'NCIS: LA'Three stars
8 p.m. Tuesday on WBBM-Channel 2
Like the fast-food chains that link the country, television franchises are occupying more space on the schedule. At any given millisecond, you can find some version of "CSI," "Law & Order" or "The Real Housewives."
The shows are comfortingly familiar. And they are smothering our brains the same way that grease clogs our arteries.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. Especially not with the debut of "NCIS: LA," an extension of the two episodes that guest-starred Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J on the original "NCIS" (which was itself a spinoff of "JAG").
The "LA," of course, refers to Los Angeles. I don't know what "NCIS" stands for, other than an excuse to dress up actors in Navy whites. Again, no complaints here.
It would be hard to imagine a slicker production. O'Donnell plays legendary undercover agent Callen, who grew up as an orphan and doesn't even know what his first name is. An unshaved O'Donnell - he goes by "G" -- does his best to look troubled. In the first episode, he reveals that he's never received a birthday card. Aw.
Cool J is an ex-Navy SEAL who speaks Arabic and is an expert on Middle Eastern culture. More important: He has such killer dimples that he hasn't had to unleash his celebrated abs yet.
Their "office" has some sort of Moroccan décor, those futuristic interactive computer screens that were in Spielberg's "Minority Report," and racks of clothes for wardrobe changes. There's some quality casting with Oscar winner Linda Hunt as their unsentimental boss. Classy.
Plot? The first episode concerns the murder of a Naval man, a missing girl and a Mexican drug cartel. The details escape me. But I can tell you that the cars are cool and the banter is smooth. There is a chase scene where the actors do that hand-chopping run, and the boys are armed with some 007-worthy gadgets. What percentage of my taxes is paying for this unit?
The nonstop action lulls you into kind of a pleasant daze - as if Cool J were saying to the screen, "Sit back and relax, ma'am, you're in good hands." It's certainly not brain food, but I'll be back for a second helping. And yes, I'd like fries with that.