Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NCIS, "Truth or Consquences": The chair

Every now and then, I'll mention that "NCIS" is the show I watch the most while blogging about the least. Belatedly watching the season premiere tonight (one of the advantages of having seen so much in advance is that I can catch up on the DVR backlog), it occurred to me that that's kind of silly. "NCIS" isn't deep enough to get the kind of weekly scrutiny I give to "Mad Men," or even "House" (the other procedural in my regular viewing rotation), but there ought to be things worth discussing on at least an irregular basis, right? And since I don't watch the Tuesday reality shows on NBC, ABC and Fox, nor the two CW soaps, I'll have a bit of time on my hands that evening this fall. So a few thoughts on the season premiere coming up just as soon as I get you to be my home theater guy...

The thing that always impresses me about "NCIS" is how easily it shifts from the goofy banter to the deadly serious - a knack that former showrunner Donald Bellisaario developed on the likes of "Magnum, PI" - without the intrigue undercutting the jokes, or vice versa. And no character typifies that more than DiNozzo. He can be tied to a chair, under threat of torture or death, still making stupid jokes and random movie references, and the danger feels as real as the jokes do. Whenever I talk with Michael Weatherly at one of CBS' press tour parties, he makes like he's just a guy who picks up a paycheck for being handsome, but what he does - being a light comedian who can be credible when things get dark - takes skill. I don't know that he was this good when the series started (though as I recall, he was the one part of "Dark Angel" that I liked before I kicked that show to the curb), but he's clearly learned from Mark Harmon, who's skilled in both areas.

Nice to see Tony and McGee pull off the rescue mission, and to see Gibbs show off his famous sniper skills in the process. A strong episode, and a reminder of why this is one of the most popular shows on TV.

Even though I virtually never post about it, I know from the "NCIS: LA" discussion that the original has fans here, so what did everybody else think?

30 comments:

Donald said...

I enjoyed it a lot as well and I hope you talk about the show every once in a while, Alan, because it does have some really stand out episodes from time to time.

I have to say that Gibbs as the sniper was one of the show's most kick ass moments yet.

Stephanie P. said...

I thought it was an excellent season premiere! It had everything I love about the show, nicely balancing both the serious and the humorous aspects.

I'm not sure if I've ever commented here before, but I've been reading your blog for a while now and I would love it if there was an occasional NCIS post now and then!

Wallwriting said...

I think, Alan, you were the one who said to Jon Hamm that Mad Men gets a disproportionate amount of buzz relative to viewership. NCIS seems to be on the other end of the spectrum: Is there a show with a lower ratings-to-buzz quotient?

Anonymous said...

What about Glee? It's really coming together!

Kate said...

Alan, I also have read your blog for years and rarely comment. But feel moved to because NCIS is one of my favorite shows. I also just caught up tonight via the full ep on CBS.com. And the bit where they come around the corner and Gibbs, in full sniper regalia, is standing at the end of the hall made me gasp. I know it might have been cliche, but I loved it.

I agree with your take on Michael Weatherly - one of the best things of a very strong cast. Consider me in the "Regular Blog Post" camp please.

It's funny - I just finished watching it and said to myslef "Man, I wish Alan blogged about this." Which made me check your site and, low and behold, there was a post about NCIS. Thanks!

Joseph said...

Good to see the show get a post! Like many, I stumbled onto the show via the endless repeats on USA when I was sick a few months back, and NCIS sure is mindless fun.

The family-friendly chemistry among the cast is just fantastic, which makes me wonder how long the show can work outside of its procedural framework. A story arc of Ziva-angst isn't why I enjoy the show...

Anonymous said...

I also used to think that NCIS had a lack of online buzz compared to its ratings but lately that seems to have changed. Maybe because USA seems to have the show on half like 5 times a day.

Jessica said...

I've never seen a full episode of NCIS (Seemed like JAG's love child with CSI and I didn't care that much for CSI anyway...) but I did love Weatherly in Dark Angel. I loved everything about Dark Angel and wish it could have continued for at least another season.

Jensen Ackles was another amazing part of that show. Unfortunately despite his presence on Supernatural I lost interest in that show halfway through the second season because the storyline was so convoluted and the mythos so unweildy and I was constantly confused by who was what on what side of what.

Anonymous said...

...um, NCIS "is one of the most popular shows on TV," really?

Really?

Myself, I can't tolerate its cartoonish absurdity. (I realize, as I type this, that I can't account for why I can't tolerate its absurdity when I often enjoy absurdity in other programs; the pilot of 'Glee' for example, while absurd, entertained me.) There is not a single flavor of CSI program on TV I care for, but exposure to NCIS puts me at risk of eye sprain from over-rolling.

>ahem<

That said, I watched the entire season premier. At first, I was merely stuck in the same room where someone else was watching it. Unfortunately (in my opinion), by the 3/4 mark, I admit I was sucked in, curious to see the episode's end.

