If you had a successful recipe for beignets, would you mess with it? Same rule applies for CBS's NCIS: New Orleans (9/8c), the latest transplantation of TV's most durable (and around the world, most watched) franchise. This second spinoff — forcing NCIS: LA to move to Mondays starting next week — of a series that was itself a spinoff (of the long-running JAG) hews strictly to the ingredients that has made its forerunners so popular.
Rugged leading man fronting a telegenic crime-solving team given to jokey banter? With Scott Bakula as jazz loving and Creole cooking Special Agent Dwayne Pride — everyone calls him "Pride" — that's a go. Like the terrific CCH Pounder as the sardonic medical examiner (who consults NCIS's Ducky, David McCallum, in a cameo that rather redundantly reminds us what we're watching and why), Bakula seems a bit overqualified for the routine procedural duties he's called upon to perform. But to tweak an old saying, Pride goeth before a hit TV show. And unlike the earlier-era CSI spinoffs that only pretended to be filmed in Miami and New York, NCIS: NO is set and shot in Louisiana's signature city, providing a visual and cultural richness that will help set the show apart. More than the writing does, anyway, at least initially.
The characters established in a two-part NCIS intro last season are back, including Zoe McLellan as Northern outsider Meredith Brody, currently seeking a place to call home — as Pride informs her, "Where you lay your head in this city defines you" — and Lucas Black (Sling Blade) providing some local flavor as Christopher LaSalle, boasting an authentic drawl and apparent street smarts. The case of the week, which begins when a body part is found in a crate of crawfish, gives Bakula a chance to express some earnest emotion, when the victim turns out to be a young sailor he mentored after rescuing him from the local gang scene. But the investigation takes a back seat to the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans. You'd never confuse NCIS: NO with the second coming of Treme, but it's good to have the city back on TV, and this time in a format many more millions are likely to watch.
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RISE OF THE MACHINES: Many CBS dramas tend to reinforce a status-quo comfort level — ergo, three hours of NCIS goodness over two nights — but Person of Interest has always been different, a more provocative and unpredictable thrill ride, and that hasn't changed as the show enters its fourth season (10/9c) blowing up its already unnerving world of constant paranoia and danger.
Our heroes are now very much the underdogs, as a new and treacherous artificial-intelligence construct known as "Samaritan" (though hardly good) has gone online, sending the original "Machine" and its human allies into deep cover. Much of the fun in the premiere is discovering how each of the vigilantes are hiding in plain sight — "Mayhem Twins" Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Reese (Jim Caviezel), the playfully berserk Root (Amy Acker), and everyone's moral compass, Finch (Michael Emerson) — taking on new jobs and identities to elude Samaritan's eternal sinister surveillance. They'd much rather be themselves, because even in their new under-the-radar guises, they feel compelled to continue their mission to follow the Machine's numbers, despite knowing the risk of exposure.
Person of Interest's mix of brainy sci-fi conspiracy and outrageous carnage is as intoxicating and entertaining as ever. This is the CBS show to watch if you think you don't like CBS shows.
COMEDY IN BRIEF: Fox is doing its low-rated Tuesday sitcoms no favors by saddling them with that horrendous Utopia lead-in. In case you're looking for a good giggle, New Girl (9/8c) complies with two silly subplots: Schmidt acting as Jess's social-media dating guru, and the rest of the crew getting high before attending Winston's police-academy mixer. ... Rhea Perlman is terrific casting on The Mindy Project (9:30/8:30c) as Danny's snappish mom from Staten Island, and her first impression of new girlfriend Mindy is just about what you'd expect. Watching Mindy try to find common ground with a woman who declares, "I only watch Castle," is endearingly funny. ... More Tuesday comedy worth checking out, as MTV begins new seasons of its twisted teen romps Awkward (10/9c) and Faking It (10:30/9:30c). ... And following the premiere of the American Masters special The Boomer List (9/8c, check tvguide.com listings), PBS will pay homage to one of the all-time comedy greats with a late addition to the lineup, the revealing 2010 documentary profile Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (10:30/9:30c, check tvguide.com listings).