TV Review: NBC's 'Law & Order: Los Angeles'
Skeet Ulrich, Terrence Howard, Alfred Molina and palm trees star in Dick Wolf's latest
There's a very simple review to be written for "Law & Order: Los Angeles."
It goes something along the lines of: "Law & Order: Los Angeles" is exactly what you'd expect it to be. If that prospect is disturbing or discordant for you, you probably don't want to watch. If, however, you figure, "Well what harm could it do the 'Law & Order' franchise to be transplanted to the Left Coast?" you'll probably find something solid, reassuring and unremarkable about the show NBC is insisting on dubbing "LOLA," even at the expense of my spending two consecutive months with The Kinks stuck in my head.
So is that enough for you? "Law & Order: Los Angeles" is "Law & Order" only it's in Los Angeles.
On one hand, that means that the look and feel and flavor of the show is completely different. Forget the rotating casts of "Law & Order." The show's stars were producer Dick Wolf and the New York City. One remains, one is gone. So "Law & Order" could be the "Joey" of the "Law & Order" franchise -- New Yorker we used to like departs the Big Apple for Los Angeles and suddenly becomes a good deal less charming.
On the other hand, if Dick Wolf and New York City were two of the stars of "Law & Order" (and its respective spinoffs), the familiar structure -- detectives & lawyers, ripped-from-the-headlines plots and that beloved chung-chung transitional sound effect -- would be the third star. In that case, it's just like continuing with a hit show after one star leaves, rather than after a mass cast exodus. And plenty of shows have lost a couple stars here or there and found ways to hold onto quality and viewers.
It's all just a matter of perspective.
In this case, keep in mind that the perspective is coming courtesy of a writer who respected the "Law & Order" franchise greatly, but rarely felt the need to watch episodes, much less two episodes in a single morning, as I did with "Law & Order: Los Angeles" yesterday.
More thoughts after the break...
"LOLA" states its Los Angeles intentions very clearly in Wednesday's (Sept. 29) series premiere. The case of the week involves a gang of robbers breaking into the homes of low-level celebrities and the case brings with it a predictable assortment of wannabe starlets, manufactured reality stars and the various pieces of Hollywood's star-making apparatus, including persistent references to TMZ.
It's a little obnoxious and aggressive in marking its territory, but at least you don't walk away saying, "Well what makes this a Los Angeles story?" You'll know and not just because characters keep referencing how specifically LA the case-of-the-week is.
Our detectives are Rex (Skeet Ulrich) and TJ (Corey Stoll), members of the LAPD's Robbery Homicide Division, a task force that gives them jurisdiction over the full sprawl of the City of Angeles. You'd be hard-pressed to come up with character traits for either man, though NBC's press site has detailed bios for both, made up entirely of things that are never even hinted at on the show. But I guess it makes sense that Ulrich's character is an ex-marine, while Stoll's character's father is apparently an Oscar-winning cinematographer. Perhaps those facts will become relevant later on?
For me, Ulrich goes in that Alex O'Loughlin category of actors who neither enhance nor hinder shows for me, so I'm OK with certain viewers loving either star, at least if they're paired with other actors who I find more dynamic. Ulrich has a certain authority that plays just fine here and the franchise rules suggest that he's unlikely to get taxed beyond his theatrical means. And, fortunately, he's matched with Stoll, who comes across as a more electric performer. I'm not sure how much of Stoll's appeal comes from the combination of baldness and a terrific porn-stache, but my interest in this actor I've never noticed before probably validates what Bryan Cranston told me when he said, "No matter what race and no matter what age, hair on the face and no hair on the head is the most intimidating look there can be." He's a wise man, Bryan Cranston is.
That's the "order" side of things.
On the "law" side, we have Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard splitting time as deputy district attorneys, reporting to Peter Coyote's DA, who doesn't appear until the second episode. Critics were sent one Molina episode and one Howard episode and it's hard to gauge exactly what sort of men they are. Molina's character seems to be a political animal, drawn to grandstanding and big courtroom speeches. Howard's character is driven more by emotion and a sense of right and wrong and, in Terrence Howard style, he always seems to be right on the verge of tears. Both men are obvious excellent actors and it remains to be seen if showrunner Rene Balcer, a longtime veteran of the franchise, will be able to give either of them enough narrative meat to justify the presence of stars of this stature.
"Law & Order: Los Angeles" also features Rachel Ticotin, Regina Hall and Megan Boone in regular roles, though they're all upstaged by an aggressive accumulation of character actors appearing in the opening episodes, including Michael O'Neill, Jim Beaver, Jay Karnes, Michael Massee and Oded Fehr. Even if "Law & Order: Los Angeles" runs out of semi-familiar faces, after five or 10 seasons, the show can start recycling them, like the original "Law & Order" did.
Even in an uninspired incarnation like this, the "Law & Order" formula is still a more enriching peek into the legal process than something like ABC's "The Whole Truth."
When it's working out on location, "LOLA" has a solid feel for Los Angeles settings already and it has a flavor that sets it apart from previous versions. As an LA-based cop show, though, it doesn't have the unique, insiders' grasp of the city that "Southland" had immediately. The legal proceedings are pretty generic and could be set anywhere, though perhaps that's part of the point to balance the specific and the general? It's unclear.
There's a basic, primal craving for "Law & Order" that some viewers have and with the mothership gone, that craving can only be filled by "SVU," "Criminal Intent," hundreds upon hundreds of hours of syndicated repeats and BBC America's upcoming broadcast of "Law & Order: UK." If those options are not enough for you, "Law & Order: Los Angeles" can probably help. As for me? I probably won't be tuning in very much.
[I'll make the point probably for the last time that I understand why NBC is airing "SVU" at 9 p.m. and "LOLA" at 10 p.m. As sound as the logic is -- "SVU" has an audience and it should lead into an audience willing to watch "LOLA" -- it's still the wrong move. There's ratings evidence that viewers prefer to watch "SVU" at 10 p.m. and even if you ignore that evidence, there's little doubt that "SVU" has subject matter that's best held til 10, while "LOLA" is both aesthetically sunnier, but also less topically dark, at least in the early going.]
"Law & Order: Los Angeles" premieres on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. on NBC.