Moving Pictures
Oct 08, 2010, 07:23AM

Dick Wolf's California Gold Rush Fever

"Mom shoots a burglar. Daughter holds a press conference. I love L.A."

The defense attorney posits that his client might have some insider information to barter with—all “hypothetical,” of course. The client eyes the prosecuting attorneys seated on the other side of the table. Deputy District Attorney Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) leans back, warily and wearily appraises the pair, says, “Wow me.”

I’m not sure whether Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC, Thursdays) is wowing me yet. Incubating a clone of this New York-based franchise 3000 miles away seemed downright oxymoronic when the new series was announced. The pilot—a TMZ-masturbatory plot involving nightclubs, burglaries, a Lindsay Lohan-like actress, that actresses’ mother, and a spider web of Machiavellian manipulations—did little to allay my concerns. The tonal characteristics that have been transplanted cross-country—the iconic dun-dun chimes, the dry wisecracks, the title cards announcing specific locations, the detectives-investigate-then-attorneys-litigate structure, the so-real-it-hurts conversational gravity between cops and persons of interest—don’t quite jibe with their new, more climate surroundings. The traditional Law & Order ethos is turning the wheels of justice as thankless grunt work, utter and total drudgery carried out in a jam-packed city of vermin, near-vermin, and vermin-to-be with no love lost for cops or court attorneys. It’s harder to buy this when the backdrops are verdant, lush, sun kissed, and eye-candy stocked, and when none of the principals, with the notable exception of Molina, seem quite as jaded or exasperated as they should.

There’s promise in some regulars, though the differences between detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and Tomas Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) aren’t pronounced enough yet to suggest that they’ll be the source of any intriguing drama or friction. The men appear to be the same age and equally even-tempered, though balding Jaruszalski supplies dry humor, blustery Winters a modicum of empathy. (If you blinked, you might have missed the wonderful Wanda De Jesus, who vanished from CSI: Miami early on for no apparent reason and got what amounted to a walk-on role in the Los Angeles pilot; she’s gone now, a wrinkle ironed out before anyone could notice her.) Most compelling was Molina’s complex Morales, who surprisingly revealed a great deal of himself—in very few words—while negotiating a suspect’s prison sentence. Apparently there will be alternate teams of district attorneys, a la several seasons of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Terence Howard will be among them.

Who knows? Every television show deserves a chance to grow, to progress, to find its rhythm; L&O: L.A. may in time come into its own. But even if it does, I’ll miss the uniquely New York notes the late original series struck regularly: cheap eats purchased from food vendors during sidewalk strategy sessions between detectives, foolhardy foot chases over grimy low Manhattan rooftops, the routine donning of unsexy Eastern winter-wear, huddled masses perpetually on foot. In the L&O: L.A. pilot, Jaruszalski and Winters launch a Facebook page for a stolen, one-of-a-kind designer shirt to help nab a killer. That’s probably excellent gumshoe police work, but something precious has still been lost in translation.


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