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Just-the-Facts Tack Deadens 'Forensics'

3/24/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Forensics-centered programs are populating the airwaves almost as quickly as reality-television concepts. With the popularity of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spawn, plus the propagation of true-crime versions, a show needs to be innovative and crackling with verve if it's coming to the race at this point.

Unfortunately, L.A. Forensics — the new entrant from Court TV, which has been racking up sizable audiences over six seasons with its Forensic Files franchise — is not. It's about as cold and lifeless as a dead lox.

To its credit, the show does profile less-known crimes from the files of the Los Angeles Scientific Investigation Division. (Let's begin the prayer circle now that they don't do the umpteenth rehash of the O.J. Simpson case in future episodes.) But L.A. Forensics is stuffed with clichéd scenic filler — think the Chinese theater and jammed freeways — and dreary talking heads.

Yes, we get it. Not every real case (or even many of them) is summed up neatly, nor is every particle of evidence accounted for and explained. But the cases in the first two episodes, though brimming with potential, lack emotion.

Take “The Makeup Bomber.” The components: a Hollywood trade union member is shot, not fatally, while leaving a union meeting. An investigation leads detectives to a disgruntled makeup man. A search of his home for a gun leads to an unexpected discovery: an armed, dual pipe bomb secreted in a garage cupboard.

Hence, a matter-of-fact suspect interview becomes a neighborhood evacuation, and cops are faced with a wrenching decision: ignite the bomb, protecting themselves and the neighborhood from an accidental detonation, or send in elite bomb squad members to dismantle the explosive so they can preserve evidence leading to its maker.

They choose the latter, to disastrous consequences. Maybe the director didn't want to become smarmy, but the episode sticks to the deadpan, “just the facts, ma'am” delivery, even though it has emerged as a double-murder investigation of members of the brotherhood. It's hard to get deeply involved.

Episode two, centering on the investigation of burglaries and a murder in the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood, suffers from dreary exposition syndrome, too. Detectives recover potentially good evidence: a fingerprint, a DNA sample, a footprint made from easily identifiable footwear. But investigators can't get the pieces to fit. A discussion of the frustration that causes, or interviews with friends of the victim, who apparently kept interest alive, would have brightened the installment.

L.A. Forensics debuts March 31 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Court TV.

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