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'Law & Order: Los Angeles' Premiere Review: Mature Franchise Gets West Coast Facelift

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 29th 2010 1:00PM
The thumping disco music that opens the first episode of 'Law & Order: Los Angeles' (10PM ET Wednesday, NBC) is meant to remind you that this is not your father's crime procedural.

Well, actually, it is your father's crime procedural. But this is a 'Law & Order' that has heard of Facebook and TMZ.

In fairness, other editions of the cop-lawyer warhorse have dabbled in topical events and trendy ideas (or ideas that were trendy a while ago). But, as was the case with the mothership of the franchise, this West Coast 'Law & Order' works best when it gives its able cast knotty dilemmas to play.

The case in the 'LOLA' premiere isn't particularly impressive, though it demonstrates the competence and consistency that has allowed the 'L&O' brand to last for two decades. It concerns a theft ring that is targeting the young, heedless and famous, and the ideas that it touches on -- reality TV is sometimes scripted, people will do anything for fame and stage parents aren't always great role models -- will come as no surprise to anyone who has been within 10 yards of a tabloid in the last decade.

Still, the mechanics of the story hum along smoothly and detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and T.J. Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) are a moderately interesting pair. Ulrich brings an appealing warmth and humanity to what could be a bloodless role, and if Winters and the acerbic Jaruszalski aren't necessarily an all-time great 'L&O' duo, the fact is, the show doesn't need them to be that. It needs those actors to come across as good, dogged cops, and they do that just fine.

The best 'L&O' cases present the cops and lawyers with hard decisions and surprising developments, but the only truly unexpected development in the show's pilot was a seamy reference to a sex act that made the proceedings feel a bit gamier than they already felt. And I don't particularly mind when 'L&O' does ripped-from-the-headlines celebrity stories, but only if the episodes arrive at conclusions that are more interesting than the ones on display in Wednesday's outing.

The second case is much more effective, and it even brings in elements of Winters' personal life -- a case his wife, an ex-cop, had worked is re-investigated and causes political problems for both the police department and the District Attorney's office. The dependably excellent Jay Karnes ('The Shield,' 'Burn Notice') plays a lawyer, and it's worth noting that there are fine guest performances in the 'LOLA' pilot as well from Jim Beaver ('Deadwood,' 'Supernatural') and Mira Furlan ('Lost,' 'Babylon 5'), among others.

But all in all, the show is most effective when it's not only supplying a well-acted, clockwork story, but asking whether the people involved got -- or dispensed -- real justice.

When Rene Balcer took over the 'L&O' mothership in 2007, the show began to display an intelligence, thoughtfulness and creativity that it had lacked for some time. Balcer is the showrunner for 'LOLA,' and the Oct. 6 episode, which concerns a perp who is also something of a victim, feels a lot like a story that would have been told on his 'L&O' watch. It not only contains a few well-crafted twists, it gives excellent material to Ulrich and Terrence Howard, who plays Deputy District Attorney Jonah Dekker (Howard alternates with Alfred Molina, who plays DDA Ricardo Morales). Howard seems a little stiff in his early scenes, but his courtroom moments and his conversations with LA's District Attorney (Peter Coyote) are often compelling.

If 'LOLA' pursues the kind of intriguing case seen in the Oct. 6 episode, which is tied to the history of Los Angeles but not necessarily a tale of starlets gone wrong, it'll be worth keeping on the Season Pass list. There's something reassuringly timeless about the 'Law & Order' formula, especially when the 'L&O' machine produces a solid and unpredictable story that puts a good cast through their paces.

There's life left in this relocated franchise, as long as 'LOLA' doesn't become too enamored of the fame game.



Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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11 Comments

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KathyB

Kind of like it died and came back wrong.

October 05 2010 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carole42

I did not like the show Law & Order: Los Angeles yesterday. I couldn't get into it...I am going to watch it one more time before I cast my vote. I wished the orginial Law & Order would come back. This show yesterday was more like watching a movie.

October 03 2010 at 4:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JohnV

I didn't see the show and probably will never watch this incarnation.

I will go a bit off topic for a little bit, and I hope you'll get my meaning. I realize that shooting a TV show outside LA/NY costs more, but I think the L&O and CSI franchises missed the boat with choosing LA and NY AGAIN to spin off. I think CSI: New Orleans would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than NY. NY and LA have been so overdone.

You have the strip in Las Vegas, Miami has South Beach, New Orleans has the French Quarter and the mysterious voodoo and Cajun cultures. We have been watching cop/lawyer shows from LA/NY for over 50 years. A little more inventiveness would spark the next generation of those shows.

October 03 2010 at 4:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
we the people

Ugh! I cannot believe that the original L&O was "replaced" with such a dull show. If anyone wants to see the "star" stuff, just watch the news with the Lindsey Lohan's etc.

I was a loyal L&O fan, but this is blah compared to the original L&O with its relatable characters, dynamic actors and interesting storylines.

LOLA literally put me to sleep (as did LOCI when Goldblum and his sidekick took over).

I won't be tuning into this L&O again. At least I still have LOSVU to watch until they decide to kill it to!

October 01 2010 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Duane

Law & Order: Los Angeles...that's either a contradiction of terms or an oxymoron, one or the other.

September 30 2010 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
R P Hall

Sorry, but I liked it... Maybe I saw it as an intelligent take on the reality show culture and their stupid famous-for-being-famous characters (e.g, the "bling ring"). It was nice to see foolishness and validity exposed for what it really is... But I'll stay critical.

September 30 2010 at 1:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mynameis

I would bee very suprised if L&): LA is revived and gets a second season. I mean, think about it; NBC cancels Law & Order, only to replace it with Law & order; Los Angeles. Is that fair? All L&O followers knew that S. Epetha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren) chose to leave the show after 17 years. So, Dick Wolf (what the hell was he smoking?) decides to cancel one, and start a new one. And, it just makes no sense!

September 30 2010 at 1:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mynameis's comment
Mike

Yes, you're so well informed.

It's not like Dick Wolf fought tooth and nail to keep the series... even trying to get it moved to cable or co-financed like Friday Night Lights... nah... it's all his fault and not the programming execs at NBC.

Genius.

October 01 2010 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cliff

Lotsaluck to the new L & O LA, I must say, it was quite different, but I think if each new weekly show is about some movie star getting into trouble we will get tired of this. We see to much now about their drinking, drugs, marriages, divorces, their homes for sale, and who is being forclosed upon. At least, the old L & O was mostly about common folks, sometimes a celeberity, and the stars of the show seemed more sincere. Well, hell, I will go ahead and say it, I am really going to miss the old L & O.

September 30 2010 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Megan

It was horrible - dull, unexciting - I was bored stiff - I stayed till the end thinking it would get better - never did -

I will not watch another episode -

September 30 2010 at 11:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ColleenO

I just cant get excited for another L & O series, and I was their biggest fan for years. I stopped watching a few years ago, and unless it's a re-run with Lenny and Curtis, I'm just not interested... but thanks for the great review!

September 29 2010 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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