This summer, I’ve started on getting my TV series fix. Last summer, I found my undying love for Bones. This summer introduced me to Leverage. I finished downloading the remaining Leverage episodes quickly so I moved to NCIS: LA because it seemed fun and flashy. Although it’s not quite up there yet with the other two, NCIS: LA is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

NCIS: Los Angeles

The show stars Chris O’Donell and LL Cool J as partners in a super secret special ops division of NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service, also the title of the original show from which NCIS: LA was spun off). O’Donnell is Special Agent G. Callen (yes, just G. – really excited to watch more of his background story unfold), the head of a special unit that jumps in when Marines get themselves in (or cause) trouble. He’s partnered with former Navy Seal Sam Hanna (Cool J), and their quick-witted banter is fun to watch on screen.

They’re joined by Junior Special Agent Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah), a marine brat who’s a natural charmer, operational psychologist Nate Getz (Peter Cambor), whose biggest dream is to bring a gun to the field, technical operator Eric Beal (Barrett Foa), whose idea of work clothes is Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, and the newest member of the team, Dominic Vail (Adam Jamal Craig), who, as of this writing, has been kidnapped and is still missing. Overseeing all of this mad, mad chaos in sunny California is deliciously quirky Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt), a pint-sized terror who can turn even Sam Hanna on his heels.

Have I mentioned that their office is a foreclosed mansion and their questioning room is a boat house?

As a special ops team, most of their missions require them going undercover, and this is the team’s specialty. This is largely why Callen is very good at his job: he has no identity. He’s infamous for being able to take on any identity given to him, but nobody knows his real name – even he himself.

Identity seems central to the series. Aside from Callen, most of the other characters are shown dealing with their identities. Dom, as the new guy, tries to fit in the team. Kelsi, though a natural in undercover work, finds a hard time dealing with the lies she weaves to assume a new identity. Throughout the whole season, Sam is forced to reckon with his former life as a Seal and his new job, where he constantly encounters others who do not uphold the vows of being a marine. Even Nate’s short-lived ambition to be a field agent is traipsed upon.

NCIS: LA team

Early episodes relied heavily on the slick pacing, stunning locale, and flashy technology. However, the show is slowly but surely transitioning into a more plot- and character-driven storyline. The acting is superb. The show has a very light, comedic touch amidst all the action, so there are no overly dramatic scenes. However, I am very impressed by how well the actors distinguish the characters they play from the roles these characters take on. They’re able to go undercover with supreme believability then go back to being Callen, Kelsi, and Hanna.

One downside would be the unbelievability of the technological aspects at times. The team uses a wide interactive touch screen board to show information, and methinks it’s a bit impractical for agents. It is visually appealing to watch though. You also have button cameras that are practically invisible to the viewer. Sometimes, it’s just to hard to believe that it’s real (Leverage suffers a bit in this aspect as well). However, with the increasingly seamless plotlines and character-driven stories, these techie stuff are related to the background of the episode.

Because it is a spin-off, comparisons to the old, long-standing and critically-acclaimed original (which, funnily enough, is also a spin-off from another show, JAG). I don’t watch NCIS regularly, so I wouldn’t know how to compare, though NCIS regular Abby Sciutto (Pauley Perette) has crossed over in a couple of episodes. From what I’ve read, NCIS is more mystery-driven and NCIS: LA is more action-oriented. No complaints from me though. I believe what really differentiates the two series are just two letters: LA. I think NCIS: LA is a lot looser and lighter, and this has certainly something to do with the much more laid-back image of LA. The Los Angeles setting certainly helps. It’s like NCIS: LA is the brother that moves to Hollywood and gets to have more fun than the more serious older brother NCIS.

All of that has made NCIS: LA an enjoyable watch for me. What sets it apart, though, and what is making it climb higher on my list is its efforts to tackle current issues not just within the military (gay officer in “Chinatown”) but also pressing world issues.

Simon Amputuan, NCIS: LA "LD50"Simon Amputuan, NCIS:LA "LD50"

The episode “LD50”, which aired on February 2, 2010, has a man named Simon Amputuan as a minor character. According to Sam Hanna (and the intel they get), Amputuan is a “Filipino militant with ties to the Abu Sayyaf”, who “[have been] waging a bloody campaign of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations in their fight for an independent Muslim state in the Philippines”.

Simon Amputuan, NCIS:LA "LD50"

Well, that sounds bloody familiar.

This aired around three months after the Maguindanao massacre, touted as the single most violent elections-related and anti-freedom of speech incident in recent times. Over 50 people were killed brutally, then dumped in a shallow grave dug together with their cars. The kill was allegedly ordered by Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when his rival insisted on running against him for the upcoming elections. That rival, Datu Ismael Magundadatu, sent his wife with female lawyers and journalists, hoping that they will be protected by the threat of the media and the laws of the Muslims stating they must never hurt women.

Nobody came out of it alive, not even those just passing by in another car. A real crime born out of disgusting impunity. Now, Ampatuan is making headlines again after being released from prison.

NCIS: LA’s Amputuan is similarly cocky, even if he was confronted with his involvement in a Super Ferry tragedy (which is actually true) and threatened with a lock-up in Guantanamo Bay, up to the end and the very last bone in his body.

The single letter doesn’t really make much of a difference.