Law & Order: Los Angeles same old cop stuff in the California sunshine
NBC's West Coast take on its venerated cop franchise Law & Order: Los Angeles feels listless and halfhearted; like a sunbather who stayed out on the patio a bit too long.
Perhaps that's because we've seen each moment here many times before; this the umpteeth iteration of a franchise that seems close to its last legs. The move to Los Angeles brings new stars, a bright new visual palette and new geography -- this may be the first time an L&O cop uses TMZ as an investigative tool. But it doesn't bring much new energy or storytelling pizazz.
Instead, we get Skeet Ulrich as yet another dour, dogged investigator, shrugging on a trenchcoat worn by many others before. But where Chris Noth brought an edgy, streetwise energy to his classic character, Ulrich's Rex Winters is a dreary cipher -- new parent with an ex-cop wife handsome enough to draw a modeling offer and tough enough to turn it down.
The cast's big guns, film stars Alfred Molina and Terence Howard, alternate as assistant district attorneys prosecuting the cases, while old hand Peter Coyote brings flashbacks to his sleazy prosecutor in Jagged Edge as LOLA's district attorney. But given Law & Order's traditional focus on plot, these great thespians don't get much to do beyond bark orders and pause pensively before asking a question.
And moving the series to Los Angeles hasn't helped much. Like the British version of L&O now airing on BBC America -- love, love, LOVE the prosecutor dudes arguing in white wigs and robes! -- this West Coast version feels a bit stranded outside New York. Like an episode of Miami Vice set in Topeka Kansas, there's a stranger in a strange land quality to seeing this classic Manhattan franchise uprooted.
The two crimes revealed in the first episodes -- a take on the celebrity burglaries pulled off by a crew that used a famous party girl to target victims and a murder of a paroled member of a Manson-like cult -- feel outlandish and predictable at once. Just the kinds of cases you might have thought a Los Angeles Law & Order would tackle. (tonight's Law & Order: SVU also has a cute shout out to LOLA, putting Mariska Hargitay in a few scenes with Ulrich amid its own dramatization on the backlog of rape kits awaiting testing in large cities)
But that may be the point. In a TV season where the most conventional stuff is sticking with viewers -- $#*! My Dad Says as TV's most watched new comedy? Really? -- perhaps the wisest path is the one with few surprises beyond a few palm trees and paparazzi.