Hotshot military lawyer Lt. Harmon Rabb Jr. (David James Elliott), does his own detective work in the employ of the Judge Advocate General’s office. “JAG” borrows from recent features”Crimson Tide” and “Apollo 13” in being jargon-heavy to help generate atmosphere but as Rabb’s character is allowed to develop, “JAG” could become one of the season’s highlights.
Saturday’s two-hour hardware-heavy movie is pilot for 60-minute series that begins its regular 8 p.m. Saturday night run on NBC on Sept. 30.
In newest dramatic series from Donald Bellisario, Rabb investigates disappearance of Navy pilot Lt. Angela Arutti (Katie Rich). Rabb and new partner Lt. Caitlin Pike (Andrea Parker) are directed to the most obvious suspect, Capt. Thomas Boone (Terry O’Quinn), who’s well known for his opinion that women don’t belong in F-14 cockpits, but other possibilities — including suicide — exist.
Prominent characters include reporter Chuck DePalma (Cliff DeYoung), who senses a scoop; ship’s gruff Capt. Eric Ross (Bill Bolender, drawing from Humphrey Bogart in “The Caine Mutiny”); a crewman (Tim Quill) who could be Arutti’s lover; her body-building roommate (Raye Hollitt) who also could be Arutti’s lover; and any number of other officers and seamen. Jay Leno appears via a “Tonight Show” seg filmed especially for this film. A believable though somewhat disappointing solution is hinged on a lucky discovery.
Along the way, much of Rabb’s backstory is developed (former pilot, son of a legendary officer, grounded on own volition after serious accident).
Bellisario tries to keep on top of things technologically: Pike notes that Arutti’s computer is loaded with Windows 95, and flying, shooting and bombing f/x (credited to Larry Fuentes and DreamQuest Images) are often quite spectacular. Show is filmed without Navy cooperation; carrier scenes were filmed on a decommissioned ship.
Evidently, only the Rabb character will be a regular on the subsequent series , with Parker’s plucky Pike replaced by Tracey Needham as Lt. (j.g.) Meg Austin. Too bad: Rabb’s superior officer, Admiral A.Z. Brovo (Kevin Dunn) deserves more screen time.
Elliott looks great in dress whites, but should display more personality if he’s to be a sympathetic continuing lead. Until then, the toys should hold the interest of the boys.