Maybe it’s expecting too much that a TV series remain in your heart for 17 seasons. I still enjoy The Simpsons (starting its 31st season) and South Park (starting its 23rd season), but both the cartoon format and the nature of those shows gives them a lot of latitude in exploring new ideas while remaining true to the show.
A drama, like NCIS, which I’ve rated as my favorite TV show for well over a decade, is more restricted. It’s harder for a drama to find new ground while remaining true to its nature. That can lead to stagnation, viewer fatigue, or, in some cases, “jumping the shark.”
Which is all to say I’m very disappointed in NCIS, season 17.
Perhaps when one really loves a show, it’s easier to feel betrayed when it seems to shift from the storytelling elements one has cherished for so many years, especially if that shift takes it into territory one has never liked.
What I valued so much about NCIS, compared to other LEO shows, is that it tended to tell fairly calm, intelligent investigative stories. It was about solving the puzzle of a crime.
The forensics of the case were central (embodied in the medical examiner and forensic specialist, who are key supporting characters). The investigative skills of the team, led by the Gibralter-like steadiness of Leroy Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his rules, made the show into something really special for me.
And I liked the military connection. I was always a fan of JAG, the military lawyer show that NCIS spun off from.
The two spin-offs of NCIS, seemed to deprecate those traits in favor of more action, more gun fire, and more death — all elements I grew weary of long ago.
[We do have a gun problem in the USA, and I’ve long thought shows that can be counted on for weekly gun fights and body counts are part of that problem. Murder mysteries gotta murder, but the weekly gun fights just aren’t necessary.]
There seems a pattern here.
The previous season of NCIS (16) had me wondering if I still liked the show. The season cliffhanger (Ziva back from the dead) especially bothered me. When various news stories made it clear Ziva really was back, my doubt became extreme.
Watching the first episode of season 17 last night, I’m wondering if I’ve had enough.
It’s not the first time the premiere episode of the show’s season seriously missed the mark for me. But it’s a little hard for me to see how they’re going to get out of the arc they’ve established.
I’ll give them a chance to keep me as a viewer, but the show is currently on thin ice with me. That first episode was everything I don’t want to see in the show.
Worse, I thought the plot was kind of stupid (and very not-NCIS).
Let me explain. (Total spoilers ahead for this first episode.)
Last season ended with Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) showing up in Gibbs’ basement. Given that Gibbs had been hallucinating one of his ex-wives during that episode, there was an implication he was hallucinating Ziva as well.
After all, Ziva was dead — killed dramatically by mortar attack in the Israeli farmhouse where she was hiding out. That death lead to Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) discovering he had a daughter, taking on the role of father, and leaving NCIS.
It was some pretty decent, very poignant drama.
If Gibbs had been hallucinating Ziva, it would have made sense. It’s certainly not the first time he’s hallucinated his dead.
But no, Ziva is really back. She’s in deadly peril, and so is Gibbs. She’s shown up just in time to announce that they need to run.
And then massive automatic weapons fire streams through the basement windows.
None of which actually hits them, of course. A team of assassins blindly fires through the windows, alerting everyone in the neighborhood to their presence, while completely failing to accomplish their mission.
But gee. Automatic weapons fire. Bullets. Stuff being shot to shit. How exciting.
The heroes escape, of course. They climb through a never seen before convenient coal chute in the basement. The bad guys apparently cover it back up so McGee (Sean Murray) can notice something is out of place for the reveal.
The script has Gibbs improvising an explosive device that took out the one guy who came downstairs after them, so the NCIS team has a body to ponder.
Now think about this. The bad guys fire blindly through the basement windows, completely miss their targets and wake up the neighborhood. Only then do they invade the house, sending only one guy down to the basement.
They obviously know where Gibbs and Ziva are given the initial gun fire, so wouldn’t the smart move be to invade the house and attack from the stairs without warning?
Why would they cover up the entrance to the coal chute but leave a body behind? Wouldn’t the other end of that chute be right outside the house? Did they leave no one outside to guard rear entrances and watch for noisy neighbors or cops?
Plotting this stupid really annoys me. It’s when NCIS tries to do action that they seem out of their depth story-wise. (But plots like this are just stupid bullshit to begin with.)
It turns out that someone named Sahar is after Ziva and wants her dead (for reasons).
Per the usual nonsense of such stories, Ziva has drips and drabs of information, but is almost entirely in the dark. She doesn’t even know who this person is, but she does know Gibbs is about to be attacked.
