So we came to "Law & Order: Los Angeles" with genuine excitement. It seemed like the perfect idea. Transplant a successful format to a new location, watch the ratings climb. Worked out well for the "CSI" shows... depending on how you define "well." Alas, the first batch of "LOLA" (it's a little too precious a nickname, don't you think?) episodes struggled and Dick Wolf took the show to the TV mechanic's shop, opened up the hood, and rebuilt the engine.
The new version of "LOLA" is certainly different, but is it better?
* We'd forgotten how good Alfred ("Throw me the whip" - Raiders of the Lost Ark) Molina can be. The doughy face makes him seem sleepy and lazy. And while we hate the contrivance that moved his character from the DA's office back to the police force, so far he's energized the "Law" elements of the show in a way that the monotone, blank-faced Skeet Ulrich never could. Molina didn't have much to do in the first round of episodes, but now it looks like he's going to be front and center. The better to chew the scenery and glare at people with sleepy, lazy, doughy eyes.
* Terrence Howard. Gold.
* Kind of cool how the show names its episodes based on the Los Angeles neighborhood in which the crime was committed. We're the sort of TV geek that pays attention to episode titles. And we appreciate purpose and consistency, like the clever titles of "Friends" and "The Big Bang Theory" episodes.
* While the revamp has reportedly tried to tamp down some of the Southern California sunniness to recapture the bleak, somber grays of the original series, there is still something fresh about the new setting. It's fun to see the detectives spend so much time in cars, driving from place to place, and it's also nice to see police work happening in places with trees and sunshine, not dank streets filled with tall buildings.
* For those of us familiar with Los Angeles, there's no better game that identifying the location of an L.A.-shot show. "Hey, that's the place over there by La Brea and Sunset!" "That's the thing by the thing in Santa Monica!"
What doesn't work:
* What's with the cheesy slow-motion new title sequence? It plays like a bad deodorant commercial. When you're chasing crooks and facing an angry press and trying to look like a bad-ass as you climb out of your car, don't stay dry. Stay extra dry. We preferred the rapid-fire, stock-photo montage of the original New York-based "Law and Orders."
* The narrative formula is getting a little creaky. We've covered this before. Crime, followed by interviews, followed by the red-herring wrong-suspect, followed by arrest of the right suspect, followed by trial curveball, followed by big courtroom showdown that may or may not lead to the punishment of the guilty. The more the show can deviate from that template, the better off it will likely be. As another critic noted, at this point there are literally thousands of hours of "Law & Order" out there in the world. How much more do we need?
* Enough with the lingering shots of corpses. It's bad enough that we hear the details, but do we need to see the horrors as well? We get it. Killing: bad, our cops and lawyers: good. The older we get, the more aggravated we are with the way cop shows like this fetishize murder scenes and zoom in on the bruises and blood. The kinkier and more outrageous the death, the better - though in "Law & Order's" defense, a great many of the murders are committed in the name of money, not depraved bloodlust. We harbor particular disgust with grubby, pseudo-scientific shows like "Criminal Minds" that wade into the bloody muck with glee, suggesting that the country is filled with serial killers and suggesting that there is no crime that science cannot solve, which is - of course - not always true. Seriously, who watches that stuff? And how can we find out where they live so we can stay away?