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'Law & Order: Los Angeles' recap: A kinky killer in women’s underwear (or how 'LO:LA' found its groove)

Skeet Isn’t there some cliché about there not being any second chances in show business? 

Well, Dick Wolf certainly needed one. After a thoroughly disappointing first few months of “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” Wolfe dragged his show back into the workshop for some serious work under the hood. 

Word of changes was quick in coming. Most notably: Skeet Ulrich (who, for my money, had done admirably with dialogue and plots that at times were so abysmal they bordered on the, well, criminal) would be axed, while Alfred Molina, who had played a deputy district attorney, would somehow transition into being a detective.

And, then, we waited. What were they doing all those months? Did Wolf & Co. scrap all the episodes they presumably had in the can and start from scratch with their new lineup? Or, was a team of editors frantically trying to splice new footage with old to make some weird Prime Time Frankenstein?  Whatever the case, I for one wasn’t confident that any amount of tinkering could save the show from itself and its writers’ seemingly uncontrollable need to stuff as many Los Angeles clichés and stereotypes as possible into each episode.

But if Monday night’s (re)premiere is any indication, I’d say the time off was just what the script doctor ordered.

We got a special two-episode barrage for the show’s return. The first hour had to kill off Ulrich’s character and get Molina’s back into a badge and gun. I groaned when the show, once again, traded on predictable themes -- this time it was Mexican narcos and corrupt Mexican consular officials -- but the writers went for broke and managed to pull off a mostly compelling episode. 

In short, Rex (Ulrich) and TJ (Corey Stoll) are on the hunt for an evil-to-the-core drug trafficker. Their pursuit ruffles the narco’s feathers a little too much and Rex dies in a hail of bullets sprayed into his house by the bad man’s henchmen. 

Deputy D.A. Ricardo Morales (Molina), meanwhile, grows increasingly disillusioned with all the politics at play above him on the government totem pole that ultimately allows the drug trafficker to walk. It’s too much for Morales to take. He decides to return to the cop shop he left years before in order to partner with TJ.

I went in to the second episode wary, but cautiously optimistic that the revamped cast and writers were on to something.

I was riveted. It wasn’t a perfect hour of television but it was pretty darn good.

Morales and TJ are on the hunt for a serial burglar/rapist/killer with a fondness for women's underwear. And after they catch him, the DA played by Terrence Howard has to scramble when his seemingly airtight case starts to unravel.

If you’ve seen it you don’t need me to recount all the twists and turns. If you haven’t … and I never thought I’d be saying this about a "LO:LA" episode … you really should watch it. 

Molina as a detective is compelling. The interview scene between him and the killer is seriously chilling.

But, more than that, the feel of the episode was a sea change from the earlier debacles. The writing was sharp and engaging. The plot did not race in a straight line from beginning to end, but instead took its time to hook us and delivered some good punches. And where before Wolf used tired Los Angeles-isms at every turn to remind viewers they weren’t in New York anymore, this time he seemed content just to tell a good crime story that happened to be in Los Angeles. By doing so, he and his team managed to rediscover some of the magic from those early, New York years of the Law & Order franchise, which we were hoping to see out of the gates.

Let’s hope they can keep it up.

RELATED:

Full Show Tracker coverage of "Law & Order: Los Angeles"

-- Joel Rubin

Photo: Skeet Ulrich. Credit: Harper Smith/NBC.

 
Comments () | Archives (15)

Just sorry they had to lose Ulrich - liked him in the role.

I watched L&O for all of its years but found LO:LA unwatchable. I did tune in last night for the episode with Molina as a detective. I was riveted and will begin watching again. I was reminded of Frank, the detective on Homicide, when he took a suspect into the box.

i don't know what episode you were watching, both were kind of dull but Molina and Stoll are so mismatched it is awkward to watch on screen. Molina's looks and demeanor are nothing like a cop and the second episode had me yawning.

You blame the writers for "abysmal" scripts in the "Skeet era" yet, these same writers deliver two smash episodes in the "Molina Era" -- same writers, same producers -- different actor carrying the front half...You think maybe the difference is in the acting? Ulrich could make even "Hamlet" seem like a snooze, the guy acts with his eyebrows.

I agree that L&O L.A. 2.0 is strikingly better. I was disappointed to learn that Skeet Ulrich was leaving the show and his exit was shockingly quick and brutal. I hope that his character's shooting (and his family's grief) is explored in future episodes. One thing that bugged me, however, was the scene where the little boy from Mexico was in a protective holding cell getting ready to testify. If the ADA prosecuting the case thought enough to briefly visit the boy just before court proceedings got underway, why wasn't there at least one member of the D.A.'s office back there with him the whole time to protect him? That was one example of suspension of disbelief I couldn't get past.

Skeet Ulrich was my fav. What were they thinking? I liked the show. But why is he leaving??? :-(

The second episode with the rapist killer is based on a real Canadian case, except in real life the guy was Russell Williams, the commander of Canada's biggest airforce base. Other than that, a lot of it was what really happened, including a gripping video tape of his confession and the skillful work of an Ontario police interrogator.

First episode was needlessly open ended, they really worked up the emotion for the "twist" which every one, myself included, knew would happen.

BTW the second episode wasn't as great in the writing of the interrigation scene unfortunately because ALOT of the details of this episode was taken from an actual crime.

I happen to have one of those programs, Crime-True TV shows, on a couple of weeks ago, and they had this case of a High up in command Military Officer, well known and respected, later in his life developed a compulsion to break into houses and steal women's underwear. He had cases of underwear and would photograph himself in them. His compulsion became deadly and he killed two women much in the way shown in the episode. This crime was most notible for the arful way the police interigator manipulated the criminal into revealing his guilt. Many of the exact tactics were used in this episode. No writer's imagination needed unfortunately.

I enjoyed the episodes Monday night. The 2nd episode more than the first. I thought the changes made brought new life to the show. Didn't think I would like Molina as a detective, but I like him much better in this role than prosecuter. Great episodes. Can't wait for more.

i don't know who wrote Monday night's episode on the young boy getting his throat slit while in jail, but it was stupid. In fact the whole show include improbable and impossible scenes. Stereotypes, cliches, predictability, and stupidity ran thru it. To top it all off, the best character was killed. I usually forget bad programs, but this one insulted my intelligence so much I couldn't sleep.
One question- How did the interpreter get inside the jail cell? If she picked the lock, it was nice of her to close it when she left.

Skeet Ulrich was the only reason I watched the show. I wont be watching the show anymore.

Too many changes, the two new cops don't mesh, need to bring back the mustache. I'm done with LOLA the people running the show ran it into the ground.

LOLA is DOA

Won't be watching the new incarnation. Better things on tv at that time.

Major mistake in axing Skeet Ulrich. Alfred Molina is historic in his methods.
Some of this stuff is just unbelievable. Have watched Law& Order for years.
Too bad Jerry Orbach passed away. We went to the same High School in Illinois.

i think that skeet ulrich did a great job and i will no longer watch watch this program, all they had to do was hire better writers.I feel that skeet did amazing with what he was given to work with.


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