“Put your game face on.”
When you have the highest-rated drama on television, there is a temptation to milk it for all that you can. We’ve seen it happen with both the Law & Order and CSI franchises. The results tend to be mixed, with some capturing and even exceeding the popularity of the original. Others never quite seem to connect and are gone while their mother ship is still on the air. It’s too early to tell if NCIS: New Orleans will fall in the former or latter category. There’s certainly plenty of the tight writing and production value that the NCIS label is known for. The cast is better than average, and we have the addition of an iconic city with plenty of personality to help drive the atmosphere of the show. But how does that translate on a week-to-week basis? In its second year, the jury’s still out on that one.
Dwayne Pride (Bakula) is a native of New Orleans. His family has history here. His father (Keach) is in prison for various fraud activities. His daughter Laurel (Caswell) is in college studying music, a passion she and her father share, although this season we discover she’s not quite so passionate as her father. He’s now divorced and starting to settle in for himself. He goes way back in his defense of the city and considers protecting it as his own private responsibility.
The team is a lean one compared to the other NCIS shows, but grows by one this season. Pride’s long-time friend and right-hand man is Alabama native Christopher LaSalle, played by Lucas Black. LaSalle has the old southern charm and some redneck tendencies. The team’s medical examiner is Dr. Loretta Wade, played by The Shield’s own favorite CCH Pounder. Her assistant is the geeky conspiracy nut Sebastian Lund, played by Rob Kerkovich. He’s absolutely the comedy relief on the team and usually explains too much and makes the requisite science fiction or conspiracy references that tend to annoy his colleagues. Last year the new member of the team was transfer Agent Meredith Brody, played by Zoe McLellan. She’s bounced around from place to place, not feeling confident enough to lay down roots. When things got rough in the past, she usually ran away to a new assignment. She’s trying to become a member of this family, though, and is slowly letting her guard down. But two years in, she still hasn’t unpacked her boxes. Last year Daryl “Chill” Mitchell’s Patton Plume was a recurring character. This year he moves up to a regular spot. He’s a wheelchair-bound computer whiz who ups the comic relief with his boasting. You get the impression that he also goes way back with Pride. The completely new character is a transfer from ATF. Agent Sonja Percy still has a lot of the street in her. She’s small but loud. She’ll get in your face and is pretty much just learning to play well with others.
Last season the show just wasn’t clicking with the kind of chemistry as the other two NCIS shows. There was an attempt to make this version different by being smaller and perhaps more intimate with the characters. It wasn’t really working. I think the show runners saw this pretty early and took a couple of steps to deal with it. The first was adding the Patton character as a recurring one starting in Season 1 at the mid-season mark. The first dynamic chemistry starts here between these two characters, but doesn’t go as far beyond as one might hope. There’s obviously a shorthand between LaSalle and Pride and a long history between Pride and Dr. Wade. It just doesn’t translate as smoothly as I or the show runners had hoped. It was no surprise that a new agent appeared in the beginning of Season 2. If you recall, I predicted some retooling would happen this year.
I love Scott Bakula and was a fan of both Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise. He adds that command-authority mixed with caring-father-figure here that he delivered as Captain Archer. One of the big issues, however, has to do with his New Orleans accent. He still travels in and out of it so much that it’s actually getting distracting. Last season they appeared to kill the accent, but instead it is rather toned down. I suspect it really drives the New Orleans people crazy.
The set is another good detailed environment. It is set up very much like the one from the LA show. You have a bullpen area with ornate rugs under the desks and an upper level with a railing. I have to say it looks too much like the LA set. That’s were any familiar elements end. The show takes full advantage of its New Orleans setting. From the music to the local culture and architecture, the series has tied the atmosphere of New Orleans rather solidly to the stories and action. It’s the second show I’ve watched in recent years set in New Orleans. The other was The Originals, and while both do a superb job of bringing in the city, NCIS: New Orleans does a more masterful job.
The cases also have a New Orleans flair to them. From the cemetery culture to a second line funeral parade, the stories take us into the heart of the city. The aftermath of Katrina figures into episodes, as do the week-long St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Here’s where it’s so important that we have a character who understands the heartbeat of the city so much. Brody serves as our stand-in, because this is all new to her. A vital character to have, just rather poorly written and portrayed. And that’s certainly not something I have ever said about any NCIS show before.
Pride’s nemesis is Douglas Hamilton, played brilliantly by Steven Weber. We just don’t see Weber enough these days, and he works well as a kind of foil for Pride. Too often these kinds of characters are loved by everyone, and it’s just not realistic for Pride, who absolutely has had to step on toes along the way. We get the idea that Hamilton can be a good or bad guy, but it’s always dynamic when these two characters share the screen. This time both are kidnapped by a grieving man who blames them for the death of a family member. It’s the best show of the season, because here there is incredible chemistry.
This season has a huge shadow cast over the team. The first episode has Pride go undercover in a violent militia organization. When he’s discovered, a bounty is put on his head, and it gets mentioned a lot during the season. There is an episode where his daughter is attacked, but they build this thing up without a really proper release. I suspect it will carry on into the third season where it will explode over several episodes. I hope this isn’t as far as they’re going to take such a big buildup.
This season sees a crossover between NCIS mother ship and NCIS: New Orleans. A plane shows up in-flight with a dead crew, and someone has to take it down before it crashes into a population. Finding the answers behind the dead crew brings together the crews of both shows. Abby’s brother is suspected among the dead, and we finally get to meet her sibling.
The season finale deals with a potential terrorist plot in New Orleans. That episode demonstrates yet another change in the series in its sophomore season. The action is ramped up a bit this year. They make that pretty clear from the first episode involving a get-together of militia groups. It’s another way the executives are trying to make the show as good as the others. It’s certainly a better season than the first, but there’s a bit of a way to go to match either of the other shows. I’ll keep watching to see if they can do it.
You get all 24 episodes and a few features in this set. There’s a look at the crossover episode and features on the show’s locations and production design. You’ll get character profiles for Patton and Percy, music, and a look at the season. If they don’t find a way to improve the chemistry, this show won’t last much longer. It’s the hallmark of the franchise. If they don’t get up to speed, I can see something dimly in their future. “There is a faint outline of what looks to be a boot.”