“Go. Learn things.”
So retreads, reboots, remakes, you name it, if there’s a way to squeeze more money out of an existing franchise then Hollywood is going to find a way to do it. And as far as TV goes that is quite prevalent. Networks have created franchises out of series television like Law & Order, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service (which was itself spun-off of JAG), and network execs are only too happy to put money behind a hit and see if its popularity and the goodwill it’s generated can effortlessly transfer over into a spin-off. And considering NCIS is the most-watched drama in the entire world it would seem as though we should have at least half a dozen spin-offs at this point considering the flagship has just begun its 13th season. But that’s not the case and in fact NCIS: New Orleans was originally only intended to be a two-part episode within NCIS itself and one of the people who saw the potential for the idea of going to New Orleans spinning off into its own series is none other than NCIS star Mark Harmon who championed the idea and indeed serves as one of the NCIS: New Orleans executive producers.
NCIS: New Orleans is the third spin-off of the successful CBS franchise. Like with NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles the team of special agents deals with crimes committed against Navy and Marine personnel and property. The team consists of lead agent Dwayne “King” Pride (Scott Bakula, Enterprise) and his compatriots Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black, Furious 7) and Meredith Brody (Zoe McLellan, Dirty Sexy Money). It was the most-watched new drama of its debut season and earned an early second season renewal.
Fans of either existing NCIS show will be able to tell if NCIS: New Orleans is for them by comparing how it relates to the other members of the NCIS family and thus that is how this review will be structured, with everything related to the other shows where appropriate to give you an idea if you’ll like it. Let’s begin.
Just like with big brother NCIS: Los Angeles the first task NCIS: New Orleans had to undertake was to pluck the successful elements of NCIS and showcase those elements with a little bit of a bayou spin, making them successful on their own. And so to that end the first order of business is getting a competent, likeable leader who we can all root for and rally around…the Gibbs (Mark Harmon) of the team.
And yes NCIS: New Orleans hit the nail on the head with its casting of veteran actor Scott Bakula as NCIS Special Agent Dwayne “King” Pride. Pride tends to be a balance of Hetty (Linda Hunt) from NCIS: Los Angeles and Gibbs from NCIS and it’s a very effective mix. He has a methodology he adheres to much like Gibbs and he cares for his team much like Hetty does however his character is more personable than either Hetty or Gibbs at least as far as I’m concerned. Pride is the most relatable of the leaders of these NCIS teams, showing an obsessive tendency and more brushes with personal failures than we see with either Hetty or Gibbs. That being said his biggest downfall is probably that he at times is too nice of a guy. I’m not saying I want him to Hulk out or anything I’m just saying occasionally there are situations where his reaction is too nice and there isn’t a deeper connection to the emotional thread of the story. The best example would be his deteriorating marriage. There isn’t really any anger associated with that situation, rather it’s more resignation on Pride’s part, an acceptance that he’s done what he’s done and the choices he’s made has led him to this point and he doesn’t really show what would be seen as a justifiable anger that things are going the way they are going. It’s definitely a deliberate choice on the writers’ part, allowing us to see Pride is the kind of man who has a slow burn, and indeed there are hints of that especially towards the end of this first season so while it did cause me a little bit of concern I’m more than willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt and see how it plays out over the next however many seasons we have. And one of the reasons why I’m willing to commit to the show for the long run is in the successful implementation of the next step of the formula.
Each NCIS show has to have one relationship which anchors the main character, providing the emotional outlet, friendship and trust required for the main character to be able to do their job well. On the flagship show it’s Gibbs and Ducky (David McCallum). On NCIS: Los Angeles it’s Callen (Chris O’Donnell) and Sam (LL Cool J). And on NCIS: New Orleans that relationship is between Pride and Medical Examiner Dr. Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder, The Shield). Dwayne and Loretta have an existing working relationship which translates easily into friendship and camaraderie. But while Loretta could too easily have been relegated to a fortune cookie character spouting bits of wisdom whenever Pride needs advice instead she has her own arc this season. Pounder brings a weight to the role of Loretta but she also knows how to have fun with her character. That balance helps her relationships with all the characters but Pride especially feel more grounded than we’ve seen before at this early a point on any of the NCIS shows. The Loretta/Pride relationship is what keeps me invested in the show.
