You didn't think the Law & Order franchise was dying, did you? Sure, the Law & Order mothership was canceled this spring after 21 seasons, and USA is closing down Criminal Intent in 2011, but don't worry. For one thing, Law & Order: UK (starring Jamie Bamber!) starts airing on BBC America in October, and for another, tonight NBC launches a whole new domestic L&O series, this one based Los Angeles, a city some consider to be the urban polar opposite of L&O's original home. So is Law & Order: Los Angeles (or LOLA, for short) a worthwhile addition to the series of series? The scoop:
Law & Order: Los Angeles
Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 29, 10-11 p.m.
Competition: Terriers (FX), The Defenders (CBS), The Whole Truth (ABC)
Cast: Terrence Howard, Skeet Ulrich, Alfred Molina, Teri Polo
Status: We've seen the first two episodes
If you're a diehard L&O mothership fan, you're going to have a hard time finding the old show in this substitution. Law & Order: Los Angeles largely sheds the styling of the original series: The "doink-doink" is missing rarely used, the credits have been replaced with some minimalist techno music and a graphic, and, well, it's just too sunny and California-y to seem like Law & Order.
That change is supposed to be intentional. "L.A. provides a different backdrop, a different character in its own right, and to me a more fascinating character in that it's so spread out," series detective Skeet Ulrich explains. "It lends itself to so many different stories."
But part of the appeal of the original was its sheer familiar genericness. L&O was an American habit as much as anything. The rhythm of any given installment of L&O was nearly identical to all the others, and the mix-and-match plotlines all gave you the feeling that the story you were watching was faintly familiar, because you'd either seen something similar on the show before, or because you'd read the headlines the story was ripped from. In the new episodes, somehow that sense of familiarity combines with the frequently televised Los Angeles scenery to become a little uninspired and dull.
The cast is, of course, stocked with capable character actors from top to bottom. Alfred Molina's district attorney will be the Jack McCoy-esque moral compass of the show; Terrence Howard and Rachel Ticotin bring both "pretty" and "authoritative" to the table; while Skeet Ulrich and Teri Polo's married couple (he's a detective, she's a retired detective/stay-at-home mom) are obviously intended to be the identifiable, emotionally appealing regular folks. And as per the franchise's practice, the full working population of the Los Angeles branch of the Screen Actors Guild will no doubt pass through LOLA's turnstile before the series ends in approximately 2031. (Faves Jim Beaver, Mira Furlan and Oded Fehr all make key criminal-or-witness appearances in the first two eps.)
Overall, the series is still clumsily finding its feet. Derivative of itself, 90210, Southland and practically every other cop show, legal show and lifestyles-of-craven-and-wealthy-Angelenos show, Law & Order: Los Angeles is, for now, no more than adequate television. LOLA has no great failings, but it also has no particular uniqueness.
Verdict: DVR this show for now, wait until episode six to watch (that's when most TV dramas really start coming together), and then decide if you're in or out.
—Additional reporting by Megan Masters
What's your take on Law & Order: Los Angeles? Share your thoughts in the comments!