NCIS: End of the Road

Going back quite some time, my posts about CBS’s NCIS, or its spin-offs, all express disappointment. I gave up on the spin-offs long ago, but their parent show (itself actually a spin-off of JAG, another show I loved) has retained a favored spot in my heart despite my growing disappointment with it.

That I let three episodes accumulate before I got around to watching says something about my disengagement. That I liked the two episodes of Bull more than any of the three NCIS episodes says even more.

What I’m trying to figure out now is how much of this is me and how much is the show. Some of both, for sure.

I’ve definitely reached a point where I’m less patient with what I perceive as nonsense — as wasting my time. A friend mentioned how much her dad, who is over 80, resents the year that COVID-19 took away. The years get precious as we get older.

I can relate. The past year was the culmination of the last four, wherein so much was taken from us — including nearly our minds. The experience, at least for me, led to an adjustment of values and priorities.

For one, I find I have far less interest in, even antipathy for, social speculation and fantasy. My bruised mind can only focus on the immediate and concrete.

Which brings me back to NCIS, a show I always valued for being immediate and concrete. I never really liked the longer story arcs involving big conspiracies and plots. They always seem comic book and silly. [see: Worst NCIS Ever! or NCIS: Widening Gyre]

No doubt, in 18 seasons (more than 400 episodes) trying to tell episodic stories about NCIS cases drains the well. I don’t blame the writers for wanting to explore the characters and more expansive stories. I’ve gone along with it for 18 seasons because the show is so good overall.

Lately, however, either I’ve changed and have a much higher threshold, or the show has finally gone significantly beyond its freshness date. I can say part of the disconnect involves the younger actors as well as (I imagine) younger writers.

Bluntly put, the show seems to have gotten stupid and childish.

§

There was once a pretty great show, Northern Exposure. It was quirky, original, and a lot of fun. Except for the last season, when the main actor, Rob Morrow, departed and was replaced by a new character.

A key problem was that the show was, in a sense, seen through the eyes of that character, Joel Fleischman, a young Jewish doctor fresh out of med school with big urban career dreams on hold while he’s forced to work off a school loan by serving as town doctor in a small town in Alaska. The town is populated with oddball characters made even more surreal as seen through the eyes of someone who has never left New York City.

Without that unifying thematic point of view, the show fell apart and made less sense.

Another big problem is that the writers started telling stories that were clever enough in content but which ignored how long-established characters thought and behaved. It was almost random how a story would be assigned to a known character who would suddenly have a new motivation, hobby, or problem. Often one very out of character.

Compared to how great the show had been, it was pretty disappointing.

§

That isn’t quite what’s happening with NCIS. It’s not that the characters are suddenly acting odd. (Although, that said, I will say a few words about Gibbs in that regard.)

It’s more that the writing for the younger characters involves gags and childish behavior. At the top of that list is the growing-for-quite-some-time relationship between Ellie and Fez.

I liked Ellie okay when she was an NSA geek, but I haven’t much liked whatever the character is supposed to be now. One problem might be that she seems to have no definition — scripts push her one way and another without ever really defining her.

I absolutely loath the attempt to recapitulate the Tony-Ziva fireworks with one of the sillier pairings on TV. A relationship dictated solely by script, not by sense.

Every scene between those two brings the show to a screeching halt.

[If it were up to me, I’d have gone for a brother-sister thing that allowed for stories where they interfere with each other’s love lives. It’s an excuse for guest stars and a more open storytelling. A romance between them is claustrophobic and closed.]

§ §

The three episodes I saw were depressing.

In the first, McGee and his wife finally take a vacation. They go to the Bahamas. The first scenes are tired clichés about work-driven people failing to enjoy vacation plus equally tired clichés about how all the married couples around them are so visibly in love while Tim and Delilah seem almost to be bickering.

OMG. Where’s the love?!

Any bets on how the story goes? How surprised would you be that the current NCIS case turns out to have ties to the Bahamas, so Tim and Delilah, have to investigate, and they have a blast doing it, fall in love all over again, and end up in jeopardy from a surprise villain only to be saved at the last moment by Gibb’s former Marine buddy who’s been keeping an eye on them (surprise)?

Yeah, I wasn’t either.

The plot revolved around a scientist who’d invented an AI-controlled submersible for exploring the sea bottom, but the nasty DOD was going to use it to place nukes, so he faked his death and ran away. I’ll leaving figuring out all the things wrong with that plot as a (simple) reader exercise.

§

The second episode involved something I’ve been unable to avoid thanks to headlines in my newsfeed: Gibbs shooting McGee.

[I’m getting really fed up with newsfeeds. The critical information they tease and turn into clickbait, but spoilers they can’t help but mention in the headline. The values of our culture are seriously upside-down.]

