Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Pilot Review: NCIS: New Orleans
I've never watched a single moment of any previous NCIS series, so I don't know how the New Orleans extension compares to the others. But as a freestanding pilot, NCIS: New Orleans is almost a total failure. But then again, CBS probably isn't too interested in gaining new viewers with this spin-off, but rather pleasing old ones and hoping their eyes stay glued to the TV after the NCIS mothership ends at 9:00.
The plot of CBS's newest procedural can be summarized as "some people solve a crime... in New Orleans." I don't know how much that differs from the original NCIS or NCIS: Los Angeles, but I bet the only difference is the location. Because from the first few moments of the pilot, and then constantly throughout, attention is called to the southern setting. Lest you forget this is a new incarnation in a new locale, writer Jeffrey Lieber (Lost) will remind you that we are, indeed, in New Orleans. The episode opens with Gulf Shrimpers discovering a severed leg in their catch, and that, as well as the new cast of characters and their sometimes-dubious drawling accents, should be enough to remind the audience that this isn't DC or LA. But just in case it wasn't, we are treated to scenes set in jazz clubs, repeated references to Creole food, and questioning whether an alligator may be the primary suspect in the murder case. It's unnecessary and annoying; let the location speak for itself. There's enough steamy atmosphere on display as is... we don't need framed shots of trumpets and Louisiana bayous to set every scene, not to mention the obnoxious, overpowering twangy score that builds to near deafening levels at the end of each act.
Aside from that, NCIS: New Orleans is not interested in explaining itself to any potential new viewers. We are dropped right in the middle of a story with this team of investigators and expected to know who they are and how they related to each other. The pilot assumes everyone has already seen the backdoor pilot, a two-part episode that aired as part of NCIS's eleventh season earlier this year. So new viewers are alienated right off the bat. But even those who met Special Agent Pride (Scott Bakula) a few months ago likely don't know very much about him, considering how brief his and the rest of his team's appearance was on NCIS. So why do we care that someone from his past has turned up dead? This is the type of episode that would be better served after a character is already established, like at the end of the season, so that we feel something for the character. Pride is angry and grief-stricken, but why the hell should I care? I've only know him as a character for less than ten minutes. The others don't fare much better. C.C.H. Pounder (The Shield) is a medical examiner, and that's all we know about her. She's not a character yet. Ditto for SA LaSalle (Lucas Black). At least we get to know a bit about SA Brody (Zoe McLellan), even if that bit is just that she's finding it difficult to adjust to life in New Orleans compared to life in the Great Lakes office. It doesn't really tell us anything about her as a person, but at least it's something.
Because everything else about NCIS: NOLA is shallow. The central murder plot is run of the mill gangs and drugs stuff. None of the characters really talk about anything of import, it's all just surface level crap about the case, about where they used to work, about breakfast. They talk at each other, not to each other. And there's this really bizarre stylistic choice to show a snapshot of Pride at the beginning of each act (following a commercial break, and at the very top and very end of the episode) of where he is when the upcoming act ends. Apparently this is copied from NCIS, in which case I need to understand why it exists. It's pointless and downright stupid. Then again, "stupid" and "pointless" are adjectives that could be used to describe the very existence of NCIS: New Orleans.