So, full disclosure: I began watching Hawaii Five-0 in 2010 because the Hawaiian Pineapple Gods sang across the ocean directly into my soul and I was compelled to watch — right?
You know how it is.
I did not watch the first (2009-2010) or second (2010-2011) seasons of NCIS:LA when they originally aired (because I thought NCIS:Original Flavor was a show for Great-grandmothers). When Season 2 of Hawaii Five-0 started in 2011, we knew about the first cross over — since Daniela Ruah, the actress who plays Kensi Blye on NCIS:LA attended the Season 2 premier event in Hawaii. So I figured I better get on board (I can’t stand being out of the loop). So I started watching Season 3 of NCIS:LA… and my love of this show quickly reached epic proportions… and I backtracked & mainlined the first two seasons in just a couple weeks… and I love this show so much that I’m not really sure I can do it justice in one blog entry.
So first, let’s do the facts. (As always – love comes later.)
The show is a procedural — kicks off with a crime of the week (which, as I’ve noted previously, can blessedly take less than a minute) followed up by a short 20-second credit sequence. But like H50, the meat-and-potatoes of This Show are the Characters and their Relationships. So who are these characters?
The NCIS:LAers are a team of super crime fighting federal agents who excel at going undercover and working dangerous operations and missions that are related to the military, governments, and national security. They are basically fearless and clever and OH SO COMPETENT at what they do that my first feeling of them as a group is one of total admiration and I WANT TO BE YOU-ness.
The leader of the team is Hetty Lange (played by the iconic Linda Hunt). Hetty is a hybrid Bond Villain, Bond Girl, and Bond himself. She is tough, mysterious, inscrutable, all-knowing, and completely kick-ass. She used to be in the CIA and her past missions are often alluded to by her desk drawer full of identification cards and passports, all in different names. There are hints that she has been present for many of the 20th Century’s major historical events, from the Cold War up to the present day — she has a bottle of whiskey that was “liberated” from Saddam Hussein’s personal collection, stuff like that. Everyone respects her immensely.
Hetty oversees the team’s missions and cases the from their secret location … somewhere in Los Angeles. Backing her up at the Operations Center (or ‘Ops’) are Tech Operator Eric Beale & Intelligence Analyst Nell Jones.
Eric is the super-hacker and information gatherer of the team. He can use all these crazy-ass satellites to find anything. He knows your passwords (all of them). He works really well, really fast, usually with Hetty breathing down his neck. When the team needs something immediately, they turn to Eric & he always delivers. As the not-so-subtle poncho he is wearing might clue you in, his image is somewhat of a SoCal boy, a surfer, wearing shorts, and using the Ops Center’s big screens to play video games. But he is a techie geek through and through. And he is adorable.
Nell was introduced in the first half of Season 2 and became a regular starting with 2.11. Talk about a character who gave you a million reasons to dislike her and yet… you don’t. She swoops in all smarty pants. Hetty assigns her duties that used to be Eric’s. She has a squeaky voice and really, I can’t stress it enough, is a total know it all. And yet. AND YET. She is upfront about her faults and failings. She is a true asset to the team, saving them time doing the research they can’t do while they’re out in the field. She & Eric bounce ideas off each other constantly brainstorming. It doesn’t take long for Eric’s initial irritation with her to fade, and oh so slowly over the course of a season of television, for them to become friends and Eric to perhaps develop a bit of a crush on her.
Next let’s talk about our old pal Kensi Blye!
Kensi comes from a military family and excels at undercover work. She is incredibly loyal and something of a tomboy, having been much closer with her father than her mother when she was young. Even so, there are some girly things in relation to her childhood, such as her collection of jelly bracelets and crush on Joey from New Kids on the Block. She also likes to eat – a lot. That epic chow down of the loco moco during her appearance on H50 wasn’t just a guest star enjoying a local dish – it was a nice canon continuation of Kensi’s character.
Kensi is incredibly physically tough has a bit of a tragic and angsty past – as does her partner: Marty Deeks, a liaison police officer from the LAPD. Deeks was also a mid-season introduction that could have gone either way with viewers, if life were truly fair (but of course, life is not fair, and Deeks is played by the unfairly uber-charming Eric Christian Olsen and his unfairly brilliant smile).
Deeks is a total smart-ass, always quick with a quip or a snarky remark – he rarely says anything serious unless he has to. He’s good with the local LA connections and a bit of a slacker, but only compared to the highly-strung, Type-A-personality federal agents of the NCIS. His lackadaisical attitude sometimes rubs military-types Kensi & Sam the wrong way, but it’s more talk than anything as he’s a highly competent field agent who has never not had his partner’s back.
