October 20th, 2009



Origin Story

The other day while working at home I turned on USA Network and found they were running the J.A.G. episodes which introduced NCIS Special Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and company, followed by the first two standalone episodes of NCIS. I haven't seen any episodes of J.A.G. in quite a while. Never really watched the series when it was on first run, but ran into it from time to time in reruns. Never quite believed that US Navy JAG lawyers ran around that much, but hey, it's television and with the popularity of Top Gun, having an F-14 Tomcat pilot wandering around was both good P.R. and "good" television sense.

The early NCIS episodes were, of course, a bit raw compared with the current product, but that's to be expected. Quite a lot of interagency intermural nonsense, too, between alphabet national security and police agencies. I'm sure that played well with Hollywood, but they toned that down for the series.

Now if I had problems with J.A.G. as JAG, I'm also quite sure that NCIS isn't an accurate depiction of the real Naval Criminal Investigative Service. But they've got a good quirky cast and a reasonable formula. It's a good buddy team police procedural and we like NCIS well enough, along with the various Law & Order's, the original CSI, Criminal Minds and NUMB3RS.

NCIS Los Angeles
CBS, Tuesday, 9pm

With NCIS a big hit for CBS, and it already being a spin-off, you know they had to try to touch lightning again. Even got two Big Names, or reasonably Big Names, for the cast. Plus the marvelous Linda Hunt. (!) And the obligatory one or two episode crossover with NCIS to introduce NCIS Los Angeles, but even when we started seeing the ads, I kept on seeing NCIS Lite.

My biggest problem, right from the get-go, is these guys aren't acting very professional. Special Agent Gibbs in NCIS may be a hard ass, but the man knows how to produce a badge, and flip it around to show I.D. I'm not sure I've seen the NCIS Lite guys announce they were NCIS Lite special agents or show the NCIS Lite special agent badges once. Or if they did, it sure didn't make an impression. Are we sure this is the same agency? Or are we to believe that L.A. is so casual that federal procedures aren't really necessary, dude?

I'm still watching, mainly because it's on in between NCIS and most excellent The Good Wife. But it's all glitz and sunshine and beaches and casual -- and a tough nut in Linda Hunt -- and it's shabby dressed up with some fashionably sloven glitz. The Law & Order spinoffs kept the grit of New York City. CSI: Miami and CSI: New York not only keep up the running attempt at science, but have a real identity which NCIS Lite has failed to come up with.

You know what I really miss? They got a computer hacker, but they don't really have anyone doing the forensics and they don't have a quirky medical examiner. NCIS Lite is just that -- NCIS plus Lite. It lacks credibility.

Watchable, But Not Noteworthy

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