Reviews

NCIS: The Complete First Season

Roger Holland

Bellisario's cast, dialogue, and wild collection of jokes, in-jokes, and meta-jokes, however? These are such stuff as dreams are made of.

NCIS

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Mark Harmon, Sasha Alexander, David McCallum, Pauley Perrette, Michael Weatherly
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: The Complete First Season
Network: CBS
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2006-06-06
Last date: 2004
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
NCIS. Nobody knew who NCIS was, except NCIS agents and some people in the Navy and Marine Corps. They have since become an agency that's known by everyone. And envied by the FBI and other agencies because of their exposure in this show. They are very, very good. They are exactly as portrayed, a small unit, exceedingly elite and always willing to go that extra mile. NCIS is special.
-- Don Bellisario, commentary, "Yankee White"

It was only a few weeks ago that the third season of NCIS sloped off into the Mexican sunset, leaving all kinds of important questions unresolved. So what better time for Paramount to release NCIS: The Complete First Season? While this six-disc box set can't hope to provide answers to other, ongoing questions (does Cote de Pablo have the cutest little widow's peak on primetime TV? Is Pauley Perrette the most stalked actress in Hollywood?), it helps to fill the long summer void. It also provides plenty of insight into the roots of this most enjoyable of crime shows.

Unfortunately, this collection can't include the double-episode pilot that screened as part of producer Bellisario's previous series, JAG, so it begins instead with the first episode of the series proper, "Yankee White". While the plot is just so much complex and unfeasible chaff, it's set, for the most part, on Air Force One, so the opportunities for humour abound. And humour is important to NCIS.

Indeed, just as it introduces the main NCIS characters, "Yankee White" also lays out the blueprint for the humour that will typify the show. Comedian Steve Bridges gives an amusing George W. Bush, complete with barbecue fetish, and the antics of Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and Donald "Duckie" Mallard (David McCallum) as they take souvenir shots of themselves behind the President's desk with a crime scene camera are genuinely hilarious. But the classic NCIS running jokes have to do with the public's ignorance of its existence, as well as the acronym confusion that equates "NCIS" with "CSI", classic movies, and the collected works of Donald P. Bellisario. All of this gets an early outing during "Yankee White". Best of the lot, for my money, are the continuing references to the Harrison Ford movie, Air Force One.

Every time Secret Service Agent Caitlin Todd (played by Sasha Alexander and destined to become an NCIS staffer by the end of the episode) tries to tell Gibbs (Mark Harmon) that she can't tell him anything about the plane because it's all super secret classified information, he counters by telling her that he's already seen it all in Air Force One anyway. At several points in the episode, both Gibbs and DiNozzo make a point of reminding Todd that Air Force One seems exactly like the plane in the movie. This is funny in itself, especially when Gibbs uses his knowledge of the movie to prevent an assassination attempt on the President, but the joke behind the joke is that NCIS did indeed use the very same prop plane that was used in the movie.

In the second episode, "Hung Out to Dry", the humour expands. Presumably as an homage to a favourite horror movie cliché, a young couple are "parked" and squabbling in time-honoured fashion when a parachuting marine plummets straight through the roof of their car and promptly dies. It's NCIS' job to find out why his parachute didn't open. Other episodes include adventures with crystal meth on an aircraft carrier, an environmentally-motivated saboteur aboard a nuclear submarine, and a whole host of mysterious deaths involving naval personnel. But none of this is very important. As Bellisario himself says during the additional mini-documentaries "NCIS: Creating Series One":

It's not about forensics, it's not about solving the crime, as much as it's about how this family of people works together. The humour they have, and a twist... It's a show about what happens in the cracks. It's not about going from A to B to C. It's about what they're doing while they're going from A to B to C that makes it so interesting and so much fun.

NCIS: The Complete First Season includes two further mini-documentaries entitled "Building the Team" and "Defining the Look". All three are rich with detail. "Building the Team", in particular, reveals some fan-pleasing details about Bellisario's casting choices: Weatherly got his role over dinner in Sydney with the entire Bellisario family, Harmon on the strength of his performance as Agent Donovan in The West Wing. The combined effect of all three is to make it clear that all involved in the show appreciate Bellisario's method of making TV.

Frankly, it's a good job that Bellisario has such a keen understanding of the elements that make NCIS a joy to watch, because his plots are quite the weakest thing about the show: all B-movie silliness or adaptations of Agatha Christie puzzles from the 1930s. His cast, dialogue, and wild collection of jokes, in-jokes, and meta-jokes, however? These are such stuff as dreams are made of.

5
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.