As is often the case in these silly stories, the characters know bits of information that conveniently move the plot along. Yet the villains always seem to be right on their tail or sometimes even just ahead of them.
It’s all so comic book. The supervillain who holds all the cards and has all the knowledge while the heroes seem constantly in the dark (and yet prevail).
Case in point: Ziva is supposed to retrieve an SD card from a dead drop. It’s taped under the seat of a bus. (Which is a stupid place. What if the bus is rescheduled or taken out of service? And which of the many buses that serve a route? Gotta be sure to get on the right bus!)
Ziva and Gibbs, who manage to get on the bus from the side door, and ride it for some time without paying, have long enough for an info dump conversation while waiting for the guy sitting in the seat they need to access to leave.
This guy finally leaves, and Ziva discovers the SD card is gone! It turns out that guy, who sat there for many stops, somehow knows about the dead drop and has taken it. (How did he know? Why did he wait so long?)
They go after him, Gibbs shoots him with a gun he found in the sewer (that luckily had one live round in it), and they retrieve the card. Which has encrypted data that the bad guy already sent to… whomever.
Gibbs sends the data (or the card?) to McGee (how did he send it?) who is able to de-encrypt it, and this leads Ziva and Gibbs to the next action scene complete with automatic gun fire that takes out everyone there.
Except Gibbs and Ziva, of course.
She’s kept that secret from everyone, and this brings me to a storytelling device that has seriously pissed me off forever: the idea of keeping secrets.
The usual reason for such secrets is to “protect” someone. (I’ve never understood why Peter Parker couldn’t trust Aunt May to keep his secret. These stupid secrets always imply an element of distrust for the very loved ones they supposedly protect.)
There’s a line in the show: “The more people know she’s alive, the more danger she’s in!” Why? How would Gibbs knowing someone he considered a daughter put her in danger? How would her former teammates, people who have earned security clearances, knowing she’s alive endanger her?
It’s so fucking stupid it outrages me. It’s an insult to good storytelling.
When McGee finds out about Ellie’s secret he is seriously pissed. Rightfully so!
Throughout the course of the show, most of the rest of the cast find out, one way or another.
(One bit of silliness: McGee, Ellie, and Fez, enter autopsy to find out about the dead guy they found in Gibbs’ basement. They don’t see Jimmy around, and talk freely, giving the secret to Fez. But, whoops, Jimmy was behind the autopsy table cleaning up something he dropped and didn’t announce himself when the others walked in and started talking. Ugh.)
So much of the plot business regarding the secret wouldn’t be out of place in a Three Stooges bit.
It comes down to a final cliffhanger to-be-continued scene at an abandoned diner where Sahar is hiding out.
For a supervillain, they take her down pretty easily.
Ziva’s landlady showed up with a trunk full of weapons. (Apparently Ziva trusted her landlady to know her secrets, but not Gibbs or her former teammates. Apparently even her daughter doesn’t know, nor the father of that daughter. But the landlady, sure, no problem.)
We learn that Gibbs and Ziva killed the henchmen outside the diner (because they wouldn’t surrender) without alerting the supervillain inside. We never see that bit of action. They only needed a couple of weapons, not a whole trunk load, but I guess it made a neat visual.
The episode ends with them capturing Sahar, and Ziva getting a little crazy in wanting to kill Sahar, so the to-be-continued has Ziva pointing her gun at Gibbs because he’s in her way.
Maybe it’s me, but that episode tapped into everything I don’t like about these action shows.
A high body count, lots of automatic weapons fire (that never harms the heroes), a meaningless death (Ziva’s), a vengeful supervillain with all the skills, and a lot of really stupid secret-keeping to “protect” people.
That last, especially, is the rotten fulcrum of too many stupid sitcom plots.
And now what? Ziva’s back on the show? For how long? The shippers are desperately want to see her and Tony back together. There seems a possible case of the show letting the fans steer the course. Or maybe they’re trying to boost ratings. Or have just ran out of good ideas.
Personally, I’m hoping they kill Ziva off (again) and that this time she stays dead. The whole back from the dead thing is so comic book, and it makes everything that came from that death meaningless.
So the show is on very thin ice. I’ll give it a chance for old time’s sake, but I don’t have high hopes. It may be a sign of the rot of broadcast TV.
Time will tell, but I want my NCIS back to its former mode of good, clever, intelligent detective stories.
Stay investigative, my friends!