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

April 12, 2011 |  9:11 am

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.

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