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These days, the goal of most television shows is to give the viewer a compelling enough reason to come back. Through cliffhangers, pieces of personal life drama or unresolved issues, these programs try to create long-term storylines that are too intriguing to abandon. With a procedural, however, that’s not the goal at all. Instead, the point is to create a set of characters likeable enough and interesting enough to make viewers want to hang out again. Given his hand in shaping NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans creator Gary Glasberg is uniquely aware of that, and he mostly puts that knowledge to good use.
It’s all about balance and NCIS: New Orleans does a good job of creating it. The show gives us the mostly stoic man of integrity (Scott Bakula), the downhome Southern guy who is a little more fast and loose (Lucas Black), the new girl (Zoe McLellan), the loveable medical examiner (CCH Pounder) and the nerdy, awkward lab assistant (Rob Kerkovich). There’s even a complicated wife situation built in for the main character, which should give fans the type of very slow character arc that works in a procedural. Think Detective Stabler’s personal life in Law & Order: SVU.
Yes, all of the ingredients are here to put together a facsimile of NCIS, and the result largely works. You call tell immediately that this team will be pretty effective at solving cases and pretty effective at convincing people to throw the show on Season Pass on their DVRs. Clean and confident professionalism go a long way, especially in the capable hands of Scott Bakula who can carry a show like this in his sleep.
What NCIS: New Orleans lacks, however, is risk. Everything is so carefully crafted that there’s not really room for experimentation. There’s not one single element on this show that fans of procedurals will find new, just random quirks that differentiate it from others like the New Orleans setting. That’s still enough to make it feel like a different experience, but it’s definitely not enough to attract viewers who aren’t already hardcore enthusiasts of the mystery of the week genre.
If the writers can supply the characters with unique cases, NCIS: New Orleans could have a nice little run on network television. Hopefully, however, the producers decide to get a little bit edgier and introduce at least one character who breaks the mold. Maybe an older woman who is physically fit and a bit of a loose cannon? Maybe a prosecutor who frequently refuses to charge the criminals they apprehend? Maybe a few times a season in which they legitimately find and imprison the wrong man? The possibilities are endless. We’ll just have to wait and see if they try because with these characters and this format, the show seems decent to be just pretty decent forever.
NCIS: New Orleans airs on Tuesday nights at 9 PM on CBS.