Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NCIS: Judgment Day Shakeup

Photos CBS


Well, never in the history of television have I been so thrilled over a main character’s death. In the case of NCIS, it’s the death of "Madame" Director, Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly). In my blog entry for April 16 (here) I hoped it would be her, but since the buzz on the season finale “Judgment Day (Part 1 & 2)” was supposed to have some major death that would change NCIS forever, I assumed it wouldn’t be her, because I just didn’t think her death would have that kind of impact on the show. I’m so glad that they jettisoned this character – and Lauren Holly with it – because she just annoyed the living daylights out of me. Maybe now we won’t be forced to endure one of the most uninteresting story arcs out there involving “The Frog, AKA La Grenouille”. It was overly confusing, it was complicated, it was just a story line that didn’t connect. It may have been the show’s attempt to have a story arc that spanned several episodes to build interest, as many crime procedurals seem to be trying to do these days. It just didn't work. One thing that was missing from that story arc that is very important - that is, if you want viewers to be drawn in and want to watch more - is that viewers have to CARE about the people involved. In the case of Jenny Shepard, I could have cared less about her past and her inner demons. My opinion is there were a lot of other viewers out there like me, and there was probably mass cheering when Jenny’s body was discovered.

During this two-part episode, it becomes evident that NCIS Asst. Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) will be here to stay for a while. While the death of Jenny is being investigated by Vance, and also by Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his team, it is clear that the team doesn’t trust Vance, and they don't trust him. As Vance tries to find out the identity of the mystery person present at the shooting at the diner where Jenny was killed, Gibbs works just as hard to cover up that it was his long time colleague, Mike Franks (Muse Watson). It plays out in a typical NCIS way: Gibbs does his own thing, while his team is caught between helping him and helping Vance. All the while we see Dinozzo (Michael Weatherly) get snippy, Ducky (David McCallum) muse over the events, Abby (Pauley Perrette) have an emotional breakdown, McGee (Sean Murray) magically find the needed information, and Ziva (Cote de Pablo) trying to smack some sense into Dinozzo. It was all horribly predictable.

While Vance is trying to have Mike Franks stopped at the Mexican border, he discovers Mike is one step ahead of him and has recovered the file that is supposed to be the “insurance policy” hidden by the original murder victim that started this whole thing, William Decker.

Gibbs, meanwhile, has gone to Jenny’s home, looking for information and then eventually waiting for the mystery woman who has a connection to the original case that Jenny and Jethro worked on years ago. Apparently Jenny did not properly handle her assignment, which has now come back to haunt Gibbs. Snore. It seems like this show always tried to make such a big deal about Jenny and Jethro’s past when they worked together years ago, but I never seemed to care about the whole thing. It’s probably because I never really cared for Jenny, period.

The mystery woman - Natasha Lenkov (Kathleen Gati) – confronts Gibbs at Jenny’s home, and lucky for Gibbs, Mike Franks is waiting in the wings and shoots her. We later see Gibbs and Franks walking away from Jenny’s burning home, a fire they clearly started to cover up the body. I have major issues with this. First of all, by starting a fire of that nature, they endangered the lives and homes of the people who leaved nearby. This was reckless. It also seemed odd that Vance, who was determined to get to the bottom of Shepard’s death, was quick to help cover up everything. The normal response would be for him to have Gibbs' head, not to help perpetuate hiding the truth. But, it does give him an excuse for shaking up the NCIS team – well, for everyone except Ducky and Abby. Ziva’s liaison position is eliminated and she’s sent packing, McGee is transferred to cyber crimes, Dinozzo is reassigned to the USS Ronald Reagan, and Gibbs is told he’s getting a new team.

I suppose we are to think that this shakeup will change the show forever. Well, if that means that the first few episodes will mean that we’ll see how Gibbs works with a new team while the old team works from the periphery, I think this plot device has been used before for other shows. The most recent that comes to mind is Fox’s “House”, where, for different reasons, House gets a new diagnostic team, while the old team still hangs on. It really didn’t seem to help that show, seeing that viewership in “House” has dropped off. Sometimes it is not good to mess with a formula, or a cast, that works well. I am not sure how NCIS will quite pull this off, but I can’t imagine that they would relegate their core cast to minor players. Bottom line is that I am not buying in to what was billed as a shocking twist. In all honesty, Gibbs should have been fired, but that would mean that Vance would have to expose Jenny’s murder and all the events before it and after it.

The show also seems to be trying again to create a spark with Tony and Ziva. I’m honestly on the fence about these two. When Ziva came to the show, Tony was still acting like a juvenile and their banter was filled with silly, immature sexual innuendo. They seem to have downplayed that a bit, and the two seemed to have better chemistry. In this episode, they have Tony returning to his juvenile ways (photographing Ziva in her bikini), and it seems like they are trying to make Ziva present a more attractive image. At the same time, they try to make Ziva out to be the voice of reason and common sense, somewhat of a “ying” to Tony’s “yang.” It just does not work for me, and I think it is an error for them to try to put these two together in any other way that just close working colleagues.

NCIS is somewhat of an enigma to me. I like the chemistry between the characters, yet I also find the dialog sometimes very forced and predictable. Some of the characters seem to be falling into a rut, where they become flat, two-dimensional characters without depth. Worse yet, I don’t feel much attachment to many of them, and I admit that I am becoming bored with Gibbs and his angst. He is actually becoming somewhat of an annoyance, which is not a good thing, considering he is the star of the show.

Let’s hope, however they play out this shakeup, that maybe it will bring some new life to Leroy Jethro Gibbs.



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