“NCIS: Los Angeles” isn’t “NCIS” gone Hollywood, which is both a relief and a slight disappointment.
On one hand, the “LA” in the title might suggest sunnier plots with ties to the entertainment industry, grounded in the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps as an afterthought. Surfing Navy seals? Marines attending red carpet premieres? That just smacks of silliness, a direction that the show thankfully doesn’t take.
On the other hand, would it really hurt to have at least one episode involving an agent going undercover to hang ten with a gang of surfing criminals? Hey, it worked for “Point Break.”
Chris O’Donnell plays Callen, an NCIS agent who lives a nomadic life and has survived getting riddled with bullets. One of the early working titles for the show was “NCIS: Legend,” referring to Callen’s well known reputation for excellent undercover work. Also, he’s so mysterious that he mystifies himself: He’s missing certain basic, essential background facts about his past.
In the series premiere, Callen has returned to the NCIS fold after spending some time away. He and his partner Agent Sam Hanna (LL Cool J, aka James Todd Smith) have been called in to investigate the kidnapping and subsequent shooting death of a Naval intelligence officer.
Callen exhibits uncanny ability in his job, but fortunately never comes off as cocky or seeking sympathy for his enigmatically deprived upbringing. In fact, he seems to have a self-deprecating sense of humor about himself, which is a good balance for LL Cool J, whose Sam seems to be the more serious one in the partnership.
The supporting team appears fairly cliched but effective. There’s Eric (Barrett Foa) the tech nerd who has good bone structure under those thick-rimmed glasses; Kensi (Daniela Ruah) the attractive forensics investigator; newbie agent Dominic (Adam Jamal Craig), who seeks to prove himself and the pencil-pushing psychologist Nate (Peter Cambor), who wants a little more “in the field” excitement even though he’s probably not equipped to handle it.
The standout of the group is legendary actress Linda Hunt, whose small stature always belies strength. Hetty is the strict keeper of all the equipment, ranging from the proper garb and ID essentials to the latest in cell phone and souped-up automotive technology. Hunt embraces all 4-foot-9 of her steely, quirky character, who elicits a mix of laughter, fear, respect and ultimately affection from the NCIS team.
Overall, “NCIS: Los Angeles” won’t wow viewers with groundbreaking innovation, but that’s not its job as a continuation of a franchise. It stays stays true to the formula, and its solid cast balances th investigation, undercover work, curious trivia, convenient exposition, gadgetry and action well. If viewers find themselves in need of a yet one more crime procedural, then the show will adequately satisfy most requirements — with or without surfing criminals and gnarly waves.
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