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'Law and Order: Los Angeles' recap: Everything but the kitchen sink

October 14, 2010 | 10:45 am

If someone had told me that this week’s episode of ‘Law and Order: Los Angeles’ would bring me to some magical point where the world of medical-pot dispensaries, surf culture, Samoan gangs, rich-kid thugs, and the battle over access to our beaches all meet, I think I would have gladly gone along for the ride.

Turns out, you had to take a long, muddled road to get there.

It wasn’t a bad show, exactly.  It just tried to do too much.  Way too much.  And, as a result, the writers had us skimming over the surface of a lot of meaty, fascinating topics that, taken separately, could have made for two or three solid episodes.

The opening scenes (a lineup of surfers dropping into a wave, a foreboding confrontation in the beach parking lot) led me to believe we were in for an episode that might take an honest look at the territoriality, violence and general nastiness running through Southern California’s surf universe. 

From the beach, however, we were yanked into one of the hundreds of medical-pot dispensaries that have popped up in L.A. in recent years, where our surfer quickly enough ended up beaten to a bloody, dead pulp.

I happily thought I was settling in for a fictionalized take on the spate of homicides at pot dispensaries that colleagues and I covered several months back.  (A few of the articles/blog posts we wrote are here and here). It seemed like a foundation from which to build a perfectly entertaining story line.

Apparently not, since we were then asked to try to follow along with Rex and T.J. as they chased down a group of armed robbers that had been hitting other dispensaries.  When they didn’t pan out as the killers, attention turned to a 350-pound Samoan gang leader, who happened to be the ex-husband of the surfer’s wife. He, too, turned out to be a dead end.

(Side note: The show is worth seeing if for no other reason than the [intentionally?] hilarious scene in which our fearless detectives and a few uniforms bust into the Samoan’s house with a warrant and find him in the early stages of a romantic moment with his lady friend.  When things get a little heated, the Samoan gets Tasered and falls like a very large sack of potatoes on top of the woman.  Physical comedy at its best!)

Anyway, I digress.  By this point, we were some 30 minutes into the show and still hadn’t met the real villains, who were drawn from yet two more real-life stories.  It would take too long to fully explain, so I’ll just say the last half of the show revolved around Assistant Dist. Atty. Morales' attempt to nail a rich, mean man with a sweet beach-front house. The man was obsessed with keeping the riff-raff off his beach, as well as his son, who belonged to a quasi-gang of rich surfer punks.  (A great piece written by a former colleague on the La Jolla killing that the writers used for inspiration is here. And here is one of columnist Steve Lopez's many pieces on the long-running battle between homeowners and the public over access to beaches.)

It all made for an exhausting, unconvincing show. If the goal was to use our beaches as a backdrop to address class tensions in Los Angeles -– and, I think that’s what they were shooting for -– then it seems the writers easily could could have filled the full hour developing that theme.

Instead, we got soliloquies like this one from Morales, which came out of nowhere and fell flat.   “You’re not O.J., kid. You’re not Robert Blake. Those guys had money for big-time lawyers. … That’s the difference between you and your friends.  They have money.  You tag along.  And no matter how hard you try, they know you’re not one of them, and you know it too.  You’re all alone here.”

I’d rather have a show take me deep into the policing and prosecution that were behind one headline instead of touching lightly on four or five.

-- Joel Rubin