'Law & Order: Los Angeles' review: New coast, same formula

law-and-order-los-angeles-review-320.jpgIf you read the title "Law & Order: Los Angeles," you know pretty well what to expect from the TV show, right?

And you'd be right, because while the original "Law & Order" is no more and the new show -- which debuts at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday -- is set on the opposite coast, it's still part of the "Law & Order" brand, which means the cops are smart, the prosecutors dogged and the perps doomed. That, and you'll hear the "chung-chung" sound several times per episode.

On all those counts, "L&O: LA" delivers. There's a baseline of quality -- well-produced, plot-driven, generally smartly cast and acted -- to all the "L&O" shows, and it's evident here as well. Starting from there, we're going to look at the individual elements in the new show and how well they measure up to the standard set by 40-plus previous seasons of the various "Law & Orders."

The cops: The primary L.A. detectives are Rex Winters ( Skeet Ulrich) and T.J. Jaruszalski ( Corey Stoll). Winters is a family man and the more empathetic of the two; Jaruszalski is the wiseacre and fairly savvy about Hollywood culture (he's the son of a cinematographer). We're giving them an incomplete on partner chemistry; at first blush they're not among the best pairings "L&O" has put forth.

Wanda de Jesus plays their boss in the premiere but is replaced by Rachel Ticotin in episode two.

The lawyers: The major difference between "L&O: LA" and "L&O" classic is that you'll see two teams of prosecutors in the first two episodes (think of the way "Criminal Intent" was structured for several seasons). Alfred Molina is first up as Deputy District Attorney Ricardo Morales, a rather blunt but also politically inclined prosecutor. Terrence Howard plays DDA Jonah "Joe" Dekker as more of a crusading Jack McCoy type. Molina and Howard are both excellent actors, and the story seems to pick up a little when they're around.

Regina Hall ("Ally McBeal") plays Morales' second chair, and Megan Boone ("Sex and the City 2") is paired with Dekker. Starting in the second episode you'll see Peter Coyote as District Attorney Jerry Hardin.

The cases: The premiere features a ripped-from-the-headlines-style case that riffs on the Hollywood burglar crew, stage parents and reality TV -- and frankly, piles up a few too many Hollywood tropes for our taste. The second, which involves the murder of a former member of a Manson-style cult, is more engrossing.

The trappings: One major difference -- at least on the DVDs NBC sent to critics -- is in the opening credits. There's no opening voiceover on the first two episodes (although a network rep says that will be added to future installments) and only the briefest hint of a variation on Mike Post's theme music. The "chung-chung" is still there, as are the familiar title cards to set locations.

As the original did with New York, "L&O: LA" makes very good use of the city where it's set. The show's sense of geography is sound, and while the beach and Hollywood figure prominently in the first two episodes, so do several other less glamorous locations. The new show also looks to be a boon for working actors in L.A.; the first two episodes alone feature the likes of Jim Beaver ("Supernatural," "Deadwood"), Mira Furlan ("Lost"), Oded Fehr and Jay Karnes ("The Shield"), among others.

As well-oiled a machine as the original "Law & Order" became, it's tough to remember that it went through some growing pains in its earliest incarnation. "Law & Order: Los Angeles" is going through some of them too, but fans of the franchise will still get a lot of what they came to see.

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Photo credit: NBC