While I don’t watch a lot of network TV these days,like many others,I do have my small handful of favorites of what the TV press call “scripted dramas”. But what does that really mean? It means old fashioned TV shows we watched growing up,not the pure utter wasteland of VH-1,MTV or any other insipid “reality”shows.
Way back when,I was a faithful watcher of “JAG” on CBS. Okay,I watched it for two reasons,because I enjoyed watching Donald Bellisario produced series,especially “Airwolf”. And of course,the other reason was the lovely Catherine Bell. The series about military lawyers was well cast,had great stories and never seemed old. It never jumped the shark or wore out its welcome.
But the cast and the years on the air seemed to be catching up with “JAG” so Bellisario came up with a backdoor plot for a new series about Navy agents called “NCIS”. It was a hit and CBS greenlit it for a Sept 2003 start. The very talented but sort of snakebit Mark Harmon was cast as Jethro Gibbs and the show hit the ground running. Which was good considering Harmon’s track record of shows which had failed with him as the main lead,including the very underated “240 Robert”.
But Donald Bellisario is a mastermind of casting and NCIS was no exception. Every year,the show and the ratings have gotten stronger despite major cast changes (i.e. Sasha Alexander and Lauren Holly).
And in May of 2007,Bellisario himself left the show after a dispute w/Harmon over working conditions. It didn’t effect the show and adding Cote De Pablo and especially Rocky Carroll to replace Alexander and Holly only have made the whole show even stronger.
And so using the same method as “JAG” to introduce “NCIS”,a backdoor plot (a show within a show,designed to test how well the viewers will like new faces/plotlines),”NCIS: Los Angeles” was created.
As the title says,the new team is based in Los Angeles. The cast is pretty strong with Chris O’Donnell,LL Cool J and Linda Hunt being the 3 big guns. Young relatively unknown actors help fill out the rest of the team.
I have watched the first six shows and while I think once again,the casting is flawless,I am finding myself wanting some holes patched up.
The team of Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J is perfect. The chemistry and chrisma between these two lead actors,you think they had known each other for years. Both have dark pasts and while the show has tried to clone O’ Donnell’s “Callen” after Mark Harmon’s Gibbs as a man with a unspeakble past….letting the viewer actually catch glimpses of it (foster homes,emotional trust issues,a wife who was killed) only makes him a much more fun character to watch.
What I have really liked is the give and take of Callen with the team’s resident shrink, Nate “Doc”Getz. There is a real edge in these two dynamic that really will be fun to explore as the writing and series matures.
One big plus for NCIS:Los Angeles is both more action and not being afraid to use other characters from NCIS to move a plotline along.
Of course,sometimes its a bit overdone….like bursting into a house EVERY show so far with guns drawn,with no real purpose.
And the biggest drawbacks are twofold,the lack of direction for Hunt’s base operation manager. She comes across more like Edna Mole from “The Incredibles” then a shrewed and skilled agent who has seen and done it all. Surely she can do then sample tea and play “Q”.
The reliance of quick fixes is also hampering. Calling up and finding everyone’s business via computers sort of weakens the field agents. If finding out all the main answers is at the flick of a mouse or keyboard,then why the need for a field team? Having to depend on one’s own wit and experience to get answers makes for far more interesting viewing.
But again,I think as the show matures and finds its way,we’ll see less glamour and more brain/instinct based deductions by Callen and Sam Hanna. And what a great ride this will be.