom Line

Crimes and misdemeanors -- in the story and the cast.

Premieres

Sept. 29, 10 p.m. (NBC)

Starring

Skeet Ulrich
Alfred Molina
Terrence Howard

Created by

Dick Wolf

Have a care for "Law & Order: Los Angeles," a series that carries more baggage and expectations than any premiere rightly should.

It has to battle giving franchise fans what the original delivered expertly while struggling to be its own unique creature despite the 20-year-old collar around its neck.

"LO:LA" creators are trying to straddle both sides, with mixed results.

Franchise creator and premiere story/writer Dick Wolf has crafted his tale with an expert hand and literary flourish -- it opens and closes with paparazzi flashes -- peppering the dialogue with industry insider references to "appearance fees" and "gifting suites" in the way his original did with "recusals" and "LUDs."

But the first episode comes across as too busy and unformed, with bland, friction-free detectives (a G. Gordon Liddy-esque Corey Stoll and Skeet Ulrich) investigating a home-invasion ring that ropes in a Lindsay and Dina Lohan-like mom-daughter pair.

Fortunately, the pace picks up considerably once the show slips into its legal second half as sad-eyed ADA Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina with an unfortunate haircut) exercises a presence and authority that is otherwise lacking. He's a welcome reminder of the intense energy the best episodes of this franchise keep boiling just beneath the surface.

So far, sort of good: twists in the tale, the doink-doink sound, few if any establishing shots. But the series takes a truly unfortunate turn when it follows the villains around, giving away the whodunit and scattering the tension to the Santa Ana winds. It's an ordinary, dull device employed by most cop shows and is in part responsible for the sinking of "Criminal Intent," so it's hard to imagine the logic in employing it here.

It's equally as hard not to watch "LO:LA" without yearning for the very things that made this franchise so distinctive: intelligent stories, raw camerawork and a feeling of verisimilitude that slashed through the ho-hum murder-of-the-week shows. Two decades on, for this franchise to stand out, it still should be doing some slashing and burning -- and a lot less spewing of lines like: "Mom shoots a burglar, daughter holds a press conference. I love L.A." The last thing this series wants to do is blend in -- and thus far, it's no standout.