By Mandi Bierly
Updated April 29, 2009 at 06:26 PM EDT
Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS

In our pre-“Legend (Part 1)” episode poll, 70 percent of people said they were hoping CBS greenlights the NCIS spinoff, sight unseen. Eighteen percent said they were fans of NCIS but against the spinoff. (Twelve percent said they don’t watch NCIS and wouldn’t tune in to a sister series.) Will those numbers change now that we’ve met the folks at NCIS Office of Special Projects (OSP)? Vote in the poll after the jump. I’m still a go. Here’s why:

• The spinoff really would be different: Just as NCIS exec producer Shane Brennan promised us, OSP’s L.A. Operations Center is not about forensics, it’s about undercover work and LL Cool J’s Special Agent Sam Hanna magically tossing the surveillance footage from cameras 3 and 4 from the small screen up to the Big Screen. [Insert a sing-songy Awesome! from me here.] I was pretty much McGeekin’ it any time Hanna touched a screen last night. I could’ve watched him send Abby that email for 20 minutes on loop. (As a child, I once had the option of staying in the hospital overnight or going home. I asked for time to think it over because the hospital room had a push button phone and my house didn’t. I have problems, too, McGee.)

• Special Agent G. Callen is a mystery, and I want to explore. Chris O’Donnell was one of about six actors on NCIS exec producer Shane Brennan’s wish list for Callen. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite feeling him — until the end of the episode, when he was in front of the mirror transforming into arms dealer Liam. It was a combination of the steely look on his face and the voiceover of operational psychologist Nate Getz (Peter Cambor) explaining the meaning of “Legend.” It’s the backstory that an undercover agent creates in his mind for his role. It runs so deep it includes a fictional family. Callen doesn’t know who his real family is (and as Brennan told us, he doesn’t even know what the ‘G’ stands for in his name). No wonder it’s easy for him to become someone else. He’s like a blank slate, which is sort of how I see O’Donnell, too. Even though I had a huge crush on him after Circle of Friends, I never felt the need to read about him. I have no idea what his personality is like in real life. (And before you say, “Does he have one?” He must.) He’s difficult to read, which will work well for Callen when he’s operational — and when we’re trying to figure out how damaged he is from his past. (I was surprised by how physically affectionate he was with Gibbs, who apparently saved his ass when they worked together in Serbia years ago, and by how he referred to the OSP team as his family. Unexpected for someone who’s a loner by nature, but necessary for any show that’s going to be compared to NCIS.) I’ll continue to warm to O’Donnell if he keeps bringing those intense stares and has chemistry with LL Cool J. Hanna is supposed to be very protective of Callen when they’re in the field. The spinoff’s success — we’ll know May 20 if it’s picked up — will hinge largely on their interaction and making sure that LL isn’t in front of a touch screen all the time.

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The one drawback to introducing the spinoff characters on episodes of NCIS is that the split screen time with the regular cast means leaves the new actors less time to develop that chemistry and, more importantly, convince us of it. As Gibbs is the dad of NCIS, agent-in-charge Lara Macy (CSI‘s Louise Lombard) needs to become the mom of OSP — or at least the person they all respect/fear and have their own unique relationship with. It’s impossible to know from her brief and expository conversations with Nate ( “As an operational psychologist…”) and Callen (please ask Gibbs what the hell happened between he and Macy 18 years ago) if that spark is there with them. Hanna and Special Agent Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah) haven’t even gotten any memorable face time with her yet. Still, I had an affinity for Macy from the moment she said “Crap” when the opening undercover op fell apart. So I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

As for the plot of the episode, twisty! My jaw-dropped when Callen opened the door as arms dealer Liam and in walked Michael Rivkin, the Mossad agent Ziva had been meeting with back in Washington. (Even if the spinoff doesn’t get picked up, these episodes were officially worth it.) The preview for “Legend (Part 2)” referred to Ziva as an “NCIS TRAITOR,” but there’s no way that she knew that Rivkin was buying weapons, explosives, and passports. Right? Tony’s jealousy suspicion boils over next week when Ziva’s connection to Rivkin comes out. (Tony already knows that he was with her at the Moroccan bar explosion. How had no one ever told Tony that Ziva almost died? I realize he was on a ship at that point, but that seems like news that someone would have found the time to share with him.) I can’t believe that Ziva, who killed Ari to save Gibbs, would be a traitor. What’s your theory on how the last three episiodes of the season will play out? (And what do you think the connection is between Gibbs and Macy???)

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