The third step is to create a team who will be the ones we watch rally around and root for our fearless leader. In this case the show has chosen to scale back a bit, only adding two team members instead of the traditional three or four as on the other NCIS shows. But I think it’s a really smart move because it allows the show to open up and explore the characters’ lives in a deeper way than a show which has to juggle more characters has leeway to. The casting of Lucas Black as Pride’s right hand man Agent Christopher LaSalle is inspired. A born-and-bred ‘Bama boy Black gets to use his actual background in developing LaSalle, allowing him to connect to the Crescent City in a way a true Southern gentleman would, with an obvious and genuine appreciation. He’s as loyal to Pride as they come. One of the tried and true methods of success in any NCIS team is the “probie” element and that is fulfilled by Agent Meredith Brody, a Chicago transplant who is new to the city and the team. As such she is also the audience conduit at times for those of us not as familiar with the New Orleans landscape, sites of interest and the like. It is a very wise choice and McLellan and Black play especially well off one another.
The fourth step is to make sure we don’t always take the show so seriously. Enter the comic relief/person who nerds out over how much they love their job. On NCIS Abby (Pauley Perrette) is that character and also the fan-favorite, always making it clear how awesome science is. On NCIS: Lost Angeles it’s usually Eric Beale (Barrett Foa) who vacillates between being unapologetically nerdy and neurotic about that same fact. On NCIS: New Orleans that role goes to Assistant Medical Examiner Sebastian Lund (Rob Kerkovich, Chasing Life). The cool thing about Lund is that he is completely comfortable with who he is. He leans more towards an Abby than a Beale for sure.
The final step for success is to choose your location wisely. NCIS: Los Angeles traded in the concrete jungle of DC for the sunny shores of California, providing an immediate cue this show is different from its parent. The same can be said for NCIS: New Orleans but they’ve gone a step further and actually made the city its own character. There are so many location shoots, so many landmarks explored and so many bits of New Orleans’ culture worked in to the show. Everything which happens is filtered through the lens of “How does New Orleans do it?” Actually shooting on location in the Crescent City is a gift no one takes for granted and you can’t replicate the sights and sounds of the city with any other backdrop. It’s one of the best things about the show overall.
One last note for fans of NCIS in particular: characters from the Washington DC crew stop by this First Season to give their seal of approval. Gibbs, Tony (Michael Weatherly), Ducky, Vance (Rocky Carroll) and Abby all make pit stops in one way or another. But the NCIS character who makes the most appearances is an NCIS recurring character, CGIS Agent Abigail Borin (Diane Neal, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), and she’s terrific. I’ve always liked her character and she makes her mark here as well. And on a related note, a point against the set which should be addressed: It’s another show with a white dude leading the charge. Come on, guys. Women can lead shows, too. I’m officially starting the petition for NCIS: CGIS with Diane Neal kicking butt and taking names.
If you take more than a cursory glance at the cover art for NCIS: New Orleans: The First Season you’ll get some clues about the show before you’ve even viewed a single episode. One of the more subtle clues is in the coloring of the logo. The purple and red are not chosen merely because they are pretty colors, but rather because these two colors tend to show up in the lighting scheme quite often, particularly during night shoots. New Orleans is a colorful city to say the least, and the production design team has gone out of their way to incorporate as much of that color into the world of NCIS: New Orleans as possible. Night shots are thankfully well lit if not bright in an effort to provide a natural feeling of what it’s like to be there with the team in any of the New Orleans districts. The video is a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and it looks good considering there are five episodes per disc. That much compression always results in some kind of artifacting and in this case the HD broadcast presentations do look better than the transfers here, but the stream is still colorful and well-lit and very watchable. Now when you talk New Orleans you have to mention music, jazz in particular, and from the jazz-inspired theme song to the parade music or piano bar performance–music is everywhere in this series. So it’s fortunate the transfer offers Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks to choose between. The compression doesn’t seem to have affected the audio quite as much and everything sounds pretty good. Care is taken to highlight the music and if you also take a moment to notice it you’ll appreciate that consideration, too.
Special features are pretty abundant. We have some audio commentaries, deleted scenes and copious amounts of featurettes, not to mention digital copies of all the episodes. The liner notes detail exactly which episodes have special features associated with them and you have the choice of watching the deleted scenes from the episode menu they are attached to. All in all a nice package.
Fans of either NCIS or NCIS: Los Angeles will find things to enjoy about NCIS: New Orleans. And while characters from flagship NCIS show up during this first season there isn’t a reliance on the parent show to make this one successful. You can watch and enjoy the bayou crew without liking any other NCIS show and there’s plenty to enjoy. The writing, the acting, and of course the beautiful scenery are the top three reasons to tune in.