Seen the new “Law,” looks like the old “Law” — only with more conspicuous references to TMZ. “Law & Order: Los Angeles” is slick and sleazy — capitalizing on its locale with all the requisite L.A. stereotypes, while featuring a potent cast that, as usual, is pretty shackled by the well-established format. Not surprisingly, the guest stars shine in the first two episodes, which exhaust Lindsay Lohan- and Charlie Manson-type inspiration right out of the starting gate. Where it matters most, though — rebuilding the timeslot NBC flattened with “The Jay Leno Show” — what NBC wants, “LOLA” ought to get.
Of course, “Law & Order” featured a memorable excursion to Hollywood back in 1997, which offered the priceless sight of the late Jerry Orbach trudging along the beach, comparing himself to Nixon at San Clemente. Ah, memories.
Developed by Blake Masters, the new show opens with a string of robberies linked to a young starlet with a cloying stage mom (played by Shawnee Smith). On the case are detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and TJ Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll), who efficiently zero in on the culprit, handing it off to Alfred Molina’s steely D.A. to prosecute.
The second hour incorporates a revenge plot and a Manson-like killer, inexplicably squandering as little more than a cameo Michael Massee’s creepy turn as the jailed lunatic. The episode also digs a bit into Winters’ home life and his ex-cop wife (Teri Polo), but that feels like an unnecessary diversion — a way, perhaps, to mollify actors like Ulrich, Molina and Terrence Howard, who will alternate with Molina and leads the state’s case in the second hour.
NBC will launch the premiere behind an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” that fleetingly features Ulrich (along with a solid guest shot by Jennifer Love Hewitt as a rape victim), but they needn’t have bothered. With modest competition at 10 p.m. and CBS’ “NCIS” having already demonstrated the art of back-to-back brand extensions, there’s no reason to think this latest “Law” won’t perform well enough to rank among the least of NBC’s development problems this fall.
The writers do indulge in a few amusing L.A.-centric detours — including a pointed scene of “reality TV” being filmed, complete with retakes — but there’s ultimately no escaping the mostly unchanged (and undeniably durable) formula.
That’s because in the “Law & Order” system producer Dick Wolf has cultivated through multiple spinoffs since the first Bush administration, there are two groups: The actors, most of whom are demonstrably disposable; and the crisp template and writers, whose ripped-from-the-headlines gymnastics often concoct more satisfying twists on the day’s headlines than reality provides.
And despite what the flagship program’s narration used to say, they are by no means equally important.