The episode ends a rather dumb arc involving Gibbs’s friend Tobias (former ace FBI agent), who has been “undercover” with a drug gang because of his daughter Emily’s near fatal brush with drugs.

But Emily is fine now, in recovery, and kinda wondering where the hell her dad is. If Emily had died, it would make sense for Tobias to be on this obsessive mission, but with a healthy daughter in recovery who likely needs him, he’s being a really shitty dad.

And accomplishing very little during his three months undercover. It’s once again when NCIS gets involved that things begin to move along. (Same error Ziva made.)

The ending is just silly. They just arrest the major drug kingpin-turned-terrorist at his daughter’s birthday party. The elusive shadowy unknown figure just enjoying cake out in the open.

A script written by children.

§

The third episode at least featured a self-contained story in the NCIS vein.

Unfortunately it also featured Tony and Ziva stuck in an elevator and forced to discuss their relationship Fez and Ellie stuck in adjoining jail cells and forced to discuss their relationship.

Seriously, they really are trying for the Tony-Ziva thing, but with no sparks and no reason. (No doubt there are “shipper” fans who are salivating all over this, which is why it feels so greasy.)

Sadly, compared to the other two episodes, this was the best one least worst of the lot.

§ §

The inescapable headlines suggest Sean Murray (McGee) might be leaving the series. David McCallum (Ducky) has gotten old and rarely appears (and does little when he does). Maria Bello (“Jack” Sloane) is apparently leaving for sure (damn).

The Gibbs character (Mark Harmon), in recent years, had been experiencing some hard-gained growth. He was maturing into someone with some wisdom; someone with a lot more depth. That seems to have gone out the window. He’s become a caricature of himself.

The only other mature character, Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) has also become something of a cardboard cutout. The show, in general, has gone way past format to formula, and the formula has gotten rancid.

Given I’ve always been iffy about Bull (I see “trial science” as an ugly idea), and given I’m not happy with YouTube TV, I’m really wondering how much I need CBS at all. (And coming up with the answer: Not that much.)

Given all the superior content (and certainly given the glut of content), it makes me wonder all the more why I bother.

§

The only other broadcast TV show I follow is The Blacklist, and that’s another one I’m just waiting to be over so I know how it all turns out (after investing so many years trying to follow the twists and turns).

While I continue to appreciate James Spader, I’ve never liked the Liz character, and she’s just gotten worse and worse. She’s gone from an important FBI agent to the main villain on the show.

The show was always preposterous, but it’s been empty the last couple of seasons. I was actually disappointed they didn’t wrap it up last season. I hope this is the final season. (I suspect it may be for me, regardless.)

§ §

I imagine some of this is me. I don’t have the patience or interest in melodrama anymore (or, at least, right now). There has just been too much melodrama IRL.

And, as I’ve said, I blame our cultural drunkenness on fantasies of all stripes for what’s happened, so I have a growing antipathy towards our tendency to indulge in the fantastic. It has not led us down a good path.

Stay concrete, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

17 responses to “NCIS: End of the Road

  • Wyrd Smythe

    My cellphone carrier has been Sprint for many years; now they’re T-Mobile. (Ironically, the one carrier I didn’t consider because I don’t care for hot pink.)

    Anyway, last night was looking at their live TV offer, which has the same channels (and lacks the same channels — the regional sports networks almost no one has anymore). They are $20 cheaper, although I wonder if I need an app for the TV.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    One thing that makes me wonder how much of this is me is that I find I’ve also hugely disengaged from Doctor Who, another show I used to think was one of the best.

    Apparently there was a New Year’s special again this year, but it wasn’t broadcast on BBC America? I never saw it, anyway, and I’ve been noticing how much I don’t care.

    I kinda think Chris Chibnall killed it. I heard that Jodie Whittaker is apparently leaving (and so are most of the co-stars). For my money, the person that should be leaving is Chibnall. Although I have to admit, the Peter Capaldi era was kinda downhill for me.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I supposed it’s gone a bit like Star Trek went for me. Dying somehow under its own success and pretensions, but then along comes some asshole who turns it into something I don’t recognize and definitely don’t like.

      Nailed the coffin lid on, they did.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Actually, there are other broadcast shows I follow, but they’re available commercial-free on Hulu.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    At this point they must be paying Harmon a ton of money. How much longer will he go before retiring? Maybe he’s looking to set a new record.

    I know a show is over for me when they start queuing up and I have to work up an effort to watch them. That happened ages ago for me with NCIS.

    Every time I log into Youtube they push a trial offer for their TV package. They’re really selling it hard.

    The Doctor Who New Year’s special was broadcast on BBC America, but I think only once. They seemed more interested in having anyone who missed it stream it. I watched it. I found it moderately entertaining. Captain Jack was in it, which made it a little interesting. It doesn’t look like he’ll be a regular though.

