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'Law & Order: Los Angeles': For Whom the Bell Tolls

April 19, 2011 |  3:12 pm

Lola It was a nice convergence of Hollywood and the real world: On the same day the Los Angeles Times hauled in a Pulitzer Prize for exposing (alleged) breathtaking corruption by public officials running Bell, one of the small satellite cities that ring L.A., "LO:LA" took a go with a fictionalized version of the sadly nonfiction story.

By the way, how do the lawyers at NBC let "Law & Order" get away with that ridiculous disclaimer at the beginning of each episode, in which the claim is that the characters on the show do not depict actual people?  Granted, there are no dead bodies in the real-life story (none that we know about  yet, at least), but I’m guessing there is a disgraced ex-police chief, ex-city manager and ex-others from the little city of Bell that might disagree after seeing last night’s episode.

I digress. The episode took us to the make-believe land of East Pasadena, where public officials have been running a smooth little shakedown scam on landscapers, plumbers and other contractors. A new employee finds out about the hustle and, in short order, ends up dead. After a brief detour focusing on the employee’s boyfriend, Morales and Jaruszalski get wise to the shenanigans in the bucolic, white picket fence community.

If you read the post on last week’s show, you know that, for one night at least, I had been transformed from hater into a giddy, gushing fan. So, I went into Monday night’s show hoping Dick Wolf and his writing team –- with their reshuffled cast and the ever-potent motivation that comes from the threat of getting the ax -– had managed to put together another superb show. What we got, I think, was something akin to a slice of day-old pizza: not exciting, per se, but still edible.

Let’s be clear –- the episode was still worlds better than the schlock being passed off as entertainment before the show went on hiatus. The plot had a sharp enough hook to keep me tuned in for the whole hour. And the issue of whether Morales would consent to having his psychology report made public, while farfetched, was original. But, as they did in earlier episodes, the writing team tried to shove too many characters and plot twists into the hour. As a result we spend quite a bit of time getting to know characters who ultimately are peripheral and not building any real connection to the actual killer (spoiler alert for DVRers out there: the police chief did it).

I know the formula has worked for him for decades, and who the heck am I to critque, but I think Wolf should consider a radical change to the architecture of "Law & Order" next year. (Assuming he gets another year). Instead of cramming the entire crime, investigation and legal battle into one hour, why not break each story line into two episodes? Let the detectives have an hour to chase the bad guys, get viewers hooked, and then bring them back the next week for an hour of legal theatrics.

Otherwise I think "LO:LA" episodes are going to continue to feel thin and rushed more often than not.

-- Joel Rubin

www.twitter.com/joelrubin

Photo: Alfred Molina as Det. Ricardo Morales. Credit: Dean Hendler/NBC.

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