Hawaii spin-off tries to be different and the same at the same time
If ever a TV show felt like it stepped out of a focus group, this is CBS’s latest “NCIS” spin-off.
This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but when you watch “NCIS: Hawaii” (Monday, 10 EDT / PDT, ½ of four), it’s hard not to think that someone at ViacomCBS Headquarters has thought, “Hey! What if we combined ‘NCIS’ and ‘Hawaii 5-0’!”
And if, indeed. The latest series in the mega-popular “NCIS” franchise, which includes the original, “LA” and the recently canceled “New Orleans”, recycles familiar parts of the naval investigation formula in the beautiful setting of Pearl Harbor , Hawaii. Although the only major change here is that instead of a Mark Harmon-type baby boomer track in the center like in the original and “New Orleans” (or a Chris O ‘type Gen X track) Donnell, as in “LA”), “Hawaii” is anchored by Vanessa Lachey, a young woman of color. It also includes LGBTQ + characters in the cast of the set.
That’s a minimum of a new direction for “NCIS”, one that might alienate some fans but also bring new ones to the franchise that has a reputation for being enjoyed by very old (and old-fashioned) viewers. But overall, “Hawaii” doesn’t change much to the basic structure of “NCIS”, in which agents investigate crimes involving members of the US Navy, this time in Hawaii. The first episode of the new series had all the attributes of a typical “NCIS” affair: dramatic crime, jokes from NCIS agents, ties to international espionage, patriotism, an action-packed setting, and a predictable ending.
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As a continuation of the popular procedure, “Hawaii” Ia perfectly usable series. Lachey plays the leader of our new group, Special Agent in Charge Jane Tennant, soccer mom and tough agent. His team includes newbie Kai (Alex Tarrant), a native of Hawaii who reluctantly returned home due to his father’s health; Lucy (Yasmine Al-Bustami), a rule breaker dealing with romantic complications; technology expert Ernie (Jason Antoon); and Second in Command Jesse (Noah Mills), who has few character traits (so far). CIA agent Kate (Tori Anderson), sometimes an enemy of her NCIS colleagues, is also occasionally involved.
The first episode finds the team investigating a suspicious crash of a Navy pilot flying a top secret jet. The Navy thinks it was just an accident, but Jane and her team suspect foul play.
Everything is very standard and very entertaining just like the easy mysteries of the other series. What sets “Hawaii” apart is its setting and its distribution. Most of the cast are attractive in their own way, although Lachey isn’t strong enough at a performer to anchor the show, lame reading the line for most of the episode. The character with the most potential is Kai, who has already a history and a connection to Hawaii that others miss. Stories set on the islands have often been criticized for ignoring indigenous culture in favor of the exoticism of the state and enhancing the experience for white residents and tourists. This “NCIS” spin-off isn’t about to start some kind of revolution in the way Hollywood treats Hawaii, but it seems to do a little more than just pay homage to native Hawaiians.
It seems “Hawaii” is trying to strike a balance between the old and the new (it leans about 85% towards the old). It might work for CBS, commercially. Creatively, the series has potential, but the same tired pitfalls that its predecessors made. There are very few surprises in the series. For some, it’s a feature, not a bug. But after so many years, we can only wonder, how many times can we see the same story again? How many locales can “NCIS” find a team of agents?
As broadcast television faces increasing competition from streamers and the industry continues to change, we might find that even “NCIS” has a lifespan.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘NCIS: Hawaii’ Review: Trying To Be Different And The Same At The Same Time