*there are no spoilers in this post*
When Shane Brennan, writer and producer for NCIS announced there would be a spin-off there were several feelings and thoughts from NCIS fans around the world, such as myself. One the one hand, there was the danger that NCIS would become a CSI-esque franchise. However, with the ever-growing popularity of NCIS since it began in 2003, it was inevitable and, we must not forget of course, that NCIS is a spin-off itself. The back-door pilot episodes "Legend Parts 1 & 2" a few months ago were good, but they did nothing to make me want to watch the series. However, being the devoted NCIS fan that I am, I decided to give the series a chance because with any TV series, there is always a series of episodes where you are trying to find its feet (DS9 being the perfect example: a bit rubbish to start off and then evolved into greatness). This series is set in a different city, and different department, already distancing itself from the CSi formula. CSI is just the same forensic goings-on in 3 cities, where-as, the NCIS/JAG collection (I hate the word "franchise") sets itself in 2 different parts of the hierarchy (the investigators and the prosecutors) with the investigative portion being 2 completely different departments. Where NCIS is just your average federal agency building, NCIS: LA is in the OSP (more acronyms: The Office of Special Projects) with better technology and also mainly specialising in undercover work. Chris O'Donnell plays Callen, a mysterious man who does not know anything about his childhood. He got gunned down at the end of the pilot, and it is clearly still affecting him now because they are still trying to find the people involved. O'Donnell, I believe, is slowly working his way to redeeming himself for that thing he did (well if George Clooney can do it...) and he is a perfect fit for the role. I hope I'm not alone in thinking that we can expect great things from him in this role
LL Cool J plays Sam Hanna, a former SEAL who is the closest thing Callen has for a friend. When I first heard about his casting I thought the show was doomed from the beginning, but he surprised me in many ways; his has the athletic build perfect for the role and the chemistry between him and Callen is wonderful comic relief. However, my initial thoughts about LL Cool J's casting diminished slightly with the casting of Academy Award-winner Linda Hunt as Hetty Lange, who, while being portrayed as sometimes tough towards her collegues, is a lovely woman who genuinely cares about Callen, with a few lovely scenes during their interactions.
The other characters are not quite as fleshed out yet, and very often try to spark some chemistry that isn't quite working. But it is only the first episode after all and we will no doubt get to know them better as the series goes on. The overall plot of the episode was very good, adding a few twists the the story, which is what NCIS is quite good at. The change in location gives the show a fresh new feeling that is absent even from some shows that are not spin-offs and, as always, the writing by Shane Brennan is brilliant. I will even go far as to say that this episode is much better than Yankee White, the first NCIS episode. I am still not quite convinced by this show's equivilent "poomfs" (oh come on NCIS fans! you know what I am talking about!!), a series of clicky-camera-shots. But they will probably grow on us soon. Overall, a very good start to a series that has to compete with the ever-increasing popularity of it's predecessor. But this has potential, loads of it, and I guess time will tell over it's fate.