The makers of NCIS: Los Angeles The First Season DVD did an interesting thing. They included the two-part spin off episodes from the NCIS mothership series as a part of this collection. Including these episodes does two things. First, it establishes the characters that are front and center in the new show, but it also shows the differences between the two series. Whereas NCIS is a more traditional procedural show, NCIS: LA is slick, fast and definitely aimed at a younger audience than the original series. The producers of NCIS: LA set out to make a completely different series than the original, and they did so with flying colors.
Unlike NCIS, NCIS: LA deals exclusively with a counter terrorism unit of undercover federal officers; they are not strictly investigating crimes relating to the Navy and the Marines. Because of their mission, the men and one woman who constitute the field team are all high strung and gung ho. And because it’s based in Los Angeles, the dress and demeanor of this unit is more casual than the type of suit and tie badasses we’ve come to expect our government agents to be, thanks to the long history of feds portrayed in film and television. Indeed, NCIS: LA definitely has all the hallmarks of a buddy cop show, rather than an military show.
Chris O’Donnell stars as G Callen, a tormented, wayward man who was shipped around from foster home to foster home as a kid. He’s so messed up he doesn’t even know his first name. With so few clues about his past, Callen makes for a perfect undercover cop. He has no trouble assuming a new identity, as he seemed to have to do that his entire life each time he entered a new home. Callen is partnered with Sam Hanna, an ex-Navy Seal who has a long list of special skills and is deadly with just about any weapon. As played by LL Cool J, Hanna has a deep sense of loyalty and honor, no doubt due to his years spent in the SEALS. Passionate about protecting his teammates, Hanna is a private man who has revealed little about his past.
In these two characters, the producers have created a Starsky & Hutch pair that clicked from the first scene they shared together. O’Donnell, who has a long history of playing the romantic lead, does an excellent job of portraying the brooding, pissed off Callen. His best work occurs when the camera just zeroes in on his face and lets him react. The first season arc deals significantly with Callen’s search for clues about his past and O’Donnell more than steps up to the challenge. LL Cool J proves himself to be an excellent partner to O’Donnell. The two actors throw lines off of each other with the ease of men who’ve known each other for years. They really deliver on the whole “buddy cops” aspect of the show.
Still, this is still an ensemble show, and there are some other excellent actors in NCIS: LA. Daniela Ruah is agent Blye, the only woman on the field team. She acts as the resident forensics officer, but she’s no wallflower. Blye can kick some ass. Peter Cambor is the team operation psychologist, Nate Getz. In addition to acting as a shoulder for the team members to come to when they’re distressed, Getz is also the comic relief on the show. Cambor makes the character easy to like and easy to laugh at, as well.
Beal (Barretta Foa) is a computer/tech officer of the group. He the most laid back of the team, nearly always in shorts and a t-shirt. Veil (Adam Jamal Craig) is the team rookie out to prove himself. The great Linda Hunt rounds out the cast as Hetty, the operational manager of the NCIS LA office. At first it seemed that the writers were unsure what to do with her character. Fortunately they figured it out because Hunt is too great a talent to let go to waste.
The cast gels on NCIS: LA, which is great because it takes some time throughout season one for the show to find a voice. It seems that in the early episodes the producers were trying so hard to make this show different from the original that they weren’t exactly sure what they were trying to say. I would say that by episode 5 everything starts to click. The action in the latter half of the season propels things at such a pace that I found myself watching multiple episodes at a time. It becomes addictive. Some of the dialogue is still a little clunky, but the cast makes the most with it.
NCIS: LA has a good mix of action and the character moments, making it a show that’s easy to connect with. With 24 having signed off this season, I suspect that NCIS: LA will become the new favorite for action junkies. I know that I’ll be giving it a look when the season premieres in a the coming weeks.
Bonus features on the First Season box set are not spectacular, but they are quite informative. There are separate featurettes that look at how the production came toget6her and how the show was cast. This seems to be standard material for season one DVD box sets; the ones on this set are well done. You also get a look at the stunts, a tour of the sets, and an LL Cool J video, just to remind you that he still makes music and that he’s still the baddest rapper of them all.