ncis new orleansThis week on Throwback Thursday the throwback is just a couple of weeks as we catch up on the NCIS New Orleans backdoor pilot that aired recently in two parts at the end of March and the beginning of April. The show is still available online via Comcast’s Xfinity service and actually the way I prefer to consume the content watching multiple episodes at once.

Scott Bakula stars as Special Agent Dwayne Pride who along with Mark Harmon’s Leroy Gibbs and the now late Mike Franks were part of a legendary early NCIS team that apprehended a notorious serial killer. The murder of a member of that team draws Gibbs to New Orleans as the NCIS regulars work to discover the truth about the long closed case.

One of the curious things about a successful show is what makes it so. There is no magical formula although it has been my observation that usually there is a key individual and a specific relationship on which everything else revolves. Take The West Wing for example. The shows nominal star, at least initially in the first season, was suppose to be Rob Lowe who had top billing as Deputy White House Communications Director Sam Seaborn. However the Seaborn character wasn’t the lynch pin; that in fact was White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, played wonderfully by the late John Spencer. The important relationship was between Spencer’s McGarry and Bradley Whitford as his Deputy, Josh Lyman. Not directly in their interaction, although that was usually superb, but rather everything good about he show emanated from that McGarry-Lyman axis. There were exceptions of course, not least the relationship between Charlie (Dule Hill) and Zoey Bartlet (Elisabeth Moss), but in broad strokes the further you got away from McGarry and Lyman as characters, the less interesting the show became.

This is also the case with NCIS where the key character is not as you might expect Mark Harmon’s exceptional Leroy Gibbs, but rather Michael Weatherly’s Tony DiNizzo. It is DiNozzo and his relationship with Gibbs that is the central axis of NCIS and, again, once you start adding degrees of separation from either DiNozzo or the axis, the show is less compelling. Weatherly might well be the most under appreciated actor on television at the moment so brilliant and central is his work on the show.

I mention all of this because as good as Bakula was in the two episode Crescent City story arc, and I thought his characterization very good and quite nuanced, there wasn’t an obvious central axis on which the show would grow. It is possible that Bakula and the character of Dwayne Pride will be strong enough to carry the show – such individual talents can and do such a thing – however Lucas Black as Special Agent Christopher Lasalle or Zoe McLellan in the role of Special Agent Meredith Brody almost certainly have to become riveting quickly. My money would be on McLellan, who played Navy Petty Officer Jennifer Coates on JAG. The actress has an infectious and welcoming smile that draws you in to any character she plays.

Given a smidgen of luck, NCIS New Orleans looks like one to watch should CBS move to a full series.

– Wallace Poulter

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