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Welcome to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' potential offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Over the next couple weeks we'll walk you through some of the scripts being shot as pilots with an eye towards a series commitment next season. With that in mind, it's important to remember that a lot can change from the drafts we've seen - rewriting, recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
NCIS: LEGEND (CBS)
(written by Shane Brennan; 65 pages)
The network's description: No official description has been released.
What did they leave out: "Legend" is actually the title of the episode, not necessarily the moniker of the spin-off (although it has some relevance, which we'll get to in a moment). Other leading contenders: "NCIS: OSP" (Office of Special Projects), the name of the undercover/surveillance division of NCIS, and "NCIS: Undercover." The two-part episode airs April 28 and May 5, the first part of which we'll take on here.
The plot in a nutshell: Another day, another dead Marine for the "NCIS" crew. The latest victim: Ray Chandler, a PFC who was being blackmailed into smuggling cash from Saudi Arabia. Chandler however had been working with the OSP division of NCIS in Los Angeles (Tony: "Office of Special Projects. NCIS Undercover. Surveillance." McGee: "Cool toys."). It seems the cash was to be used to procure assault weapons and C-4 for a man named Liam, but after the exchange went sideways (as detailed in the teaser) Chandler panicked and fled to DC where he was caught and tortured to death. And so Gibbs (with McGee in tow) must head to Los Angeles and work with the OSP to get their guy. Unfortunately for Gibbs, OSP is run by Clara Macy (Louise Lombard) - an old "friend" from back when he was a Gunnery Sergeant and she was an MP in the Marines (Vance: "You got a problem?" Gibbs: "No. But she might."). There we meet Macy and her team - psychologist Getz (Peter Cambor), tech expert Vaile (TBA), newbie Kensi (Daniela Ruah) and undercover whiz Callen (Chris O'Donnell) - who operate out of a high-tech facility hidden inside an abandoned warehouse in LA's garment district.
Callen likewise has a history with Gibbs ("Miss the old days. You taught me a lot. Saved my ass that time in Serbia.") and enjoys giving him a hard time about Macy ("You two would make a great couple if you didn't hate each other so much.") Back at home, Tony bristles over being left behind ("Better brush up on your boat building," he teases McGee about having alone time with the boss. "Or you could buy a copy of Sniper Monthly. Just don't mention marriage, divorce or Vance.") while Ziva is distracted by the return of Michael Rivkin (Merik Tadros), whom she worked with during an undercover operation in Morocco (see: "Last Man Standing"). Inevitably, Gibbs and Macy's teams stumble upon some leads - Ziva and Tony find the hired guns who killed Chandler while Callen, with the help of fellow UC Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), gets them a meet with Liam. And by the end of the episode, a major twist will shake one of our heroes to the core. All I will say is that it involves a "legend" - "a word coined by the Stasi, the East German Secret police back in the Cold War... their idea was to create a cover so deep that it could stand up to any scrutiny."
What works: If you've seen the backdoor pilot episodes for shows like "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY" you've got a pretty good sense of what's going on here - a few main cast members from the parent show take a trip to another city, meet a new team, solve the case and head back home. "Legend" thankfully doesn't lose sight of the fact this is "NCIS" first, a set up vehicle second. You still have Gibbs being Gibbs, Tony being Tony and so on as well as its usual pulp-meets-quirky journey through the procedural machine. Nevertheless, I was surprised how much of the franchise's mythology is at work here - not only does Gibbs know not one but two of the spin-off's cast members, but the consequences of this episode (and presumably its conclusion) will factor heavily into each show's future. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just nice to see an organic evolution of a show's family, rather than just David Caruso and Gary Sinise shaking hands after a job well done. Whether that works for or against those who check in just to see what the spin-off is all about remains to be seen. The good news is the few bits that are tapped on from previous episodes ("Last Man Standing" and "Nine Lives") aren't required viewing going in (I should know as I haven't seen either) as anything you would need to know is radioed in for you.
What doesn't: Except for Macy and Callen, we don't really get a solid sense of who these new characters are. The information provided in the much-ballyhooed character breakdowns isn't really touched on - basically Vaile does tech stuff, Getz can read people and Kensei handles the grunt work. As for LL Cool J's Hanna, in an unfortunate case of "cart before the horse" syndrome he initially appears as a bad guy named Mattie Rae who we all know will turn out to be part of Macy's crew. (That's not necessarily the fault of the producers, it's just a fact of life in today's fishbowled TV world.) Obviously with another hour to go there's still some time to give this group room to breathe. Either way, it's clear at the end of the day "OSP" is trying to be a slightly more gritty, slightly more high tech version of "NCIS" - without straying too far from the original formula. In other words, if you're a fan of the original you'll likely get a kick out of it, if you're on the fence or not a fan - don't expect to be won over.
The bottom line: A solid attempt to expand the "NCIS" franchise.