    How good was the info about Whittaker leaving? There have been constant rumors of her leaving ever since the first season. A couple of the companions did leave at the end of the special.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Show business is different. Creative people often work as long as they’re physically able. Retirement is for those who don’t enjoy working, and people in show business tend to love their jobs. (Other than some community theatre, I haven’t been involved in the arts since I moved here in the mid-1980s, and I still miss it.)

      I agree; when it becomes a chore to watch a show, it’s time to rethink. The Blacklist has been something of a chore for several seasons, but James Spader, and I want to see how it turns out. (Even so, I think this is the last season for me; I hope it is for them.)

      I’m increasingly unhappy with Google right now, and YT TV is part of that, and their apps are part of that, and YT TV on their damn app is definitely part of that. So is their increased price. And losing the regional sports network that broadcasts Twins games (one of the main reasons to even have the service). Depending on whether my LG TV works with the Sprint TV, I’m switching this month. (They don’t carry the Twins either. Pretty much no one has the license right now, damn Sinclair networks.)

      I looked in the Extras section under Doctor Who, and I think, at the end of a very long list of all the Christmas specials and other extras, I saw what might be that New Year’s episode. What’s weird is that YT TV never put it in my New To Watch section.

      I have some reason to suspect it removes shows from New after some time period. I had a version of The Christmas Carol I never got around to watching, and I noticed the other day it’s no longer in my New section. It’s still in the Movies section, though.

      It appears to be for real Whittaker is leaving. Apparently she’s sticking to the three seasons and done thing the others have done. I suspect the fan reaction to her might be a contributing factor, though. OTOH, the BBC hasn’t confirmed or said anything about it.

      I find the long wait between seasons, and then short seasons when we get them, has a wearing effect on me. Doctor Who has been more and more like that, and it’s worn me down. I find I’m at the “meh, whatever” point. (As I’ve mentioned, I’m also weary of everyone being so lost in speculative fantasy and fanish behaviors.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        If Whittaker leaves, it’ll be interesting to see where they go with the character. Will they try to push another boundary? Or take a break with a more traditional male?

        I’m with you on the long waits between seasons. It’s definitely getting old. And for some reason, having the show on Sunday nights just hasn’t been as good for me. I preferred it when they were on Saturdays.

        Definitely if you’re averse to fantasy right now, Doctor Who is not the show to watch. It’s never been hard sci-fi, but since the reboot it’s seemed more aggressively flighty. That worked for me when it didn’t take itself too seriously.

        My own aversion right now is to anything political, and the heavy handed political correctness, even though it mostly agreed with my politics, was a serious turn off. I really don’t want to be reminded of politics in my entertainment right now.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The Doctor has been all white people so far (other than that one glimpse of the Black female Doctor), so maybe a POC would be good. How about a Barack Obama type? Studious and careful.

        Ha! I’ve been time-shifting just about everything I watch so long the day of the week never meant anything. Back in the day of weekly shows, I usually binged on Friday night; watched everything recorded since last Friday.

        My aversion isn’t to science fiction fantasy; I’m fine with that. It’s all the social fantasies people get too far into. (I’ve talked about this a lot; I’m sure you know what I mean.)

        I’ve pretty much unplugged from politics as well. It’s nice that there’s some return to norms, although… well, you know. Not outta the woods, yet, yada, yada.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I did find the holiday special buried in the auto-DVD’d “Extras” — it should have been listed under “New To Watch” but I never saw it there. (Although, in fairness, I think shows in “New To Watch” might expire and fall off that list, and I was preoccupied and not watching my TV in January.)

      I really hated the episode. Another heavy-handed social statement from Chibnall (government=bad) wrapped in a poorly conceived badly written weirdly boring Frankenstein tale.

      I thought John Barrowman has aged beyond his ability to play the immortal Jack Harkness, and his presence in the script served no real role other than catnip for fans.

      I can honestly say I found nothing to like in the episode. Especially at this point in time, what we really needed was a rousing rip-roaring Doctor Who adventure, and what we got was a dull limp nothing.

      It was written by Chibnall, and it has become very clear to me that making him showrunner, at least in my book, was an interest-killing mistake. Who declined in the Capaldi era, and, for me, I think Chibnall killed it.

      Put it this way: I may again watch the reboot seasons up to Capaldi, and might even watch some of the Capaldi stuff again (especially if Amazon ever makes them free to Prime users again), but I can’t bring myself to watch the Chibnall ones even for purposes of writing a review about why I don’t like the Chibnall era.

      Very, very disappointed in how a show I thought was better than Star Trek has fallen down.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Hmmm. Well, I found it mildly entertaining. Not great by any measure. But I didn’t find it the disappointing experience you did. But I haven’t watched it since then, and it’s possible I was just in a permissive mood that day. That said, I also didn’t have the negative reaction you did to season finale last year, and this episode spent time mulling over those events.

