Produced with factory-like precision, “NCIS: New Orleans” seems determined not to give viewers watching lead-in “NCIS” any reason to reach for the remote or clap off the TV. And other than the jazz riffs (which no one will confuse with “Treme”) and Scott Bakula subbing for Mark Harmon (who doubles as an exec producer), audiences probably won’t notice much difference between the two shows. Despite conspicuous creole flavoring, this second spinoff looks likely to pick up pretty seamlessly where the “L.A.” edition left off – with Bakula providing good company, and justice served up faster than street-vendor gumbo.
Of course, the series really started last season, when CBS featured a planted spinoff within the context of “NCIS.” And the prospect of regular crossovers between the two series is made clear right off the bat when CCH Pounder’s medical examiner consults via TV monitor with her counterpart played by David McCallum. (Hence the wisdom of ensuring that Harmon had a direct stake in the new show’s success.)
Undaunted by concern about clichés, the plot for the premiere gets started with the discovery of a human leg in a pile o’ crawfish. And in a convenient flourish to help establish audience bonds with Bakula’s team leader Dwayne Pride (who everyone just calls by his surname), the victim turns out to be a young man he mentored who escaped a gang affiliation and wound up in the Navy.
Like Ted Danson’s recruitment to “CSI,” Bakula is an actor who brings considerable range (most recently, see “Men of a Certain Age” and “Looking”) to these somewhat limited environs, but his natural charm helps make the series feel like a comfortable old pair of sneakers by the end of episode one. Rounding out the squad are Zoe McLellan as Meredith Brody, a Midwestern transplant trying to maintain some personal boundaries; and Lucas Black (yes, the kid from “Sling Blade” still has that signature accent) as the lovable rogue who can party all night and chase down bad guys all day.
That is, admittedly, a rather slim front line, but the producers augment it with guest casting, including James McDaniel and Steven Weber in the premiere.
Created by Gary Glasberg, “NCIS: New Orleans” bears a closer resemblance to “CSI: Miami” than anything else, simply in terms of trying to use a specific locale to differentiate a spinoff that otherwise doesn’t orbit far from the mother ship with a Big Easy vibe.
Still, should anyone ask if there’s a dime’s worth of difference between TV’s most-watched drama (and bonus points to anyone who can still remember what those initials stand for) and this latest hour plucked from its rib, just say “NO.”