I’m sure there’s one thing in Chris O’Donnell’s career he wishes he could put behind him. Lord knows we’d all like to pretend the rubber suits, eyeshadow and shiny groins had never happened, but let’s face it: Batman & Robin is a big (if incredibly cheesy) part of our pop culture history.
Mine, at the very least.
I’d never gotten the chance to see it in theatres, but once it was out on tape and my dad bought it for me, I was a goner. At 13, movies didn’t need much to impress me. I have fond memories of being sick and spending an entire weekend playing the movie over and over to the point where the tape eventually wore out, for which I’m sure my family was eternally grateful.
Chris O’Donnell was 90% of the reason.
Half a generation of teenage girls were in love with his wholesome all-American looks, from his blue eyes and sandy hair to the way the corner of his mouth curls. He was both the bad boy and good guy in Batman & Robin, the sort of guy you dream about when you’re a teenager and have no clue about how the world works, when you can afford silly daydreams. At that age, the sorts of crushes you develop, whether on real or fictional people, those are the kinds that stick with you.
My crush on Chris O’Donnell may have waned as I grew older, but ten years later he still turns me into a mushy pile of teenage goo, so I watched the pilot of NCIS: Los Angeles. I’m not an NCIS fan; I find the show a bit boring, and that extended to this spin-off.
It was a painfully awkward episode, obviously a pilot in the storytelling, the character introductions, the off-kilter banter, the indistinguishable secondary characters despite annoying name repetition. What was most perplexing was the fact that the chief of their branch was pretty much Edna Mode straight out of The Incredibles, if she existed in real life and wasn’t as fanatic about dressing superheroes. There were a few moments that got a smile out of me, a few that garnered a lot of confusion, and a plot I didn’t care about.
Let’s not even start in on the fact that O’Donnell’s character is called G Callen. That’s right, his first name is G because he’s an orphan and apparently nobody ever told him what his first name was beyond a letter. What is that? Who thinks that’s a great backstory device for a main character?
When, after the credits, our introduction to Callen is him staring out a window embroiled in an angsty flashback and shirtless, it’s obvious someone on the staff had some kind of idea of the draw O’Donnell would have. Because really, would anyone other than legacy JAG/NCIS fans tune in to a show starring LL Cool J, some other dude, and a bunch of relatively unknown actors? I wouldn’t have.
No, this is a show that still has a long way to go, and I hope they get there for their sake. If most of the viewers are anything like me and will continue to watch it solely because of Chris O’Donnell, it’ll serve mostly as nostalgia until they lose interest and move on. It’ll still have series fans to hold it up, but I’m sure that isn’t the way any show wants to live if they’re aiming for longevity on a major network. I’m going to hope the show grows and blossoms, because I don’t know that 24-year-old me could take constant punishment for one of the first celebrity crushes 13-year-old me ever developed.
…who am I kidding, I’ll be tuning in every week and watching his stint back on Grey’s Anatomy when it isn’t on.
(NCIS: Los Angeles airs Tuesdays at 9pm on CBS and seriously needs a new name.)