So, as critique of said episode's end, I have to say it put me right off ever again sitting through another episode (if I can help it).

McGee's being the sniper, out on the hillside a mile or whatever away, making the deadly accurate kill shot over so dramatic a distance? Fine. Swell. Great. That is, while he was on the hillside.

His managing to get from that hillside, across so dramatic a distance, to that hallway in time to shoot the guard?
Objection!

"Let's go home."

...and cut to the elevator back at HQ. ...where only McGee, apparently, has showered and changed his clothes? Because in the course of traveling from the Middle East back to HQ, via what? land, sea and air? no one else caught a shower or change of clothes? They weren't on board a ship, say, at some point? Or once back stateside, no one stopped off at home before actually going into the office? Oh, and no one even got their wounds dressed, let alone required medical attention?
Objection!

Hell, even the person I saw the show with, the person who switched it on in the first place, summed up the episode with the remark, "Well, that kind of strains credulity."

HautieTx said...

I also became a fan of NCIS because of USA running them daily.

The thing that puzzled me about last night episode... besides how Gibbs made it to the bunker from that mountain side... is who exactly gave the order to torture Ziva.

Did her father set her up?

I can not fathom how Ziva ended up being tortured, for months, without her fathers approval.

krystle-ab said...

Weatherly was always good as Tony, but he has really made that role and in the last few seasons he has become great.

I really don't get why he gets so little attention for this role, Isn't NCIS one of the top rated shows in the USA? Yet, Weatherly wasn't even on the ballot for emmy consideration, perhaps this has to do with your characterization of him as being 'just a guy who picks up a pay check' or maybe he just doesn't want it and the everyone has respected that, but it just puzzles me.

I also became a fan of the show through repeats (though we only get 24 hours of NCIS a week here).

In reply to some of the other comments...

HautieTx -Did her father set her up? I can not fathom how Ziva ended up being tortured, for months, without her fathers approval -
Everyone thought she died in the ship wreck. Her father’s involvement comes from speculation from the end of last season, because her father asked her to go on the assignment, The only real leap you have to make is in regards to her was why they kept her alive for so long (unless they knew she Moussad and therefore valuable to them)...

Jessica- - Seemed like JAG's love child with CSI and I didn't care that much for CSI anyway -
I guess I can see where that perception came from, and I guess on some level it is true, but as someone who usually can't stand procedurals. NCIS has to be one of my favourite shows, It's much more like JAG than CSI I think, except it doesn't have all the boring bits that JAG had...

Anonymous - McGee's being the sniper -
Gibbs was the Sniper. Gibbs= Mark Harmon= Older gray haired guy. McGee = Younger nerdy guy.
Yeah that getting to the bunker was a bit of a leap, chopper maybe?, it's TV, things like that happen.

-v…from the Middle East back to HQ, via what? land, sea and air? no one else caught a shower or change of clothes? They weren't on board a ship, say, at some point? -
See I just explain these things away, Because NCIS is part of the military family, I explain it to myself as they took a military flight back, and of course they would go to the office first, that's where Abby and Ducky (btw, is a Doctor) are.

Mandy said...

NCIS is one of the few shows that my husband and I watch together. Although I don't anticipate it throughout the week (like Mad Men), I always enjoy it. I love the crazy characters and how, even though they're crazy, they totally work. It's easy watching, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the above comments that Gibbs's snipering was hard to believe, and I also thought that they should have been medically treated and cleaned up by the time they got off the elevator.

But I also agree that this is a great show, and Michael Weatherly (and Pauley Perrette-- let's not forget weird Abby) is a terrific pleasure to watch.

So I am willing to suspend reality for the enjoyable pleasure of this show. It is, after all, just TV!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Krystle, I think Weatherly hasn't been nominated for the same reason most actors from procedural cop shows don't: those shows aren't considered much of an acting challenge. What Weatherly and Harmon do takes skill, but it's not as flashy as what Michael Emerson or Terry O'Quinn do on Lost, or what the Mad Men cast does, you know?

I think Marg and/or Billy Petersen were nominated once or twice in the early days of CSI, but for the most part, you don't see awards nominations for the people on these shows.

marenamoo said...

I think that I would never watch tv if one of my criteria was that everything had to be absolutely believable. Understandably, some genres - like procedurals - should be more in the realm of possible than possibilities but many shows push those lines around like sand. That said several things last night were on the far side of reality but I forgive them because I love NCIS.

I was sick one day and was watching whatever (I actually started watching Stargate this way so I think cable marathons have led many to shows) and watched SWAK - my first NCIS episode. I was hooked and since that episode was heavy on the Michael Weatherly he has always been my favorite. I like the show for many reasons. Even though the script stretches the bounds of action the characters always seem spot on. They grow and develop and regress and bicker - but they are professional and loyal - just like real people. Their family with grandpa Ducky and Dad Gibbs with the bickering siblings are as nuclear a family as if they were blood.