Oh, and he wore chaps in their latest episode. Just sayin’.
Side note – Eric Christian Olsen has a twin brother… (I know!!) who is actually a Navy SEAL… (…I KNOW..!) who is also Eric’s stuntman (I KNOW!!!). How’s that for authentic & cool?
The relationship between Kensi & Deeks is one that sets even my hardened fangirl heart a-flutter – it’s the perfect mix of flirtation and yet genuine connection. It really so much isn’t a “will they / won’t they” because the answer is “both.” Yes, they will, because they are perfect for each other. No, they won’t, because this show is not about that (another reason I love this show… 3 seasons… 0 kisses…). This show is about amazing human beings who shoot bad guys with big guns and who look good while doing it. Not about romance. Unless this is romantic:
Moving on… to the main attraction! I can’t really tell you about Sam Hanna (played by LL Cool J) and his partner G Callen (played by Chris O’Donnell) without doing a compare/contrast to start with.
The above screen cap is from mid-way through Season 3 when Sam & G celebrated the five year anniversary of their partnership (complete with a manly exchange of alcoholic gifts & bro-hug). When the show started, they were already well established. And of course like the buddies in most buddy-cop shows, Sam & G shouldn’t work well together — but they totally do.
Sam is a Navy SEAL – but he’s a little bit of a different SEAL than, say, H50’s McG. One, he wasn’t an officer, his rank (never specifically stated but alluded to) is Chief Petty Officer, and two, Sam is 100% all about teamwork. He has none of McG’s abandonment/responsibility/guilt issues & is in fact married with children. Sam hates operating solo and avoids it at all costs. Whereas his partner, G Callen, was orphaned as a pre-schooler and spent his entire life in the foster care system, bouncing from home to home, never anywhere longer than 3 months from the time he was 5 until he attained his majority. Also, his name is “G” and as of this airing we don’t know what that initial stands for — he doesn’t know what it stands for — because of misplaced / lost / mysteriously disappeared records. G’s backstory is one of the primary plot arcs of the entire series.
So to say G’s a bit of a lone wolf is a bit of an understatement: No past relationships that weren’t first work relationships, no furniture in his house, he drives a fancy car — his only indulgence — and as you can see from any of the pics I could choose to put up here, he’s not got much of a haircut, wears plain grey or blue shirts and jeans. Always. It’s his past as a foster-care child that informs his excellent (wikipedia says “legendary”) undercover skills. He can blend in anywhere; always says the right thing in the right moment and never breaks his cover. Smooth. Operator.
Sam, in contrast, is a little too physically distinctive to be great undercover, but he has done in federal prison as well as overseas, infiltrating terrorist groups. He’s fluent in Arabic and can emulate the customs of the Middle East smoothly. Of course, he’s lethal in hand-to-hand but is kind of an understated guy, who can surprise you every now and again — he’s quite a wine connoisseur for example, and he can do origami. He’s also the type who just by sitting and staring at you gets you to spill your guts without him having to ask a single question. He also, as many of you have noticed, wears shirts that appear to be a couple of sizes too small (as my husband says, “he must set his clothes dryer to ‘hot,'” to which… I agree).
Oh, and he always drives (some things are SEAL-Universal, it appears). His muscle car of choice is a Dodge Challenger. It actually belongs to him.
Although Kensi & Deeks are no physical/action slouches, these two lift the heavy burden of the action sequences (probably 60-70% of the time, depending on the episode), running, shooting, fighting — almost always directly in the line of fire. They take risks, sure, but calculated risks. They are almost always fighting professional criminals or terrorists or people with military training so there’s no room for error. With G’s spy background, cunning is the name of the game for this team – they truly have a “brains before brawn” approach.
Now, G’s backstory appears as if it may be important to the H50 crossover. Seemingly, the baddie for the crossover (as shown in the notoriously misleading promos) is the leader of a Romanian crime family – with which G has a history – named Dracul Comescu. This Romanian Criminal Organization wants G dead, for their own mysterious reasons: a family vendetta of which G was entirely unaware due to his lack of knowledge about his own family past. So, Dracul shows up in Hawaii and this is why the Five-0s will reach out to the NCIS:LAers, leading to the cross over. What a Romanian crime boss is doing with (redacted for spoilers) in Hawaii is beyond me — but that is the plot of the crossover, or so we are led to believe.
OK so those are the facts. Now here is a little run-down on the love.
First, thinking about the Show as a Show.
