NCIS: LA this season has continued to strengthen its strengths and weaken its weaknesses.
The great strength of NCIS: LA is the characters and their relationships. The characters are consistent, they grow and mature, their relationships evolve, the dynamics of the group as a whole change and it actually feels like a realistic group of people.
Every single episode finds time to cash in on that strength. The banter between characters is laugh out loud funny. I frequently end up rewinding to watch again and try to catch the little looks and body language that make the scenes a living thing. The conversation between the characters feel like real people talking, with pop-culture references, sarcasm, recurrent jokes, flashes of anger, touches of fondness. Not only are they people who I’d want on my side if I needed saving from bad guys, they’re also the kind I wouldn’t mind having a drink with after everything is sorted out.
Its a good job the series has that going for it, because the rest of the show around them meanders between mediocre and miserable. Both the NCISes have the issue of trying to shoehorn the Navy into straightforward cases, NCIS:LA seems to focus on various complicated terrorist groups which means that while the stakes are higher (the whole future of the world!) the emotional engagement is actually less because there are rarely tangible victims. There was some sort of continuing plot going on through the year about weapons dealers, but I have utterly no clue and no interest in it.
I can’t even say whether the stories fit together coherently, because I never pay attention. It’s not that I forget about them after I’ve watched (as with Criminal Minds or CSI), it’s that I don’t even know when I’m watching. They’re just the filler between bantering sessions, a means to get our characters somewhere new, in some new undercover situation or in some new pickle just for them to banter their way out.
It’s enough. But just. When NCIS lost sight of the characters, it lost me as a viewer, the same risk applies to NCIS:LA. But for now, I’m happy enough to just spend time with these characters that I’ll forgive the boring plots. But is it really so hard for writers to deliver both?
PS – The embedded pilot for NCIS: Red was actually a lot of fun. I loved the concept of a team travelling the country and world together, acting as a fast response team. It had a lot of potential I thought, and the cast, particularly Kim Raver (Grey’s Anatomy) as the lead was charismatic and interesting. For some reason, it didn’t get picked up to series (which given the phenomenal ratings the other NCIS series get, seems very strange) which I think is a real shame. Maybe they’ll be able to appear as guest stars sometime.