When you’ve got the biggest scripted hit on network television in NCIS, it makes perfect economic (if not artistic) sense for CBS to spin it off so it can have two of the biggest scripted series on network television. And that’s just what’s happened with NCIS: Los Angeles, now in its second season making a comfy schedule companion with its mothership even though the two series are more unlike than they are similar. Where NCIS is a strongly military-based whodunit, NCIS: Los Angeles is much more an action-based crime drama sometimes with scant ties to the Navy or Marines.
NCIS: Los Angeles
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr. et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 1038 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 2.0 English, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 64.99
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Review Date: August 19, 2011
As with most series in their second seasons, the casting of regulars and formulas for smooth procedural storytelling are still looking for firm footing, and the show has done both well and ill in both arenas. From season one, we have five team members returning who have been with the show from the outset: partners G. Callen (Chris O'Donnell) and Sam Hanna (LL Cool J) making one well-oiled and somewhat bromantic team overseen by the head of NCIS operations on the West Coast, the diminutive, enigmatic Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt). Special Agent Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah) who lost her young, inexperienced partner last year has been paired up now with LAPD liaison officer Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen), whose quips and eye for the ladies brand him automatically as the organization’s playboy and jokester (in other words, this show’s Michael Weatherly/Anthony DiNozzo from the parent show). Also still part of the organization is chief of computer operations Eric Beale (Barrett Foa). Missing from last year’s regular cast is Operational Psychologist Nate Getz (Peter Cambor) who went from series regular to occasional guest star this season (turning up in roughly four episodes this season “on assignment”). His dismissal from the regular company was a good idea; he had very little to do in season one, but he’s been replaced in the regular cast by Renée Felice Smith as Nell Jones, another computer techie. It must have been daunting for actor Barrett Foa to learn he was going to have to now share his already minimal on-screen duties with another actor, and Smith’s selection is bizarre, the actress seeming to have wandered into NCIS headquarters looking for her middle school home ec class.
At any rate, with the cast now seemingly in place to move forward for future seasons, the missions each week have a disappointing similarity. Every week features a shootout and most episodes feature either chases on foot or in high speed vehicles often ending in fiery crashes. Yes, it makes for an action-soaked series that gets the juices flowing, but the cases have a sameness and predictability (the agents often stand in the line of fire shooting at their assailants and almost never get hit) that tend to not make for memorable drama. While there are occasional mystery elements ingrained in the stories, solving whodunit is not the primary focus of this show, something that very much distinguishes it from the original program. In fact, only three cases stood out this season as something a bit different from the norm. “Empty Quiver” has Callen and Hanna working undercover as California highway patrol officers who stumble into a nefarious plot to set off an armed nuclear warhead. “Rocket Man” finds the usually board shorts-wearing techie Eric Beale having to go into the field and work undercover without the real training necessary to protect himself (Barrett Foa proving he’s the best actor on the series currently with his performance in this episode). And the two-part season finale finds the deliciously poker-faced Linda Hunt’s Hetty resigning from NCIS to undertake her own sensitive mission setting up the expected cliffhanger.
Here are the twenty-four season two episodes contained on the six discs in this set:
1 – Human Traffic
2 – Black Widow
3 – Borderline
4 – Special Delivery
5 – Little Angels
6 – Standoff
7 – Anonymous
8 – Bounty
9 – Absolution
10 – Deliverance
11 – Disorder
12 – Overwatch
13 – Archangel
14 – Lockup
15 – Tin Soldiers
16 – Empty Quiver
17 – Personal
18 – Harm’s Way
19 – Enemy Within
20 – The Job
21 – Rocket Man
22 – Plan B
23 – Imposters
24 – Familia
The series is broadcast in 1080i on CBS in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and these 480p downconverted transfers look about as good as standard definition television programming can look on DVD. Unlike the original NCIS which is soft focused and rather stylistically photographed in more washed-out tones, this program features bold color, accurate flesh tones, and very sharp, crisp imagery, all of which comes through masterfully on the DVD. Yes, there are some minor compression artifacts like aliasing and moiré patterns which crop up on occasion, but these aren’t major problems, and neither is the slight amount of edge enhancement which can sometimes be glimpsed. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix offers much more surround presence for an action-oriented series than the mothership series does. Yes, the music is a major aspect of the surround channels, but there is plenty of ambient sound placed around the soundstage (with the numerous shootouts, the soundscape would be much less interesting without it), and it’s a very involving soundtrack. Dialogue is well recorded and occupies the center channel. With many of the episodes featuring explosions, the LFE channel is kept plenty busy.
There is only one audio commentary. Eric Christian Olsen and Daniela Ruah provide commentary for “Anonymous,” but truth to tell, they laugh and joke with one another more than offer backstage tidbits about the show or the production of that particular episode. Also the characters the two actors play have a much better showcase in “Personal,” so it’s odd this was not the episode chosen for their commentary (unless the track was recorded earlier in the season before “Personal” had even been shot).
All of the bonus featurettes are in anamorphic widescreen.
“‘Absolution’ – The Table Read” is a 27 ½-minute view of the actors and production staff coming together to have a table read for the show’s ninth episode with scenes from the actual episode inset at certain moments during the table read (possibly covering changes in the script from its original draft being read).
“Shooting Up L.A.” introduces us to Victor Hammer, the cinematographer for NCIS: Los Angeles. He discusses his work including his preference for shooting digitally over using film and is praised by cast and crew for his expert work on the show. This runs 9 ½ minutes.
“Location, Location, Location” is an 11 ¼-minute featurette in which location manager Jason Savage discusses finding all the various locations around Los Angeles that are used for the series.
“Uncovering Season 2” finds creator/producer Shane Brennan and the cast of the show discussing this as the season of partnerships in which each of the main cast (excepting Linda Hunt’s Heddy) finds himself paired with another character on the show, and the teamwork which gradually begins to unfold during the season. It runs 24 ¾ minutes.
“There’s Something About Hetty” is a 15 ½-minute examination into the life and secrets of Linda Hunt’s Hetty Lange. Hunt herself along with producer Shane Brennan and other cast members talk about the character and what we know about her at this point.
3/5 (not an average)
NCIS: Los Angeles is neither as good nor as popular as the series from which it sprang, but the action-strong series has plenty of admirers who will undoubtedly enjoy another season with its fast paced stunts and stories. The only disappointment with this box set is that is wasn’t produced in high definition. A show this colorful and California sun-baked should be a natural for Blu-ray transfers.