Ellen Gray: 'Law & Order' debuts in L.A.

Terrence Howard (left) alternates as lead prosecutor on "Law & Order: Los Angeles." Megan Boone (right) also portrays a deputy district attorney.
Terrence Howard (left) alternates as lead prosecutor on "Law & Order: Los Angeles." Megan Boone (right) also portrays a deputy district attorney.
Posted: September 29, 2010

LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES. 10 tonight, Channel 10.

IT DOESN'T take long to figure out that something's shifted in the "Law & Order" universe.

It's not the Lindsay Lohan-like starlet at the center of "Hollywood," which launches NBC's "Law & Order: Los Angeles" tonight in a swirl of paparazzi flashes and TMZ references as a rash of burglaries committed against "high-profile young Hollywood" turns bloody.

It's what we learn about Los Angeles police Detective Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) in his very first appearance in "LOLA": That he has a new baby at home and that that baby is teething.

"Nobody sleeps," he explains to partner Tomas "TJ" Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) as they meet at a crime scene.

This is the kind of personal information that fans of the now-canceled mother ship once might never have heard so soon - if ever - and it's expanded upon in next week's episode, when we actually meet Winters' equally tired wife, a retired cop, who turns out to have been involved in a case he's investigating.

And since she's played by Teri Polo ("The West Wing," "Meet the Parents"), I don't think they can just pretend she doesn't exist after this.

Even if I wanted to, I couldn't tell you all that much about the last of the fall shows to arrive this season - it landed in my mailbox Monday, about four months after the first network screeners started trickling in - because the DVD of tonight's episode froze in my player about 15 minutes in. A second player only got me to 20 minutes, so about all I can say about the district attorney's side of the episode is that Alfred Molina, who'll be alternating as lead prosecutor with Lafayette Hill's Terrence Howard, has had more flattering haircuts.

Howard, whose turn comes next week, plays a tough but idealistic deputy D.A. named Jonah "Joe" Dekker. His hair looks fine, but his character may just be a little too good to be true, especially when he's butting heads with his more politically minded boss (Peter Coyote).

Yes, they've kept the trademark chimes, the on-screen titles, the story lines ripped and remixed from the headlines.

But it's Los Angeles, a city that's all too familiar a location to viewers the world over, and with all due respect to Detective Winters' tired-but-gorgeous brown eyes, there's not nearly enough here to distinguish the transplanted "Law & Order" from its aged parent or, for that matter, from plenty of other L.A.-based cop shows.

Those who truly miss the original might be better off waiting until Sunday, when "Law & Order: UK" makes its U.S. debut (10:30 p.m., BBC America, moving to 8 p.m. the following week).

Yes, it's carrying coals to Newcastle, as the old English people used to say - the American equivalent might be selling iceboxes to Eskimos - but it's interesting to see how little is actually lost in translation as Dick Wolf's time-tested formula makes its way back and forth across the pond.

Sure, they've had to edit the introduction slightly to add a reference to "crown prosecutors," and it's hard to imagine a Sam Waterston - or a Jill Hennessy - in one of those scratchy-looking wigs.

But London's a city much more like New York than Los Angeles is. And its actors, who move between television and theater in the same way "L&O's" New York-based actors do, may simply be more comfortable as part of an ensemble whose individual characters' development often takes a back seat to plot, knowing that a TV show isn't all there is.

Not that it's exactly a forgettable cast.

On the police side of the equation, we have Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber ("Battlestar Galactica") as partners and Harriet Walter ("Little Dorrit") as their boss.

Ben Daniels, Freema Agyeman ("Doctor Who") and Bill Paterson do the honors for the prosecution.

PBS fans will probably recognize many a guest star (Patrick Malahide, star of "The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries," shows up on Sunday), and longtime "Law & Order" fans the plots, which are adapted from old episodes of the original, which ran for 20 seasons.

Accents (and a few updates) aside, this is one exported "L&O" that plays as if it never left. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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