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NCIS

Cast: Pauley Perrette, Mark Harmon, David McCallum, Sean Murray, Lauren Holly, Cote De Pablo, Michael Weatherly
Regular airtime: Tuesdays 8pm ET

(CBS)

Review [2.Oct.2007]

With Goth on Our Side

Abby (Pauley Perrette): Latex is, um, very popular in, uh, certain ... circles. popular in, uh, certain ... circles.
Gibbs (Mark Harmon): Yeah? What kind of circles?
Abby: Gibbs, I dunno if you’re ready for this. It might upset your delicate sensibilities.
Gibbs: Oh, I’ll stop you.
Abby: Okay… maybe he was wearing a latex hood, like bondage gear, S&M fetish. I dated this guy once who just wanted me to bounce up and down on a balloon.
Gibbs: Okay, you can stop.
Abby: Gibbs, that is no weirder than a 350-pound guy with half his body painted yellow and the other painted green, wearing nothing but shorts in 10 degree weather and a big plastic piece of cheese on his head saying “Go Packers!”
Gibbs: Abs, it’s apples and oranges.
Abby: There’s a fetish for that, too.


Since NCIS grew out of Donald P. Bellisario’s earlier Navy show, JAG, the cheap and cheerful way to describe it would be that NCIS is JAG meets CSI, but such an acronymonious (ha!) description would miss the point. Sure, NCIS is a procedural show, with a significant forensic element, and yes, it’s set in the Headquarters of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, but these are mere details. As with House, in each episode of NCIS, the case is all but incidental to the dynamics among the ensemble of distinct characters, and the comic sparks that result.


Ziva (Cote De Pablo): What can I do to help, McGee?
McGee (Sean Murray): You can stop touching things when you’re not grounded.
Ziva: Okay. Sorry. Hack away. You won’t even notice me here.
McGee: Okay ... but you’re standing on my foot.


Ziva David is a hot Mossad agent serving with NCIS in a liaison capacity. She first appeared at the beginning of the season just past, replacing Special Agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander), who’d been killed at the end of Season Two. Plotwise, she was supposed to prevent NCIS from exacting revenge on Todd’s killer, Ari Haswari (Rudolph Martin), who was also a Mossad agent. As is the way of things, Ari was actually a Hamas double-agent, so Ziva killed him herself. This even though, as is also the way of things on NCIS, he was her half-brother, their father the director of Mossad.


During the third season, Ziva bedded down nicely into the cast and team. The new NCIS Director (Lauren Holly) turned out to have been just one of the many red-headed women in the life and bed of Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), the ex-marine boss of her principal investigative team. So whenever Gibbs wanted Director Shepherd to take a difficult decision in his favour, he’d turn up in her office with a take-out meal calculated to remind her of their time together in Paris.


The real beauty of NCIS is that it has fun with its format. Increasingly so, in my judgment, and to the benefit of all. Reportedly, the actors are now even encouraged to adlib. And when their banter stops, the in- and meta-jokes begin. My personal favourite has always been the priceless moment when Gibbs was asked what Ducky (David McCallum) looked like when he was younger. The deadpan response? “Illya Kuryakin”, of course. But the first part of this season’s two-part finale, “Hiatus”, nearly matched that piece of comic genius when Special Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) remarked that a particular sequence of improbable circumstances was about as likely as him getting together with Jessica Alba.


Unlike House, where Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) stands head, shoulders, hips, and knees above his colleagues, and notwithstanding the hierarchical structure imposed by its setting, NCIS‘s characters are essentially equals in the comic interplay. Still, Orwell’s rule does apply, and the most equal of them all is Abigail Sciuto.


CBS might want me to believe that Abby is a mere character, played by an actress, musician, and poet named Pauley Perrette, who’s also appeared in CSI, Murder One, and 24, but I’m not going to fall for that, not even for one moment. Abby is every bit as real as Watts, the little drummer chick John Hughes cast in Some Kind Of Wonderful all those years ago.


I would probably watch NCIS regardless, but Abby is the reason I always watch it. The goth-punk-nerd pin-up supreme, a smorgasbord of unappealing clichés that are somehow irresistible in this combination, Abby is the least likely lab rat in the history of laboratories, the universe and everything. Though she has more than a passing interest in death, BDSM, and the industrial-goth combo Android Lust, Abby is a veritable ray of sunshine among the body parts and analytical equipment that clutter up her workplace. Equally at home on the interweb or in a fetish club, Abby is seldom seen outside her high-tech domain. However, in the two-part NCIS season finale, she made a jaw-dropping, Winona-in-Beetlejuice type appearance at the hospital where Gibbs was lying comatose.


Many TV seasons end with a disappearing cast member, and in the run-up to the NCIS finale, producer Bellisario had confirmed that a star of the show would be moving on. Consequently, the web had been abuzz with rumours, counter-rumours, and legally unenforceable suicide-pacts that speculated on the outcome. Rather surprisingly, it turned out that Gibbs, who ranked second only to Abby in the table of NCIS equals, would be the one to go.


Sadly, Gibbs did not go out in a blaze of glory. The NCIS finale was a poor representation of a fun and quirky show that has grown more confident and more amusing season by season. It tried too hard, and it didn’t laugh enough. Best when it handles the smaller cases, like a single murder that turns out to have complications, NCIS over-reached by taking on a massive terrorist threat on a par with 9/11. Beyond this, it failed most particularly in the manner of Gibbs’ leaving.


First, the writers suddenly invented an entire secret history for Gibbs, a history that completely contradicted what had been a major comic thread throughout the past three seasons. Then they sent him off—quite out of character—to nurse a set of one-dimensional grievances on a Mexican beach. And finally they used his clumsy, contrived and rushed departure to make a cheap and easy political point about 9/11 and the Holy War On Terrorism, that politicians and military bosses, motivated by expediency and public relations, don’t always do the Right Thing.


Next season, I predict, Gibbs returns bearing shocking news about the Titanic and the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Rating:

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