CBS’ latest dramatic brand extension really amounts to a lazy way of promoting a buddy-cop procedural, with Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J as crimefighters who see a lifetime’s worth of action in just the premiere. That the show was a planted spinoff from “NCIS’ ” rib and signals its “Los Angeles” locale with conspicuous beach backgrounds represents the network’s determination that viewers know everything from the title, which is mostly true. O’Donnell and Cool J have credible chemistry, and it’s nice to see Linda Hunt as their boss. Beyond that, no investigation is necessary to grasp the formula.
Lest anyone forget, “NCIS” is not a jumbled version of “CSI” (Crime Scene Investigation … Now?) but rather stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service. After an introductory outing last spring, the L.A. team is in place, racing against time after a naval officer turns up dead in the back of a car, following an opening shootout between the driver, his accomplice and police. (You can tell they’re LAPD, because they shoot first and ask questions later.)
O’Donnell’s G. Callen has a sketchy foster-care past that has deprived him, among other things, of an actual first name, and his less-complicated sidekick Sam (Cool J) eyes him periodically with concern. As for the rest of the West Coast team, they’re a rather nondescript bunch in the premiere, left sitting in the office eyeballing what looks like a giant Wii screen or chasing down peripheral clues while the two stars do all the heavy lifting (and running, and shooting).
Rocky Carroll pops up via satellite to remind us of the show’s connection to its lead-in, but otherwise it’s easy to see this as another high-tech cop show in CBS’ seemingly inexhaustible supply of them. By that measure, the series can at best be lauded for its efficiency and at worst be chided for resorting to the convenient fallback of Mexican drug lords as its initial heavies.
The only real surprise is that CBS made no pretense of trying to get the baby to walk on its own, and positioned the new show directly behind its well-establishment parent. Then again, there’s a certain logic to that, not only for the convenience of inevitable crossover episodes but for the simplicity of not asking viewers to remember where to find it — as in, “Like the original? Well don’t touch that dial! There’s more ‘NCIS’ coming up!”