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.)
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).
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.