        I will say I wasn’t happy to see the Trump stand-in guy again. But it was easier for me to just see him as a villain this time.

        I agree that Barrowman’s aging was noticeable. But I’m willing to give them a pass to see the character again, at least the Doctor Who version. (The Torchwood version was darker and less appealing to me.)

        I think for me, Doctor Who has always been a show I’ve had to compromise on to enjoy. It was true about the production values of the old show, and it’s been true about the aggressive flightiness of the reboot. I will say it’s easier for me to do that when it isn’t taking itself too seriously.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Doctor Who has never been about production values for me, and I’ve rather liked the tone of the first quite a few seasons. (Nothing’s perfect, of course, and there are plenty of criticisms, but the balance was way in the positive for me. That didn’t change until the Capaldi era, and then only changed gradually. The Chibnall era, after the Capaldi era, was a huge down turn in my mind.)

        I liked the first two seasons of Torchwood okay. The third season was really dark and ugly, and I preferred the more episodic approach of the first two seasons. I hated the fourth season, mostly due to that CIA Rex guy, who was such a dick it was hard to watch. Didn’t find a lot of value in the story, either, for that matter.

        In the holiday special, it seemed like they underplayed the Timeless Child stuff, and no hint of the Master (who, after Missy, I couldn’t stand — it was a jump backwards to older insaner versions). And, yeah, I hated that Timeless Child thing. Really, seriously hated it.

        But it wasn’t really a factor in the holiday episode.

        Using Chris Noth again was a huge mistake, I thought. We’re all trying to forget Twitler, not see a story centered around him. That storyline was hugely ill-conceived, I thought.

        There was an apparent skip or something between that one Dalek taking over the guy and, poof, suddenly there’s a huge Dalek farm? WTF?

        And Noth’s character being a traitor to the human race? That was a bit cartoonish.

        Are there really Dalek super squads charged with genetic purity of other Daleks? Don’t recall ever seeing that in the reboot. Was it part of the original? Seemed weird and convenient. Bad script writing if he pulled those Daleks out of his ass.

        I don’t like the wimpy insecure Doctor, either. It was just an all-around total fail for me. I can’t say my expectations were that high, yet it still managed to utterly not rise to them.

        (I did wonder if it was a mood thing on my part, so I watched something else after and enjoyed it, so it wasn’t that I was grumpy. I think it’s because the episode blew chunks.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In fact, I’d note that the Daleks seem to imprison their crazy on that planet, so the idea of Dalek killer squads that left humanity alone seems really weird to me.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Sounds like it’s the end of the road for more than just NCIS with you. I know a lot of people who’ve ditched Doctor Who over time, so it’s not unusual. I’ll admit I’ve come close a few times, but when the next season or special finally comes out, I always seem to be there watching it. Maybe I just need more excitement in my life.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha, yeah, they’re both on borrowed time at this point. I’m hanging in there so far, but neither of them hold the place in my heart they used to.

        (I suppose it’s that I have an abiding belief in redemption, so there’s always a hope things get better.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    So apparently now they’ve canceled the New Orleans spin-off but are considering a new spin-off set in Hawaii?

    Hmmmmm…

  • Wyrd Smythe

    The show has now written off “Jack” Slone (Maria Bello), who was definitely a reason to keep watching.

    I wish she had retired to an easy life in Costa Rica — she’s certainly earned it — and I really wish her send-off episode had been a little less dumb. The hacker stuff was so stupid, both in McGee connecting a suspect laptop to their network and in the hacker magic aspects. (You’d think that, in an increasingly computer literate culture that nonsense wouldn’t fly.)

    I still watch the show, but it’s more out of loyalty and long-time investment than anything else. It’s certainly not my favorite show, or among them, anymore.

    Ah well. So it goes.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Gee, they’re really pulling out all the stops this season. Jimmy Palmer lost his wife to COVID-19, and now Fornell’s daughter Emily, who has been in recovery from her addiction, has died due to an drug overdose. Just too much temptation from a bottle of pills spotted in a friend’s grandma’s medicine cabinet.

    The thing is, the Fornell character has become such a caricature that it’s hard to care much. And I’m not entirely sure I buy that Emily slipped off the path that badly. It almost seems like they’re getting rid of another actress.

    That show has killed off a lot of female characters. Gibbs’s backstory includes the murder of his wife and daughter by a drug kingpin. Agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander) was murdered. Director Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) was murdered. Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) was supposedly murdered (but, ha ha, fooled ya). Jackie Vance (Paula Newsome), Leon Vance’s wife, was killed. Diane Sterling (Melinda McGraw), ex-wife of both Gibbs and Fornell, was murdered. Paula Cassidy (Jessica Steen) sacrifices herself stopping a suicide bomber…

    The poem they read at the end of the episode was very sweet, though.

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