Which brings me to this premiere. Heavy on Tony (I think Michael Weatherly is superb), McGee goes out of his comfort zone, the team does the winkwink Bob's your uncle and goes outside of the rules to save one of their own. It had all of the elements that make it such a satisfying show for me. It could use more Abby but she will have her time.

So please mention NCIS in your rotation if a particular episode catches your eye and we will all be watching on Tuesdays.

Melissa said...

What I like most about NCIS is the fact that it's family friendly. I can watch it with my two elementary aged sons and not have to worry about what they'll see/hear - besides the occasional gross out stuff and that's no big deal. They are boys after all!

True story: a large group of families were having dinner and the kids were playing, all around the house, inside, outside. When they ran through and we asked what they were playing they replied, "NCIS." I thought it was hilarious because every kid knew the show and knew the characters.

Also, re: disproportion: I've said before that Mark Harmon has to be the best paid actor in Hollywood, if you figure salary per word. If he has 2 pages of dialogue per episode I'd be shocked.

Linda said...

Bravo for a NCIS post. this is one show that snuck up on me. I've watched it from the beginning but not with any real sense of commitment and then by 4th season or so I realized it was much more than a competent utility player. It's by far my favorite procedural/initials show (actually I think the only other one that I still watch regularly is SVU). NCIS has interesting characters/actors and does a nice balance of showing personality and crime solving.

I also think it improved greatly when Bellisario left and Shane Brennan took over. Still miss Sasha Alexander as Kate but Cote de Pablo/Ziva fits nicely. I agree that one of your deeper posts (ala Mad Men) would fit this show but I do hope that you touch on it regularly. Thanks Alan!

Bob in SA said...

NCIS is great for what it is. You should add it to the rotation, especially considering what else is on Tuesday nights.

Loved the terrorist being discovered because of his caffeine addiction. Is use of caffeine prohibited by orthodox Muslims, or am I confusing with Big Love?

When I saw the window, I knew the episode was going to end with Mark Harmon taking the shot from a zillion miles away. As much as I loved that (and the show), I just hated seeing him get to "his kids" within a minute.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, Gibbs' speedy trip from the mountaintop to the hallway was the one really cheeseball moment, even by the standards of NCIS reality. I had been assuming/hoping it would be Vance, having saddled up for this mission. Had they contrived an excuse for Tony, Ziva and McGee to be stuck in the cell for a couple of minutes after Gibbs' shot, it would have worked, but that fast? No. Silly.

Brandy said...

i just started watching NCIS late last season when I first saw it on USA. It never seemed like my type of show so I'd never seen it in primetime. But it's a fun diversion.

This episode, Tim got to go somewhere! I don't think Tim's ever been on a mission out of the country.

I like that things aren't perfect between Tony and Ziva (not a shipper but cool with them otherwie) yet because it should take some time but it does set up really believable seeds for them getting back on track. So it was a nice conclusion to last years arch.

Abby was toned down a little this ep which is a good thing.

Michael Weatherly seriously rocked this episode.

Vanessa said...

Alan,

Thanks for the post. I think the show has definitely gotten more popular as a result of the USA reruns. I'm pretty sure that's how we got hooked.

We tend to like procedurals but dislike military dramas. What I think is interesting about NCIS is that only Gibbs has experience in the military. More importantly for me is that the characters are not written to be stereotypes. All of the actors can handle the comedic material competently, as well as the dramatic (Now that Jenny's dead). While they do hit the audience over the head with some stuff (usually related to the crime at hand), they tend to be much more subtle about the long term story arcs.

On this episode, everyone notices the inconsistency with Gibbs seeming to be in two places at once, but I truly appreciated the subtlety of DiNozzo playing out the truth serum. It was clearly a plot driven device, but Weatherly's portrayal was not played for laughs and he did a great job.

Hatfield said...

Hurray!!! I was so averse to this show when I first heard of it, but then USA started playing it on an endless loop, and now it's one of my favorites. And I don't say that with any qualifiers; I realize other shows I watch are deeper, but as far as quality of writing and how much I care about the characters, it's made me a lot happier than True Blood, Hung, and even the most recent season of Dexter. I was even inspired to write a quick post on my own blog in an attempt to get my small readership to convert. Very glad you're considering putting it up from time to time.

In regards to the premiere, you hit it perfect with Weatherly. It's a testament to his acting skill that we believe him as (almost) every bit the badass as a former Marine sniper and a Mossad officer. I actually got mad at Ziva at the end of last season for how she reacted to his killing of Rivkin, and she was still being stubborn in the face of their attempt to save her. But that's her character, and characterization is what makes the show so much stronger than the other procedurals.

