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By Barry Garron
“NCIS,” which this week starts its seventh season on CBS, seems alittle old to be bearing offspring. On the other hand, the show hasshown surprising ratings resilience in the past couple of years.That vitality, as much as anything else, accounts for the birth of”NCIS: Los Angeles” — and with it the show’s official designationas a franchise.
“NCIS: L.A.,” like its parent, relies on a sturdy, mostly youthfulcast, sporadic action, and sprightly dialogue. It courtsyounger-adult male viewers, and in that vein, the spinoff is a chipoff the old block. Chances are, it will enjoy some serious audienceflow. Also, a similar dearth of Emmy noms.
Looked at in isolation, though, “NCIS: L.A.” is little more than anupdated version of “The A-Team” of the 1980s, with more high-techgadgetry and fewer explosions. There is the same lightheartedapproach to life-or-death situations. Maybe the biggest change isthat “NCIS: L.A.” achieves its inevitably favorable outcomes with alittle more intellect and a little less testosterone.
The foundation for this new series was poured in the final twoepisodes of last season’s “NCIS.” The premiere takes place fourmonths later when a barely recovered Special Agent G. Callen (ChrisO’Donnell) returns a month early to resume assignments with partnerSam Hanna (LL Cool J).
Their first job is to get to the bottom of the murder of a Navyintelligence officer held hostage and killed by a Mexican drugcartel gunman about to lose his own life in a shootout with police.The NCIS agents prefer to do their investigating by pretending tobe other people (real estate agents, satellite brokers and so on),even when, most of the time, the information they seek would beavailable without any subterfuge. It’s good for the lightheartedbanter.
The plot is thin, and some of the performances are threadbare.There are flashes of Los Angeles landmarks but no real attempt togive the show a Southern California vibe. Except for the occasionalflash of recognizable scenery, this could be “NCIS: Lubbock.”
O’Donnell conveys a little more depth to his character than can befound on the printed page. The burning mystery of his bullet scarsapparently will be explained in episodes reserved for sweepperiods, along with the bigger mystery of why he has just aninitial for a first name.
The most interesting actor to watch is veteran Linda Hunt, whoplays Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, a combination mother hen and sternoffice manager. I’d love to see her on an assignment in thefield.
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