Monday, December 1, 2008

NCIS – The New Hot Property

Last year about this time, I commented that NCIS seemed to be growing up a bit. Last April, I commented that CBS’s NCIS seemed to have ”jettisoned some of the juvenile banter” that frequently came out of the mouth of Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly). More recently, I’ve written here that NCIS is one of those shows that I’ve watched every week but I really don’t know why. The last two seasons, viewers had to tolerate bad acting and bad hair days from Lauren Holly, who played the ever-annoying Director Jenny Shepard. This tested even the most loyal of fans. Last season’s finale had the team being broken up and scattered al over the place. It’s an overused plot device for many shows when they want viewers to think their beloved stars are leaving the show, creating what I feel is artificial drama. Everyone knows a show would never intentionally get rid of a popular cast or character, especially when the cast has great chemistry and the show seems to be gaining viewership.

But, for some reason, NCIS this season seems to be climbing high in the ratings, much higher than it has before. Presumably it’s being discovered by many new viewers, who find themselves quickly hooked. For me, a person who has watched the show since about day 1 - sometimes to my own puzzlement - I can see why the show is becoming more popular. It has finally been tweaked to the point that it works really well. Sure, sometimes the story lines are weak and implausible. But it is the chemistry with the cast, and the personalities of the characters, that makes the show fun to watch.

In my opinion, the two big draws to the show are Mark Harmon, as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and Michael Weatherly, as Agent Tony DiNozzo. Both characters couldn’t be more opposite. Gibbs is frequently overly serious and almost all business, constantly keeping the crew in line, at the same time respecting the talents of his staff and colleagues and using their strengths to solve cases. On the flip side, DiNozzo is the comic relief, serving as a younger, more playful version of Law & Order’s Lennie Briscoe. DiNozzo uses his investigative talents and instincts, plus his love for movie trivia to crack a case and add levity. Everyone else on the cast, while all strong characters and actors, simply serve as the background scenery for Harmon and Weatherly. But don’t get me wrong, these other characters are very important to the show. What would the show be without the quirks of Abby (Pauley Perrette) and Ducky (David McCallum)? Probably boring.

But what is making this show work so much better this season is change at the top at NCIS: getting rid of Director Shepard and the boring, confusing story line that came with her. Instead, we now have NCIS Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll), who is all business, just like Gibbs. Vance also seems to like pull strings and sometimes has his own agenda that he may not always share with his staff. It’s quite a refreshing change from Director Shepard, who seemed to dredge up her past relationship or romance with Gibbs every chance she got. And frankly, viewers were not interested in her past with Gibbs, which made those scenes even harder to tolerate.

Ziva (Cote de Pablo) and Tony also continue their veiled flirting. At least it has progressed from previous seasons where it was at the grade school level to something a little more realistic. Are they trying to create more sexual tension between these two so viewers will want them to have a deeper relationship? Probably. Do I want them to do any further? No. I think if those two changed their relationship to anything more than what it is now, it would ruin everything. Sometimes is better to leave well enough alone. If the show is smart, they’ll keep some distance in their relationship in order to keep the fans guessing.
Tony and Ziva

The only main character on the show who may be expendable is the sometimes-hapless Agent McGee (Sean Murray) who seems to be the odd man out. Don’t get me wrong, I like him on the show and I think he is perfect for role. It’s just that McGee is somewhat disconnected from everyone else, possibly because his job specialty and the fact that tech geeks could easily be replaced. Still, at this point in time, his presence as NCIS object of constant ridicule and a release for DiNozzo’s need for pranks is probably critical. After all, they do need someone to pick on!

I’m glad to see that the show is finally getting more attention from viewers. If you’re looking for a grittier crime drama like Law & Order or CSI, you won’t find that with NCIS. Sure, the show is about crime, but it’s really become about the relationships between the members of NCIS team, and the crime just happens to be the backdrop.

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