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LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES (NBC)
(Wednesdays at 10:00/9:00c beginning tonight)
The network's description (September 29): "When a group of thieves target the homes of young Hollywood, Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and Tomas "TJ" Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) soon discover there is more to the crimes than meets the eye. After the perpetrators are uncovered, another shocking crime is committed at the home of young starlet Chelsea Sennett (guest star Danielle Panabaker) and her stage mom, Trudy (guest star Shawnee Smith.) As everyone starts turning on each other, Deputy District Attorney Morales (Alfred Molina) remains intent on exposing the real ringleader. Also starring Wanda De Jesus, Regina Hall and guest star Wyatt Russell."
The network's description (October 6): "When murderous cult member "Baby" Jane Lee Rayburn (guest star Nancy Youngblut) is found stabbed to death, Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and Tomas "TJ" Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) question multiple suspects, including the cult ringleader Denis Watson (guest star Michael Massee) and Jane's former cellmate, Maura Dillon (Bonnie Root). However, the case cuts very close to home for Detective Winters when his wife Lori (Teri Polo), a former Detective, is questioned. DDA Dekker (Terrence Howard) and DDA Stanton (Megan Boone) find themselves facing a trial where the line between suspect and victim is blurred."
What did they leave out? Wanda De Jesus actually plays the detectives' lieutenant in the premiere with Rachel Ticotin taking over in said role in the second episode.
The plot in a nutshell: Another day, another dead body in Los Angeles. Perpetually catching each case then are detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich; earnest, married, new dad) and Tomas "TJ" Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll; bald, mustachioed, acerbic). In the premiere, it's a victim of a home invasion, the devoted girlfriend of a rising Hollywood hunk; while in week two it's a cancer-ridden former cult member on the beach. In both instances, Winters and Jaruszalski's investigation uncovers yet another crime, ones which paint the first in a decidedly different light.
Aiding the detectives in their quest for justice are alternating ADAs Peter Morales (Alfred Molina; skeptic) and Jonah "Joe" Dekker (Terrence Howard; idealist) - alongside their respective assistants (Regina Hall, Megan Boone) - as well as Rachel Ticotin as the detectives' lieutenant and Peter Coyote as the District Attorney. Not surprisingly to say any more would spoil the fun but suffice it to say together they not only uncover the truth but also the harsh consequences of bringing it to light.
What works: The "Law & Order" franchise remains the gold standard of procedural storytelling and for good reason: it grabs your attention with its "ripped from the headlines" plots and proceeds to take you through its mechanizations in satisfying - and sometimes surprising - ways. "Los Angeles" then appears to be the next progression in the formula: it's got the done-in-one aspects of the original, the take-it-home-with-you characterization of "Special Victims Unit" and the omniscient perspective of "Criminal Intent." Collectively they make "Los Angeles" fairly entertaining out of the gate, especially how it ingratiates itself into the lifeblood of Los Angeles in the same way it did in New York City.
In terms of the characters, Stoll's TJ is an early standout as his sardonically amused delivery is a more than welcome presence while Molina's pragmatic Morales shows some spark. Plus, much like its franchise brethren, "Los Angeles" isn't afraid to trot out some recognizable faces - Jim Beaver, Michael Massee, Oded Fehr alone in the first two episodes - to give some heft to what could be considered bit parts. All in all, there's enough here to keep the spirit of the original "Law & Order" alive - the iconic scene transitions, the computer-like efficiency of how it drills through the plot, etc. - with a few wrinkles to freshen things up for those who haven't visited in a while.
What doesn't: On the flip side, I'm less sold on Ulrich's Winters if only because his nice turn in the premiere is followed by an unnecessarily sloppy visit to his home life in week two. Here not only do we meet his wife, we find her built into the DNA of the actual case that week, a development which seems designed to create some marital friction but ultimately feels false in every way. As for the rest of the cast, Boone, Hall and Ticotin come across very non-descript while Howard's Dekker doesn't deviate too far from the righteously indignant crusader mold we've seen before (not to mention Peter Coyote's politically-minded DA).
Nevertheless, they don't really detract from the story so hopefully they'll grow beyond their initial cipher status. At the end of the day, I was among those disappointed by the exit of the original "Law & Order." Rubirosa, Bernard, Lupo, Cutter, Van Buren, McCoy and company were still part of some solidly entertaining stories so their departure in favor of an entirely new ensemble - and locale - certainly met me with some skepticism. Having seen rough cuts of the first two episodes though "Los Angeles" is far from heresy, in fact it just might be...
The bottom line: ...a welcome addition to NBC's lineup.