TV reviews: New 'Law & Order' shows retain shades of original
Corey Stoll, left, is Detective Tomas "TJ" Jarusalski and Skeet Ulrich is Detective Rex Winters in "Law & Order: Los Angeles."
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NBC may have cruelly canceled the original "Law & Order" before it could beat the "Gunsmoke" longevity record, but the "L&O" franchise continues with two more iterations debuting in the next week.
"LOLA," as it has been dubbed, takes the "Law & Order" concept and trucks it from one coast to the other. After watching the first two episodes it's a little difficult to say what the show will be on a weekly basis because each of the first two episodes plays like the pilot for two different TV series.
Tonight's premiere offers a pretty standard "L&O" case with the requisite twists and turns, albeit with a lighter, more playful tone at times as the cops roll their eyes at the antics of Hollywood folks.
Next week's episode is more somber as it focuses on the murder of a 1970s cult member in a story that also veers off into yawn-inducing internal politics of the police and district attorney's offices.
How does the show plan to juggle these competing tones? Viewers will have to wait and see, but the version of "LOLA" airing tonight is preferable even if it hews too closely to the familiar format.
The series premiere offers an entertaining introduction as detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich, "Jericho") and Tomas "TJ" Jarusalski (Corey Stoll) investigate a robbery gang that targets young, club-hopping entertainers.
"Two arms, eight Rolexes and one safe he doesn't use," Jarusalski says.
"Genius," Winters replies.
"Actor," Jarusalski clarifies.
Sarcastic deputy district attorney Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) has no fear of the limelight himself, suggesting a better camera angle to a photographer at a press availability. He and deputy district attorney Evelyn Price (Regina Hall) are one of two rotating sets of prosecutors on the series. (Because Mr. Molina is not available for all episodes, he and Terrence Howard will essentially share the chief prosecutor role similar to the way "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" has operated with two teams of lead actors.)
At one point in tonight's episode, a paparazzi photographer spells out the theme of the episode and potentially future episodes given the show's setting: "The public loves to watch stars suffer like regular people."
That kind of self-aware Schadenfreude may play well in an episode or two but would probably grow old if "LOLA" focused only on fictional celebrities. So the need to branch out to non-Hollywood stories is as understandable as the attempt next week is regrettable.
First, there are sloppy plot holes (a cop takes a woman's ID, never returns it, but she's found with it later) and improbable bits of evidence (a neighbor takes a close-up photo of a suspect with the murder weapon). But the bigger issue is the change in tone and focus.
The episode follows Winters home where his wife (Teri Polo), a former cop, may or may not have been involved in the wrongful prosecution of a woman whose children died in a fire.
In addition, the deputy district attorney team (Mr. Howard, Megan Boone) is less compelling. Mr. Howard is a fine actor but his character is somewhat dull compared to Mr. Molina's colorful, more entertaining DDA. It doesn't help that Mr. Howard's character is saddled with an internal political squabble plot involving the district attorney (Peter Coyote) that feels half-hearted and uninvolving. Viewers don't really know the characters or their relationships at this point, so the stakes are unclear.
The British spinoff may travel further, but it actually feels most like the original "Law & Order." And no wonder: "L&O: UK" recycles stories from the New York edition.
The series' premiere (10:30 Sunday before moving to 9 p.m. Fridays on Oct. 8) is based on a 1992 episode from the show's second season, "Cradle to Grave," about the death of child in a housing project.
"Law & Order: UK" executive producer Chris Chibnall, who previously wrote episodes of "Torchwood" and "Life on Mars," adapted the screenplay from the American original and gave it a British twist with references to "CCTV" (closed-circuit television) and a prosecutor's promise to put a suspect "in the dock" (a place in court where a criminal or accused person sits or stands).
The show's opening narration sounds familiar at first but then changes it up with references to "crown prosecutors who prosecute offenders." The "chung-chung" sound effect remains and gets no British twist, but the show's theme music is different, more upbeat and propulsive than what Americans hear in the plaintive strains of the original "Law & Order" theme.
Jamie Bamber, known to American viewers for his role as Lee "Apollo" Adama on "Battlestar Galactica," stars as detective superintendent Matt Devlin, who is partnered with the more veteran Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh, "The Old Curiosity Shop," "Coronation Street"), who occasionally wisecracks in a Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) way but with more subtlety.
Ben Daniels stars in what was traditionally the Sam Waterston role as senior crown prosecutor James Steel, and Freema Ageyeman ("Doctor Who") plays junior crown prosecutor Alesha Phillips, who seems as interchangeable as her many, many American counterparts.
Aside from a few head-scratcher terms (GBH = "grievous bodily harm"), lawyers and judges wearing white wigs while in court (the judge in the premiere looks like she's got a poodle on her head) and occasionally impenetrable accents, "Law & Order: UK" should be remarkably familiar to fans of the original series.
First Published September 29, 2010 12:00 am