Law & Order: Los Angeles 1.03 “Harbor City” Review

When a pro surfer comes home to care for his mother and ends up dead, it’s not only a botched robbery, but possibly an inside job. That convoluted sentence is the premise of tonight’s episode of Law & Order: Los Angeles, at least according to the synopsis. If you’re confused, I can’t blame you.

If there’s one good thing, we do get the original Steve Zirnkilton opening narration back, but still no titles, and we’re saddled with another pop-song intro before we visit a medical marijuana dispensery in Harbor City…and Rex and TJ find the dead surfer, Trevor Knight, in the back room. Oh, now I understand the robbery angle. A little research and our cops think they have a multiple-robbery crew on their hands.

“All the dispenseries are being serviced by one [security] company,” Rex notes, and one of the dispatchers at said company just happens to be married to an armed robber. She tells them that she gave her husband a list of potential targets to give to a man named Roker. Thus, a sting operation is born, and blown just as quickly. At least they manage to arrest Roker. He swears that he cased Harbor City, but was chased off the robbery by a member of the Sons of Samoa gang.

A visit to the LAPD’s Gang Unit names the gang member as a guy named Joey, who just so happens to know Trevor’s widow. There are no coincidences on Law & Order, so we discover she is also Joey’s ex-wife and that Joey was a silent partner in the dispensery. He’s also visited one of Trevor’s employees, trashing the guy’s RV and accusing him of the murder; the employee gives them a tip that lets them see security footage of Knight before his death and leads them to a house in Hermosa Beach. Joey is there getting personal with his new sweetheart and Rex Tasers him. He falls onto his girlfriend, making her unable to breathe until his massive weight can be moved. That’s actually funny, unlike TJ’s subsequent attempt at a pithy one-liner. That isn’t Corey Stoll’s fault, but there’s always at least one cop on every show who thinks they’re a sarcastic comedian, and I don’t think it’s been funny since Maurice “Bosco” Boscorelli on Third Watch.

Back in their dimly-lit, closet-sized interrogation room, Rex and TJ get Joey to say that he tried to intimidate Trevor’s surfing competition. This means they get to start talking to all the surfers (and Rex gets to argue with one guy who thinks he owns the beach), and discover another gang tag – for the Moon Bay Crew, or MBC. DDA Morales singles out one of the members, Patrick Scott, and tries to roll him on the other two by emphasizing the class difference between them. The kid says that they were jealous of Knight’s hogging all the good waves (really?!) and that his friends suggested they rough him up over it. They killed Knight and decided to make it look like a robbery.

The cops go to arrest the two rich kids, Carlton Campbell and Logan Rudman, and hey, James Morrison (24‘s Bill Buchanan) plays Carlton’s dad! He is, of course, a rich guy with a major stick shoved up somewhere. Even cooler is that Catherine Dent (The Shield) plays the rich kids’ defense lawyer. She paints Patrick as a borderline sociopath and rapist. Patrick, in turn, says that they’ve done all sorts of unsavory things and Carlton’s dad helped to cover them up. Some forensic evidence from the home fireplace proves just that, so Morales decides to charge the father as well. This leads to him exposing the father in a grand jury hearing as the enabler of the rich kids’ crimes, which gives him leverage to turn the father against his own son, and the kids all get convicted. It’s a smooth move on Morales’ part (if a bit self-serving, as is pointed out to him by his second chair), but any of the Law & Order EADAs would have made it crackle with energy. Here, it’s just a neat little way to quickly wrap up another unengaging episode.

While this episode shows at least one hint (in the restoration of the opening narration) that the show’s producers are aware of the fact that Los Angeles pales in comparison to Law & Order, it’s still a flat rendering. Once again, the guest stars are of a great caliber, but that only puts the weakness of the underdeveloped regulars in a harsher light. There are a few little nagging details (Since when do DDA’s go out on the serving of search warrants? Is the need to catch a wave really a motive for murder?). Also getting mildly annoying are such cutesy Los Angeles quirks as introducing every episode with pop music and naming every one after a city (next week’s episode is called “Sylmar”). Really, Los Angeles, don’t try to show us how cool you are. Just give us interesting characters and a good story.

Then there’s a behind-the-scenes question: weirdly, Internet Movie Database lists this as the fourth episode, and shows that Terrence Howard should have been in it; the alleged third episode is called “Playa Vista,” features Alfred Molina, and yet isn’t listed for broadcast at all. Who knows what happened there? Yet it doesn’t make much difference to me, because Law & Order: Los Angeles still remains a show that I’m not clamoring to watch. Until it stops worrying about the package and actually develops what’s inside, it’s going to be all glamour and no heart. Especially with the US arrival of the very well done Law & Order: UK, Los Angeles is definitely being shown to be a lesser entry in the franchise, and I’m afraid that if it doesn’t show us something soon, it may go the way of Conviction and Law & Order: Trial By Jury.

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