Tales from the Cultural Wilderness - Journal

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2011-01-17 Entry: "NCIS: Los Angeles - "Identity""

And the spin-off of the spin-off, the Los Angeles brand of NCIS, which started airing on CBS in 2009, after a 2-part backdoor pilot sandwiched in the middle of a season of NCIS...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD

G. Callan - Chris O'Donnell
Sam Hanna - LL Cool J
Kensi Blye - Daniela Ruah
Hetty Lange - Linda Hunt
Nate Getz - Peter Cambor
Dominic Vail - Adam Jamal Craig
Eric Beale - Barrett Foa

So we open on a police chase, and after cornering the van they're chasing, they end up in a gunfight - and not only do the two suspects die, but a Naval officer in the back of the van is killed as well.

And then, after another great theme tune, we meet G. Callan (with attendant bullet scars from where he was gunned down) who can't find a place to live that he likes, and Sam Hanna, who's giving him the ride to their new office. The building was condemned after an earthquake, but it certainly looks swanky inside, and there are a lot of people in this office. How come they're so well staffed if NCIS doesn't have any money?

Ah, there's the money issues - their stickler of a boss, Hetty Lange, demands receipts from all operations, or the agents making up the costs out of their own pocket! The rest of the team consist of Eric (the tech guy), Kensi (the third field agent, who happens to be female...), Nate (the psychologist), and Dominic (the new guy). They all report to Director Vance (just like NCIS do at this point), but there's enough swanky computer tech here that it looks better than the communications room at NCIS Headquarters.

A quick bit of video analysis, and they discover the Naval guy was shot by the kidnapper rather than killed in the crossfire. So why were they so keen to execute the hostage? Okay, the silly banter between Callan and Sam is very DiNozzo, if DiNozzo had someone to riff off of. They check on the apartment of the dead officer (Macguire) and someone calls in to delete all the messages on his answering machine... who'd go to that much trouble? Macguire has lots of pictures of a young girl - a niece, Emma.

Seems Macguire was meeting with a couple of "friends" in a blue Tahoe every day that week... which makes for an odd kidnapping! And someone's still surveilling the apartment, but Sam scares them off. Following up on Macguire's associates gives them Bobby J. Jenlow, who runs a private security firm (and was the employer of the guys in the car Sam scared off). Meanwhile Kenzi and Nate go to talk to Macguire's sister... and Nate spots that the woman's lying to them.

Hetty redresses Callan - she always feels a bit like Edna Mode from The Incredibles to me - and Callan comments that she never calls him "G", to which she replies that it's not a name, it's just a letter, but if he tells her what it stands for... Unfortunately, G doesn't know, because no-one ever told him.

Kenzi spots that it was Emma that was kidnapped - which was why Macguire was doing whatever the kidnappers wanted... and I guess that explains why the girl's mother was lying... Turns out the drug cartels have kidnapped her so that they can get details on "Operation Dakota", a joint military operation against a whole bunch of drug cartels. Unfortunately, Jenlow is going to try and rescue the girl, and Sam and Callan's attempt to head him off at the pass is a bit late - Jenlow's been shot and there's no sign of Emma.

Fortunately, there is a lead on a very luxury house in Malibu owned by "Mad" Manny Cortez, head of one of the drug cartels. Unfortunately, Kenzi gives the whole game away when Emma's father calls to find out if there's any news on Emma and Kenzi tells him NCIS are doing everything to save her... but the father is actually a member of the cartel!

Sam and Callan go in to make a deal with "Mad" Manny, which at least gets them through the gate, although this doesn't sound like a particularly safe bluff to be playing... and the video that Callan sends back to HQ tips Nate off that "Mad" Manny isn't "Mad" Manny, but rather Luis, Emma's father. Callan plays one more bluff to disarm and disable Luis, and everyone goes home happy.

There's a little bit less actual detective work in this one, and more blundering into trouble with a bluff and a lie and then digging their way out, so there's definitely something of a different feel to the parent show; it's still got the same light-hearted touch to its humour, and it's still a bunch of misfits solving crimes vaguely connected with the Navy. And it's also a shiny, big budget show.

They've given a hint towards the big mystery - who is "G" Callan? What does the G stand for? Why doesn't he remember? But otherwise they've left it very up in the air - with all the bluffs and undercover work going on, it's hard to get a handle on who most of these guys are. Yeah, we get plenty of feel for Hetty, but then she just steals every scene she's in; the others are still pretty much one-note characters (to the point where Kensi is just "female agent" as beyond being on screen, looking gorgeous, and giving the whole game away to get Callan in trouble, she doesn't really do very much).

So yes, lots of scope for growth, but I'm not sure it's quite as well put together as the NCIS pilot was... although I'd be hard pressed to say why I have that feeling at the end of it. Maybe it's just because I've seen 5 seasons of NCIS and only 1 of this, and although this season was entertaining, I didn't really feel like I knew these characters at the end of it; I shouldn't really use prior knowledge of subsequent episodes to judge these pilots, but it's hard not to (and I suspect it'll be even harder for shows I've seen 14 million times like Star Trek!).

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