Its failure is surprising and yet in some ways understandable. That it didn't click is unexpected partly because it's cut from the same cloth as every other Law & Order show. It's a proven formula almost endlessly pliable and inexhaustible. Law & Order - UK, for instance, the first American dramatic series remade for British television, is about equally good yet has been wildly successful and long running there.
The problems seem to have come from several different directions at once: the over-familiarity of Los Angeles as a setting for crime shows (the other U.S.-based Law & Orders are all set in New York City); a pilot episode that unappetizingly plays up broad stereotypes about Angelinos ("the glitz, glamour, and guilt of Los Angeles" promised NBC's official website); curious and dramatically unjustified swipes at real liberal celebrities and actual organizations, which may have turned off Law & Order's left-leaning fans; and confusing middle-of-the-game casting changes.
What's done is done, but at least audiences that missed the program during its original run can now watch and decide for themselves. Law & Order - Los Angeles: The Complete Series presents all 21 episodes on five 16:9 enhanced widescreen DVDs in 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo, and accompanied by a featurette and a single commentary track.
Structured and cast much like other versions of Law & Order, this one is set, obviously, in Los Angeles, with episode titles derived from various local communities: Carthay Circle, Echo Park, Runyon Canyon, etc. (I guess it's a good thing the show was cancelled before they ran out of neighborhoods). As with other L&O shows, its drama is split to varying degrees between the "Law" (the investigation) and "Order" (the prosecution), most commonly about 55/45 but sometimes 30/70 and vice versa.
Initially, Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and TJ Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) investigated crimes while the prosecuting was split between District Attorney Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina) and his deputy, Joe Dekker (Terrence Howard). As both Molina and Howard are sought-after character actors in movies, initially the idea was that they would alternate cases thus allowing the actors leave to do film work. Also in the cast though much less prominent: Rachel Ticotin as Police Lieutenant Arleen Gonzales (her character seemingly patterned after UK's DI Natalie Chandler); DDA Evelyn Price (Regina Hall), Morales's associate; and attorney Lauren Stanton (Megan Boone), Dekker's assistant, were pretty interchangeable.
The series was tinkered with endlessly during its short run, from much fiddling with the opening prologue and titles, to sweeping cast changes. Ulrich, Hall, and Boone all left mid-season, with Molina's character unbelievably quitting his District Attorney job to become a police detective and Jaruszalski's partner.
The first episode, "Hollywood," may have turned a lot of viewers off. Every cliché about the rich and famous is on display in this Britney Spears/Paris Hilton-esque tale of a wealthy starlet and/or her mother secretly operating a burglary ring. The other shows this reviewer watched looked nothing like the pilot stylistically or story-wise. It was an obvious but bad choice to lead off the new series.
Later episodes are much better and more in line with other Law & Order shows and of similar quality. "Sylmar" explores how broad powers given federal agencies after 9/11 too often trump local investigations and deny justice for victims of more tangible crimes. "Ballona Creek" is a simple find-the-serial-killer show that's nonetheless effective, while "Pasadena," obviously inspired by the fall of onetime Presidential candidate John Edwards, show the lengths politicians are willing to go to hide their personal scandals.
This last episode exemplifies what may have been another turn-off for some viewers. While "Pasadena's" inspiration goes unnamed, Law & Order - Los Angeles not so subtly name-drops real-life liberals and liberal organizations, and always with thinly veiled contempt: the ACLU, news show host Rachel Maddow. Unsurprisngly, creator Dick Wolf was a vocal supporter of George W. Bush and, later, actor-turned-candidate Fred Thompson. While previous Law & Order shows were unquestionably pro-Law & Order, this is the first time I've noticed the politicization of an entire Law & Order series, subtly imposed by its creator.
Video & Audio
Twenty-one 41+ minute shows are presented across five single-sided, dual-layered region 1 discs, with episodes in 16:9 enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen. The image as well as the 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo (English only, with optional SDH subtitles) is up to contemporary television and home video standards, with a bright, clear and sharp image throughout, and with good contrast as well. It's a handsome looking show.
Supplements include a brief and, be warned, spoiler-filled behind-the-scenes featurette, and an audio commentary track accompanying "Hayden Tract" by its writer-director, Rene Balcer.
Overall this a good series that didn't deserve to die so ignominiously. Hopefully its more memorable characters will find homes elsewhere in Law & Order's endless universe. Recommended.