I’d never seen a single episode of any previous NCIS products, but I was bound to encounter one sooner or later. In the fine tradition of Law & Order: Trial by Jury and CSI: New York and Here’s Lucy, NCIS: New Orleans is the third in the dynasty and presumably goes through the same motions as its predecessors, except with differently likeable actors and, I’m guessing based on location, a whole lot more local color, by which I mean the kind of Southern accents Hollywood flat-out dislikes. In most movies and TV shows, anyone with a Southern accent is evil, stupid, both, or Academy Award Winners Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. Our NCIS:NO Heroes are appreciably none of the above, though I confess Louisiana is one of several states my wife and I haven’t road-tripped to yet, so I have no idea if there’s a single authentic Cajun, Creole, French-American, or Mardi Gras partygoer in the entire bunch.
Unfortunately for me, the first episode doesn’t bother to introduce the characters because their first appearance was in a season-11 episode of NCIS: O.G. that served as this show’s backdoor pilot. What little I was able to glean without cheating: TV’s Scott Bakula is either Dwayne “King” Pride, or King “Dwayne” Pride, the agent in charge of this particular NCIS franchise. His chief assistants are former child actor Lucas Black, the Paul Walker substitute from Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Zoe McLellan, who attempts no accent and is hopefully not from Louisiana. She assures us that local or not, she is a Strong Female Character because of her black belt in aikido, which she casually mentions to a dudebro who disrespects her during questioning. Since Lucas Black doesn’t announce his fighting credentials as a sign of bravery, I can only assume he’s earned no such belts and you and I can take him. Meanwhile back at home base, the parish M.E. is the always reliable C.C.H. Pounder, whose initials probably stand for “Quality Television” in some language. She has an annoying geek sidekick because this is CBS, home of America’s Most Beloved Sitcom That I Wish I Could Set on Fire, and its high ratings send CBS a message that we demand more characters like this.
Because NCIS: Classic is likewise highly rated, the NCIS: NO premiere assumes we all watched it, avoids reintroductions, and catapults the team into their first case without Mark Harmon’s help, involving the amputation murder of a Navy officer that King Dwayne once mentored. Because the victim is black and has a gang tattoo, our tour of scenic New Orleans takes us out of the atmospheric jazz clubs (where for one brief musical number the show is like Treme but with an audience) and walks us through the CBS executives’ version of The Wire, in which one character actually explains to another in all seriousness that “banger” is another word for “gang member”. The CBS majority demographic maybe appreciates these helpful lessons to keep their lingo up-to-date. The lectured character’s reaction is a variation on “NO DUH”, so perhaps at least one NCIS staff writer is chafing at the CBS Standards & Practices guideline that states “Please define all ‘urban’ language for the benefit of Nielsen families. You know who they are.”
From there the trail of forensic evidence leads Our Heroes on a trail that touches upon dockside corruption, tattoo science, weirdos who memorize fruit shipping codes (the stuff of which High Drama is made), special guest Steven Weber as a sleazy councilman, a proposed “emergency anti-gang task force” (golly, maybe this is the solution Ferguson needed!), and mandatory Creole cooking at Chef King’s non-castle. Everything feels like every other procedural I’ve sampled over the past ten years, from 1½ seasons of Hawaii Five-0 to one episode of CSI: Old School to several commercials for Bones, in which the majority of scenes comprise characters shouting research updates at each other.
Rising above it all is Bakula, summoning the strength and fortitude of every other character he’s ever played as he stands for truth, justice, and the American Way with declarations such as, “Silly me, I thought what matters was justice!” As an inconsistent fan of his since the days of Eisenhower & Lutz, I was honestly looking forward to seeing him again in a lead role for a few minutes, though I have no plans of keeping up with this show. I’d says his Dwayne Chef Pride King falls somewhere on the Bakula continuum just below Quantum Leap‘s great Sam Beckett and several streets ahead of Enterprise‘s lukewarm Captain Archer. His team are above-okay if you average them out, and Black’s easygoing Southern demeanor has a certain Je ne sais quoi that makes me wonder if Tokyo Drift might be watchable after all.
If I were to watch just one standard procedural every week…well, it would be Hawaii Five-0 because it has the prettiest 1080p HD scenery in TV history. Come to think of it, Bones costars TV’s Angel, so that’s a plus. But NCIS:NO might be my third choice. Conceivably. That’d be my pick from this century, I mean. It would have to be a slow TV week, though, and the weeks so far in this fall season have been anything but.
[MCC 2014 Pilot Binge stats: Minutes passed before I decided it’s not for me: 0, pretty much when I saw the “NCIS” in the title. For more information on the MCC 2014 Pilot Binge project, please visit the initial entry for the rationale, the official checklist of pilots, and links to completed entries as we go. Thanks for reading!]