TV Review: ‘Law & Order: Los Angeles’ Has Good Cast, But Needs Better Scripts
CHICAGO – With memories of the stalwart “Law & Order” still resonant, NBC and Dick Wolf have packed up their bags and headed to the west coast for “Law & Order: Los Angeles.” Based on the first two episodes, the cast is strong enough that there are likely to be a few very well-done installments but the writing really needs to improve to match the talent on-board or “L.O.L.A.” will quickly head through the same exit door as its legendary TV ancestor.
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
“Law & Order” (and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent) thrived on pulling episode plots straight from the headlines. The show was an original not only due to its unique “half-cops, half-lawyers” structure but because it seemed fresher than the average stale cop procedural or boring legal drama. “Law & Order: Los Angeles” takes the fiction-from-reality approach to extremes, tackling two instantly-recognizable stories in its opening episodes with characters based on Dina Lohan and Charles Manson.
(l-r) Corey Stoll as Det. Tomas “TJ” Jaruszalski, Skeet Ulrich as Det. Rex Winters
Photo credit: Dean Hendler/NBC
It’s not surprising that the writers picked spoiled young celebrities (and their crazy parents) and a cult leader like Manson from their file cabinet of potential plots but both scripts feel like they’re trying way too hard to be edgy and current. I wish I knew what “Law & Order: Los Angeles” would look like when the cases weren’t so over-the-top that they would make international news. Subtlety has never been the strong suit of Wolf’s franchise but there’s a fine line between feeling current and feeling desperate to be considered current. “L.O.L.A.” feels like the latter.
Both episodes are so cluttered with twists and turns that it’s difficult to see what will eventually work about “Law & Order: Los Angeles” but the raw materials are definitely there. Of course, the show has the same high production values as the entire franchise, meaning it’s very well-edited, directed, and remarkably-cast. Every role feels correctly-filled and well-peformed. With better scripts, they could knock it out of the park.
Terrence Howard as DDA Jonah “Joe” Dekker, Megan Boone as DDA Lauren Stanton
Photo credit: Florian Schneider/NBC
It starts with Skeet Ulrich and Corey Stoll as Detectives Rex Winters and TJ Jarusalski, respectively. Winters is the more straight-forward, stolid half of the pair and TJ is the funnier cop. They are clearly the elite members of the Robbery Homicide Division as the program opens with back-to-back cases that would make the career of most standard detectives. As good a Ulrich and Stoll are in these roles, the show belongs to the legal half, in which Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard will alternate duties. Molina is in the first and Howard the second. Both are the best thing about either hour.
The first episode of “Law & Order: Los Angeles” centers around a robbery ring that’s been targeting the stupidly-wealthy young stars and starlets of Hollywood. The burglars have been targeting empty mansions but they nearly kill a woman who is unexpectedly home in one of them. From there, the episode dives and turns into a saga that was clearly inspired by the story of Lindsay and Dina Lohan with “Saw“‘s Shawnee Smith playing a character blatantly based on Dina. It’s a pretty dull hour even with the notable efforts of Molina, Ulrich, and Stoll. They’re all well above-average actors for a procedural but the dialogue — including references to TMZ that feel desperate to remind the viewer of the show’s relevance — never feels genuine. To be blunt, I didn’t buy anything that happened in the premiere. It never feels real.
And the second episode has a similar lack of believability. For episode two, “L.O.L.A.” tackles a cult not unlike that of Charles Manson, vengeance murder, and even wrongful imprisonment. Once again, it just seems like writers that are trying too hard and so the episode never gets under the surface even with a very strong guest turn by the great Jay Karnes (“The Shield”).
The reason that “Law & Order: S.V.U.” has been the most robust “L&O” for years now is that we like and believe the characters on the program. With great performances like the one given by Mariska Hargitay and honest emotion, there’s something to hold on to. It’s as if the writers on “Law & Order: Los Angeles” have taken the surface-level aesthetic of their setting way too seriously.
Having said that, writing issues are easily fixed. It’s the programs that have weak casts or paper-thin concepts that simply cannot be mended. “Law & Order: Los Angeles” has four-star potential but was handed two-star scripts to start. So, we’ll average out with three and hope they go up from here.