TV: The New Season: NBC's 'Law and Order: Los Angeles' previewed by Hank Stuever

The newest addition to the Law & Order brand, the cop drama follows in its predecessors' footsteps and mixes classic ripped-from-the-headlines storytelling with L.A. set as the backdrop. It stars Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard ("Hustle & Flow") and premieres Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. ET.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So there's no mistaken vibe, "Law & Order: Los Angeles" opens with a camera's-eye view of two women cruising Hollywood in a nice convertible bathed in the city's lights and breezes, until they finally arrive to the flashing paparazzi strobes that line the discreet entrance of a trendy Hollywood nightclub. The first episode, which premieres Wednesday night on NBC, is suffused with overt signs of L.A.-ness -- there are reality stars as suspects, victims who live in homes with gorgeous views from the hills, and clues gleaned from TMZ. The story is not ripped from the headlines so much as clicked on in the frenzy.

The Lohans (Lindsay, mother Dina) appear to have the dubious honor of being the first to inspire fictional characters on "Law & Order: Los Angeles" (from here on, known as "LOLA").

Very quickly, creator Dick Wolf's "L&O" franchise, which for 20 years and in different permutations was set in New York, finds itself at home among the palm trees and traffic. This West Coast transition is aided by the season premiere of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which features a crossover case with the new show and airs just ahead of it, in the 9 p.m. time slot. "LOLA" instantly registers as sunnier and sexier, but old-school viewers will feel safe and secure.

Veteran stage and screen actor Alfred Molina stars as the politically pragmatic Deputy District Attorney Peter Morales and that is easy to watch. Skeet Ulrich (last noticed in "Jericho") plays Detective Rex Winters, a sensitive former Marine, and he's just fine at the job. The real discovery -- if "LOLA" even tries to discover anything but solutions to cases and trials -- is in the performance of Corey Stoll as "T.J." Jaruszalski, a detective whose native Angeleno sensibilities overcome his creepy G. Gordon Liddy looks.

Now that we've seen just about everything NBC has found to shore up the gaps created by its ill-fated decision last fall to put Jay Leno's talk show on in prime time, "LOLA" looks like the only sure thing on the network's roster -- though the franchise has stumbled in the past ("Law & Order: Trial by Jury," for instance). Every detail has been attended to, every format and traditional segue honored; there is absolutely nothing to quibble over with the show's tone and pace.

Which is, itself, a quibble.

How much longer will we go on perfecting the procedural format? How many years of "L&O" does it take to eventually tire of watching it? I ask because I sincerely want to know, not because I resent it as a critic always in search of something surprising, new. (Though surely that affects my viewing of "LOLA's" first two -- again, A-OK -- episodes.)

Here is the show you'll be watching after you've given up on everything else. Here is the show you'll watch with your mother when you go home for Thanksgiving. Here, if the juggernaut of rerun syndication eventually comes into view, is the show you'll watch, years from now, while folding laundry or recovering from the flu.

Some of the ratings analyses for the new fall TV season have already made it clearer than ever: People want to watch what they already know they like. This trend is occurring in all forms of entertainment, including music and books. The more options we have, the less adventurous we become.

Dick Wolf doesn't seem to question it. I sometimes wonder if the message is that the rest of us shouldn't, either.

Law & Order: Los Angeles

(one hour) premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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