The first time NCIS/NCIS: Los Angeles mastermind Shane Brennan told me that Chris O’Donnell’s character, NCIS Special Agent G. Callen, a man born to go undercover, didn’t know what the “G” stands for, that he has no idea who is family is, I gasped. Yes, I’m slightly excitable, but that’s the kind of character development you’re hoping for on the spin-off if there’s any hope of it matching the quality of the original. (It’s holding up its end of the bargain in the ratings, at least: According to overnight ratings, it held on to roughly 90 percent of NCIS’ audience, which was a series high for that seven-year-old drama).
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Maybe Chris O’Donnell didn’t seem like the obvious choice to play this guy, but his casting could turn out to be brilliant: There’s a stoic, blank-slate quality about the actor that allows you to believe he could fly under the radar (or have room to take on an entirely new persona). And yet, there’s a softness in his voice that makes you want to get close to him, to protect him like his partner, LL Cool J’s Special Agent Sam Hanna (who told G that he’ll give him his first birthday card ever this year, then joked that he’ll put a personality in it — ha!), or cover him up with a blanket like Hetty (Linda Hunt, on a step stool), who is apparently in charge of the office’s gadgets, wardrobe, and expense reports.
Something else I like about Callen and Sam: Their willingness to kick a little ass. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of Gibbs’ killer sniper skills and Tony’s penchant for suits on NCIS. But it’s nice to know that Ziva isn’t the only one who likes to get down and dirty in that organization.
What’s your take on Chris O’Donnell as Callen? Will you be tuning in next week?
To discuss the NCIS franchise and more of TV’s finest character-driven procedurals, be sure to check out Alynda Wheat’s “Beat Cop” TV Watch on Mondays and Fridays.