'NCIS: Los Angeles': Loving Chris O'Donnell's Callen (and the buttkicking)

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).

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.



Comments (73 total) Add your comment
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  • jess

    dear mandi – love your writing, hate your spell checker.
    do you mean “first birthday card ever”? and it’s “step-stool”, not step-stole.
    to answer your question, though, yes, I will tune in again… I’m not as committed to the characters as I am NCIS, and i think the supporting cast is a quirk-filled beneton ad, but i’ll tune in again.

    • GHB

      Uh Jess, about that spell-checker? Try Benetton

  • Paul Figueiredo

    Horrible. Hated it. If I wanted to watch CSI:Miami I would have watched CSI:Miami.

    Nothing really NCIS about the show at all. It really has more in common with CSI: Miami than NCIS, stylistically speaking.

    • Deal’em Kasey

      What show were you watching????
      While I HATE the name of this show, there was nothing ‘CSI: Miami’ about it…nor was there typical NCIS about it either.
      Shane Brennan has said more than once that this show was not to be a carbon copy of NCIS put on the west coast. And it’s not.
      And that’s a good thing.
      This show is not about Gibbs and 5 people who work as an elite team in solving murders and forensics. This show is about G and Sam, their comradery and the 5 people who help them along the way.
      And I have to say…OMFG I love Linda Hunt!!!!! Part of me wanted to see her knock Sam on his ass.
      To get back to the point – NCIS:LA was intentionally not supposed to resemble the original and alot of people like it that way.

  • BeaAnn

    I liked it and see lots of room for character development. I’m looking forward to getting to know the agents. And I love Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J. I don’t know what it is about LL, but I’ve always loved him.

    • Callia

      I think it’s the name: Ladies Love Cool James. It’s the truth@

  • Rip City

    I don’t know what I was expecting from NCIS:LA, all I know is what I got wasn’t it. It wasn’t anything. It just felt bland as all hell.

    And the whole “OMG WHAT’S HIS FIRST NAME” thing is ridiculous. He’s a government agent, his name will be on every file by him, for him, or about him. It’s only a mystery to the viewer. And even then, who cares? Those kind of mysteries/reveals are only fun or cool when they happen way less obviously. Something like with Kramer, MacGyver, or Indiana Jones where a character goes without a first name for years before anyone even questions what his first name really is. Being so ridiculously heavy handed makes me worry that if “what does the G stand for?” is their overarching mystery for the season, this show is doomed.

  • Jessica

    I thought Chris O’Donnell was great on NCIS:Los Angeles. However, I am slightly biased. He was my first celebrity crush back when I was 12. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be crushing on him again 15 years later! I look forward to seeing what they do with his character.

  • dvdvisionjapan

    NCIS: Los Angeles was good, but I really didn’t see much “undercover”. It felt more like an episode of regular NCIS. Navy guy gets killed, team investigates, solves murder while stopping bad guys. The way the creator talks about the show, Callan is like “The Pretender”, able to assume any identity at any time, backed up by his team. He kind of did it with the gardener and the “villain”, but not to the extent he did in the two part NCIS episode.
    I am still going to watch, because Linda Hunt is awesome, and the rest of the cast was entertaining. Once they hit their stride, it will be a great addition to the “Private Eye” network.

    • Deal’em Kasey

      Note – episode was supposedly Callen’s first day back on the job. I don’t think they get a case everyday that G has to immerse himself in.
      I’m sure there will be deeper undercover stories through out the season.
      And how many languages is Callen fluent in??? English, Russian, Spanish….?

  • Brian

    I liked the first episode of NCIS: LA but I still want more out of the show. I would like to see them add a female adgent that is more active. More like Ziva or Kate from the original. It would add to the character development and interactions.

  • Lynn

    I love NCIS, I am not impressed with NCIS LA at all. Probably will not watch again.

  • harry

    this show kicks some major A$$!!!

  • Lindsey

    Eh, it was okay. But can’t we have a post talking about how awesome last night’s episode of NCIS was? Best show on television.

  • Tim

    Not impressed at all with the show. I will continue to watch the original, but LA blows. Chris O’Donnell was a horrible choice for this show!

  • Fido

    No sure at the mo. I can’t stand the psycologist – if they get rid of him then this’ll go on my to-watch list, as it is it’s an undecided.

  • Cathy

    Did any of you non-likers see that Donald Bellsario did not create this spin off?

    Its the first show, glad they did some recasting, like the idea of Chris and LL, interesting choices. Give it time…..kids, give it time…

  • chattypatra

    I love Chris and LL, but the star of this show is definitely Linda Hunt. I think she elevates the whole thing. I’m glad that 90% of the NCIS audience stayed tuned and watched, and to the naysayers, I hope they give this one a chance to get its groove on. The cast is good, and I think the show will get better as the season evolves.

  • Marty duh Marine

    I kept thinking I was watching another CSI spin-off. Plus, I could not figure out who the heck was in charge. I doubt I’ll keep watching.

    • Kvivik

      Where the H-E-double hockey sticks do you guys get a CSI connection from???
      No forensics, no DNA, Erik = Abby.
      And no, because they had to retool the show when Louise Lombard left, there really isn’t 1 particular character in charge. Hopefully that will change over the season.
      Also, can we get a different female agent? The actress playing Kensi is horrible (and NOT asian, as was in the original casting call).

      • Trina

        OMG – I thought I was the only one who thought the actress was horrible. I agree, we need a new one.

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