Question though: did it feel strange to anyone that they had him explain who everyone was? Were they trying to make sure potential new viewers didn't get it mixed up with NCIS: LA?

Davy said...

Glad to see you blog about this show, as I was down to probably only one show in common with you, and it doesn't come on until Spring.

The premiere was an oddball of sorts for me. Exposition overload! The way Tony went through each team member was more like a primer for all the new fans who might have picked up on a few episodes here or there over the summer. Which is a good thing, really, as it's consistantly one of the best shows on TV right now and more people should watch it. It's so much better than the CSIs that it's sad.

The great thing about NCIS is its versatility. In any given episode, you might find a police procedural, a military thriller, or a twisting spy drama. It's both a comedy and a drama, quite often in the same episode. Yes, there's a "mystery of the week," but the show still manages more character-building than all three of the CSIs combined. And the best part -- an amazing cast can handle pretty much anything.

I got hooked a few years ago, like many of you thanks to the constant reruns. This summer, the show I picked up after viewing it during constant syndication is Bones.

Knowing that NCIS was a spin-off of JAG, I tried to watch that show a few time over the summer. I was shocked at how different, dated, and just plain bad it was.

NCIS for the win!

AlmaGarret said...

Reading all the comments I find I have so much in common with many other NCIS lovers! We discovered it this last spring, when I saw a couple episodes in rerun on USA network. As a 40 something female, I of course thought Michael Weatherly was adorable. I tivo'ed a bunch of episodes and my husband ended up loving the show too. My two boys also love it (they think Abby's the best!). It's fun to watch with the kids and we all love the humor. And unlike Law & Order, the show treats contemporary issues with humor and seriousness but not in that heavy-handed way L&O sometimes does. Yes, add it to your rotation when you can!

Jim said...

but what he does - being a light comedian who can be credible when things get dark - takes skill.

Your description made me think of Fred MacMurray.

And Weatherly just may have chops to have as long (and relatively unsung) career as he.

Ariadne said...

The great thing about NCIS IMO is that I can trust it to deliver and not screw me around.

NCIS is my comfort food.

I didn't get into the show until season 3 because I wasn't a fan of Cate's but the last few seasons have been great. But then I was hooked. Even if it's a repeat, I know I'll enjoy it. again.

I thought killing Jenny while keeping the team was absolutely the right decision. It changed the dynamic of the show to bring in Vance while keeping the characters I watch the show for.

Even with the spoilers and promos, I was surprised to see Tony at the start of this episode. I was very happy with the way this episode went. Wonderful acting from MW and PdC. Good work from the rest of the cast too. I didn't think the writers could pull it off but they did.

One of the reasons I'm so pleased with this show is because I can trust Shane Brennan whereas I will never trust House's David Shore again.

That's why you'll see me watching NCIS and not House.

Lori said...

I happened to be at a friend's house when she was watching NCIS, and from that one episode I was hooked. I hope you do add it to your rotation.

I've been watching the reruns all summer and I have to say I didn't really grasp what a great actor Michael Weatherly is until I tried to watch the premier of Los Angeles, right after watching this episode. Like day and night. I like the way that Tony and McGee have definitely grown as characters since the beginning, and in a very believable way.

as for Gibbs getting across the desert in an instant, I thought that the cuts in shots while the others were heading through the hallway were meant to mean that it actually took them longer than a few minutes to reach him. I wasn't able to come up with an explanation as to why they all still looked like crap coming out of the elevator, though.

Graeme said...

I've always felt that NCIS is a brilliant workplace comedy disguised as a crime/espionage procedural and the season premiere did not let me down. I thought the running gag of the Ziva replacements all either getting turfed or bailing was great, all leading to the wonderful moment when Tony telling the next one in line that there's no job. And you're right, Michael Weatherly is superb: I'll never forget the moment in season two when suddenly I realized "Holy crap, Di Nozzo's gone from being a nuisance to my favourite character and he did it *by stealth*."

Anonymous said...

I too became a regular watcher because of the USA reruns. About believeability - let's face it, this is not a show that bears heavy examination. Just don't worry about that and enjoy the characters. I'm surprised that no one mentioned the best part of this episode: "Did I mention my boss is a sniper?"

annie said...

Am I the only one who was thinking of Chuck when those two guys were looking for a replacement for Ziva?

Despite being a hardcore procedural buff, I've never gotten into NCIS before. I blame it on only having room in my lineup for one government investigative team procedural with a quirky, geeky subcultural chick on the support team, and Criminal Minds first having Mandy Patinkin, then inertia. Also, one of the first episodes of NCIS I caught had a Ziva storyline that left a bad taste in my mouth.

But, I have to say, my love for Mark Harmon and the pleasure of having a place to talk about NCIS will have me watching at least for the beginning of this season.