NCIS:LA is fearless in certain ways. Early on in the series, it appeared some of the main characters weren’t working… so they were written out. Rather quickly, I might add. Show doesn’t prolong the torture. I respect that. Also — There are SEVEN main characters. SEVEN. And not ONCE have I ever thought “wow, too much Nell & Eric this episode,” or “boo, way too little quality time with Kensi & Deeks.” Never. Show’s balance is … perfection. Again, I love Show because I can respect it.
The writing on the show is tight. You kind of have to watch a procedural for the plot; their plots aren’t too far-fetched (usually) and the mysteries keep you interested. They solve the problem H50 has sometimes of the audience “figuring out who done it the moment the baddie walks on screen” by starting the episode saying, “This guy is a terrorist. We need to track him down today before he sets off a bomb.” Then the team goes and does just that.
The writers also know their characters inside & out and each has depth, agency and realism. Also, and this is important to me: These characters don’t get thrown under the bus, or embarrassed, or treated like crap like they do on… other shows I could name. My love for these characters has never been abused or made fun of or taken for granted by this Show’s runners & writers. Thinking about being a fan of NCIS:LA makes my heart feel warm & fuzzy (not to mention keeps my junk kicking boots firmly on the floor).
Moving on. The action is amazing. Full stop. Explosions, gun fights, fist fights, car chases, running – you name it, this show has it. The setting, while not as lovely as… Hawaii, let’s say, is still fantastically shot, with urban interiors, the SoCal desert and beaches. It’s a fun playground to watch these characters run around in.
Final big picture item – It’s a wonderful feeling watching a group of seven people act as one cohesive unit… the teamwork is amazing. Everyone knows their role & fulfills it to perfection — makes you wish you had that in your own work life. They don’t always get along and they get on each other’s nerves at times, but they are professionals who always get the job done.
So those are the reasons why Show is Good and Show is Quality but that just means love is possible, not the reasons for Love Itself. So why do I love show?
Of course, the characters. No matter what flavor (visual or personality-wise) of adorable or sexy you prefer, this team pretty much covers your bases.
In the adorable/adorable category you have Eric & Nell up in Ops, being cute as buttons, awkward, sweet and innocently sincere with each other all the live-long day.
Bridging the gap, are Kensi & Deeks, with their flirtatious banter, their conversations having that edge to them that you get when you put two firecracker personalities together and say “look don’t touch.” They pick on each other quite a bit, and that’s the sexual frustration talking — if you see it that way
(not everybody does) like everybody does.
Finally, Sam & G. Since we come upon them already in an established relationship, Sam & G are visibly comfortable with each other, openly discussing their interests, their lifestyle choices & their opinions with no agenda to try and change the other, or force the other to do things in a way they don’t want to do them. While both men are incredibly intense, the trust they share allows for that… vulnerability that gives the relationship depth. Finally, they banter – and it’s good. Practically speaking, they have to be interesting conversationalists as pretty much everything prior to their partnership is “classified.” Furthermore, G doesn’t have a social life (outside of Sam) and to protect his family, Sam’s wife & kids are not up for discussion either. So the conversation is always topical, personal or observational (or my favorite, personal observations), and it’s just so easy to watch these two bounce ideas, opinions & observations off each other in warm-hearted yet revealing ways.
Of course, Show is not perfect and I have my unhappy moments with it. Some episodes, the US Military or Government can do no wrong (even when it is doing something very, very wrong). Arabs and Southeast Asians (basically, anyone who practices Islam) are always the bad guys. Always. Literally there was this one episode where the team zeroed in on this group of four college students as their primary suspects. Only one of the four was guilty. I’m exaggerating here (only slightly) but their names were like: Mike, Jamal, Chang and Mohammed. Guess who was the guilty one? Last but not least, Navy SEALs are revered (rightly so) but (again… literally) allowed to get away with murder… because they are SEALs.
But these frustrating episodes are few & far between. The repeat airing 4/24 is a very good episode (“Honor,” 3.7). I invite you to check it out if you’ve never watched before! It’s a little different than their traditional episode because the plot is so… warm-hearted and… not at all vital to national security. It’s a very sweet story with a lot of emphasis on the team interaction and lots of great conversations & one-liners. There’s some gratuitous Kensi sexiness, one of the best-looking guest stars I’ve ever seen, and even Eric & Nell get out of the office! So that is all very fun. Check your local listings, but most places it’s on CBS Tuesdays at 9pm/8pm Central.
If you made it all the way to the end of this Primer, you win one internet cookie & my undying gratitude! Please comment & let me know your thoughts – both NCIS:LA fans & first timers — and if you haven’t subscribed to the Junk Drawer yet, please click the button in the upper right-hand to do so! Thanks!