The series was previewed in a two-part episode of NCIS entitled Legend. A dead Marine in Washington led to a terrorist cell in LA, where Gibbs and McGee join the LA branch to bring down the bad guys. Here we meet the new characters and get a chance to get comfortable with them. However, by the time the show aired its first episode, there were some pretty major changes for the show already. It’s not uncommon, and the Legend episode was really a back-door pilot. The location would be completely scrapped. The show would get new digs in a covert building that appears to be a condemned water plant on the outside. I’m not quite sure why a public agency needed a secret hideout, but there it is. The show retained its high-tech look. They have a Minority Report-style computer system which remained the centerpiece of their operations room.
The show differed in several ways from its sister show. While LA was still a military show, that angle is downplayed here. The atmosphere for the team is more civilian-looking all the way around. There are seldom folks walking around in uniforms. The operations utilize more of the standard surveillance and undercover work. In the back-door pilot, the leader of the group was an agent who had history with Gibbs. Her name was Macy, and she was played by CSI alum Louise Lombard, who was gone when the series premiered in its own right. Later we are told she was killed. There’s a lot more street work to be found here. That means car chases and lots of shootouts. The cases often deal with terrorists, so these guys break a lot of the rules. They don’t let any silly Constitution stand in their way.
The role of head honcho went to Linda Hunt as Hetty. You might remember her as one of the prominent judges from The Practice. She plays a character with a rich back story. She appears to have once been a Hollywood costume designer and has plenty of stories about the big celebrities she knew, and hints at sleeping with. She’s a strong mother hen for the group, both nurturing and demanding. The lead undercover officer is Callen, played by former Batman sidekick Robin, Chris O’Donnell. He doesn’t know his first name, only that it starts with a G. He’s a little Jason Bourne. He knows little of his own past but has those mad instincts and ability to think on his feet. He was orphaned and has some security issues. He moves a lot, never staying in one home more than three months. He’s a natural undercover with great instincts that allow him to blend into any situation. His partner is Sam Hanna, played by rapper LL Cool J. He’s a former Navy Seal with the brains to go with all of that bulk. The team also includes Kensi Bly, played by Daniela Ruah, who was born in the US but spent most of her acting career on Portuguese television shows. She’s the prerequisite supermodel that it seems every cop show has to have. Fortunately, she also has solid acting chops. The character is the CSI-styled forensic expert on the team. She’s the one who combs the crime scenes for those hidden clues. In season 2 her former partner Nate Getz, played by Peter Cambor, leaves the show. He is replaced by LAPD liaison Marty Deeks played by Eric Christian Olsen. The two have better chemistry than Kensi had with Nate. There’s the expected sexual tension and a lot of banter that keeps the partnership interesting. Eric Beal, played by Barrett Foa, is the tech guy of the group. He does all of that computer hacking that every show does these days. Now he also has a partner, of sorts. Nell Jones is played by Renee Felice Smith. She’s a bright young rising star who has a lot of the same tech knowledge that Eric has. They step on each other’s toes a lot but eventually start to work well as a team.
The new season allows us to get right into the stories. We know these characters well enough now, and they can start to take us on some pretty cool adventures. Callen pieces together even more of his past, which takes a bit of an international tone. Sam loses a good friend and finds himself running the line between justice and revenge. He softens a bit without loosing that Navy Seal tough exterior. Kensi’s past is revealed when she faces a man who has post traumatic stress disorder, and it brings back some bad memories of her own father. Eric gets to go out in the field for a change. Even Hetty is revealed more fully when she must confront a decision she made back in her old spy days. A man she once had to shoot is in need of help, and she discovers he’s the closest thing to a family she ever had. You get all 24 episodes on 6 discs.
Each episode of NCIS: LA is presented in its original broadcast 1.85:1 aspect ratio. At the time of airing you might not have been watching in HD, so these prints will be a welcome treat for you. While there is at times a bit of grain, the presentation is mostly pretty solid. There are some sweet ocean scenes that appear to shine in color and depth. There are a lot of earth tones here, so don’t look for a particularly bright mood in the presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 offers a few nice ambient moments, but mostly you’re getting dialog here. It’s all fine and well placed; just don’t look for too much ear candy.
There are a couple of cast and crew Audio Commentary tracks on select episodes.
Absolution – The Table Read: (27:24) The cast and crew do a live table read on stage for an audience. It includes clips from the actual episode.
Shooting Up L.A.: (9:31) This is a highly technical discussion about the cinematography of the show from lighting to the equipment.
Location! Location! Location!: (11:15) It’s a good look at the L.A. locations, but I’m puzzled when crew talk as if L.A. is so rarely featured on television. It’s the most filmed city in history.
Uncovering Season 2: (24:45) This feature looks at each character’s story arc for the season and introduces the two new characters/actors.
This show keeps getting better and better. I find it to be the most compelling procedural on television today. It has everything from great stories to tight production values and a wonderful cast with incredible chemistry. The two new additions fit perfectly and the few tweaks just make this one better with each new episode. If you try out no other television release this fall, make this your first choice. How does it compare with NCIS? Both are good shows but they are not the same at all. “It’s more like beauty and the beast.”