There is a mix of elements that can elevate a TV show from melodramatic to mediocre to marginally watchable to hit. Most shows fall into the first part of that spectrum with a fair amount resting comfortably between the last two. Occasionally the stars align to produce a mega-hit and, even rarely, sometimes a series comes along that just blows the lid right off. It seems impossible that a spin-off or a spin-off show could achieve that level of unreachable greatness, but NCIS New Orleans has done just that.
There are three very important ingredients to a successful television series, those being characters, acting and plot. With most series it is expected that they will get two out of the three right during any given episode and not always the same two. NCIS New Orleans not only hits all three but generally scores an A+ on all of them and has consistently done so since its debut. Like its sister franchise shows, NCIS New Orleans began life as a two-part episode of the show that spun it off. The folks of the Louisiana branch of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service proved popular enough that a series was green lighted and moved right in to production.
The backbone of this show resides fully in the characters that are richly realized and three-dimensional. The original NCIS relied too heavily on procedure and only offered small tidbits about its characters for the first few seasons. NCIS Los Angeles almost veers the other way and puts too much emphasize on the characters’ private lives. New Orleans dives right into the personal lives of the main characters and how that informs and affects their professional lives, but mixes it well with, and sometimes makes it a part of, the plot.
Special Agent in Charge Dwayne Pride, estranged from his wife, is currently making the team’s headquarters his home and has a father in prison that he helped put there. Senior Field Agent Chris LaSalle, an Alabama native with a bi-polar brother has a heavy drawl that belies his having graduated magna cum laude with a 3.7 GPA. Special Agent Meredith Brody is the youngest Special Agent in the history of NCIS Midwest and had a twin sister who died when they both were young. Dr. Loretta Wade has strong maternal instincts over Pride and his agents, something that spurs her into adopting two troubled youths. Wade’s assistant, Sebastian Lund provides the geek quotient each week, but has a strong moral compass and a drive to uncover the truth that makes him invaluable to the team.
Bringing these characters to life is an impeccable ensemble cast of actors with a wide range of roles to their various credits. Scott Bakula leads the team and show in much the same way as he captained Star Trek: Enterprise and righted wrongs throughout time on Quantum Leap. He can sell any scene with just a look and delivers his lines with adept authenticity. The mercurial CCH Pounder should, along with Bakula, be enough to immediately command your notice. Holding her own against Michael Chiklis on The Shield week after week earned her any role she could ever want to play. Lucas Black, Zoe McLellan and Rob Kerkovich equally effortlessly inhabit their characters and there are even a couple of newcomers this year that dynamically flesh out the cast.
At its heart, the show is still a procedural, but the plots are great with taking unusual twists or taking a story you think you’ve seen elsewhere and turning it on its ear. There is a perfect balance between done-in-one cases and those that have consequences that continue to play out over multiple episodes. The show isn’t serialized to the extent that you’d be lost coming in brand new, but everything isn’t always tidied up neatly by the closing moments of the episode and frequently they lead to bigger developments. In short, NCIS New Orleans welcomes first-time viewers, but frequently rewards long-term watchers. Interwoven into all this is the city itself, New Orleans. You can feel the life of this city, still proudly and defiantly to rebuilding itself, yet firmly retaining its own identity, in almost every single scene.
NCIS New Orleans will likely be around for the long-haul. The parent show is heading full steam into a 14th season and the Los Angeles branch is pretty much guaranteed an eighth, but that hasn’t lessened the hunger for more and NCIS New Orleans is enjoying ratings that most other shows only dream of. Now is the perfect time to catch up with the first season on Netflix and catch all the current episodes On Demand. To paraphrase Bakula’s Agent Pride, Watch. Learn Things.