TV

NCIS: Los Angeles

Lesley Smith

From opening credits to closing clichés, NCIS: Los Angeles perpetuates the dominance of men as protagonists in primetime action drama.


NCIS: Los Angeles

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: LL Cool J, Chris O’Donnell, Linda Hunt, Daniela Ruah, Adam Jamal Craig, Peter Cambor, Rocky Carroll
Network: CBS
Air date: 2009-09-22
Website
Trailer
Amazon

The New York Times' Virginia Heffernan has pinpointed TV's biggest challenge, creating drama out of humans' propensity to inhabit equally ”the spatiotemporal world of bodies and things, and the online world of information and pixels." Only one drama surmounts this challenge for her, Fox's long-running 24. Of the multiple speaker-phone calls that drive the action, she writes, "When consequential words come from far off into a room of you and your colleagues, do you look at the phone, the middle distance, others in the room with you? This is a director’s call, and the choices in 24 make high drama of the minor eye movements and hand movements of digital experience."

NCIS: Los Angeles fails to heed this basic lesson. Instead, in the first two episodes, the cast lined up in a murky room and gazed solemnly ahead at projected images, as if the secrets of the universe were about to be revealed. Of course, all that appeared were blurry digital images that apparently conveyed essential information. No one in that room, including Special Agent “G” Callan (Chris O'Donnell) and Special Agent Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), reacted.

Glacial pacing and soap-opera-style shooting dog this NCIS spin-off, set in the service’s Los Angeles Office of Special Projects, which supposedly battles the toughest threats to national security with deep undercover and the newest technology. While the original NCIS never expends much energy on plausible or demanding plots, its writers do tweak the comic potential of each character sufficiently to generate non-objectionable family viewing. But the characters of NCIS: Los Angeles take themselves very seriously indeed. Even the goofball-on-the-team ploy misfires: psychologist Nate Getz (Peter Cambor) is so unfunny and socially gauche that he functions more like an unwelcome psychopath than a helpful doctor.

In this desert of the inept, LL Cool J and the ever-charismatic Linda Hunt appear like creatures from another, better universe, even when trapped in the direst sequences. Hunt's character, Hetty Lange, emerged in the premiere as a cross between James Bond's Q and a fraternity den mother. She might also be a boss or a manager, but even by the second episode, her status was still unclear. One moment she was dishing out new tech toys to Callan, and in the next she was picking out clothes to sharpen his image. Hunt delivered her dialogue as if it were Shakespeare, but the prevailing emotion her performance engendered was embarrassment for the rest of the cast, who simply cannot match her. She even injected a modicum of dignity into the premiere episode's bathetic close. After Callan refused to reveal his first name, told Hanna that he never received a birthday card, and admitted that he is a homeless orphan, he bunked down on the office sofa. Fighting enough soft focus to fuel a porn film, Hunt delicately arranged a blanket over the sleeping agent and stole off camera.

Although LL Cool J cannot match Hunt's panache, he adds a zing to Sam absent from the remaining characters. In recent years, television has rarely favored physical grace in its male stars, plumping instead for edgy bad-boy glamour or redeemable nerdiness. But LL Cool J strolls across the set as if he really were a peak-of-fitness ex-SEAL ready for undercover at a moment's notice. In the first episode's risible closing action sequence, Callan managed to distract not only the man with the gun to his head, but also the two goons bracketing Hanna, by the hoary ruse of pretending to take a cell phone call. While O'Donnell read his lines, LL Cool J made the ensuing fight look nearly elegant. Yet even his buff body in a wet suit couldn’t save the ending of the second episode. The shot of Hanna bursting up from a golf course water trap in full scuba gear to mow down the bad guys seemed to have strayed from a lost episode of Saturday Night Live.

From opening credits to closing clichés, NCIS: Los Angeles perpetuates the dominance of men as protagonists in primetime action drama, with women falling into the traditional generic slots: one statutory female agent, one quirky girl (see also: Abby Sciuto), and one female boss. NCIS: Los Angeles fills the latter two slots with Lange, thus freeing space for more testosterone and male bonding. In Donald Bellasario’s world, women weep while men play.

Going into its third episode, NCIS: Los Angeles recalls the kind of situation in which one of Bellesario's ex-military protagonists (say, Harm from JAG) would give the bad guy a gun and leave him alone to do the decent thing. Perhaps CBS will perform the same honorable service and pull the plug before the show's humiliations leave participants perpetually unemployable. One could watch NCIS: Los Angeles. But one could also watch paint dry with far less pain and no less gain.

2

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image