Paramount // 2009 // 1039 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // October 21st, 2010
Televisions highest rated drama returns!
NCIS is back for their seventh year of criminal investigation and punk-busting. All of the usual suspects are back, and the stakes are as high as always. They say that things get better with age, but do Gibbs and his crew still deliver the goods?
Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon, Summer School) and the agents of Naval Criminal Investigative Services are back for a seventh season. With Ziva (Cote De Pablo, The $treet) again on American soil, it's back to business as usual for the team. Business as usual only stays interesting for so long, and just as we think we might be in for a nice, peaceful season of routine murder solving and DiNozzo's (Michael Weatherly, Dark Angel) goofball antics, some facts about Gibb's sordid past, as well as a few faces from same, arise to make things very interesting for our crew.
I used to really love this show. For the first four seasons or so, NCIS really hinged on slightly smarter than average, if still formulaic "bait and switch" mystery plots and the great characters gathered together to get by. Every episode had its formula, and there was that neat "black and white still shot" gimmick that would tease you at each commercial break.
For the last few years, the show had started running underlying threads throughout the usual "murder of the week" episodes that would come to a head in the last handful of episodes of the season, typically ending on a cliffhanger, only to be resolved in the first few weeks of the following season. Season Seven is bookended by these "plot heavy" side roads. The Ziva situation from Season 6 is resolved in the first few episodes (with some lingering after effects), and the final few episodes put our fearless leader Gibbs front and center when his sordid, wholly unconvincing and ridiculous past is dug up for some cheap drama.
The show was much stronger when Mark Harmon's Gibbs was the enigmatic mastermind and taskmaster to DiNozzo's legman. I can understand the desire to see the man behind the curtain, but after a half decade of Gibbs, the idea that he could be a vengeance fuelled killing machine stretches the credibility well beyond the breaking point, and his more rogue-ish behaviour seems far too unhinged and atypical for a character who always knew what was what. What was essentially a pairing of Detective drama and CSI with a sense of humor and a military twist has become 24, a trajectory the show had been taking since Season Five. Sure, there's plenty of "good ole" NCIS in there to be had, with all the usual red herrings, strange deaths, and outlandish situations; of the 24 episodes included, only a handful really deviate from the norm. It's that handful that I have such a problem with. Characters undergo sweeping change in four or five episodes scattered throughout, only for business as usual to continue in every other episode. It almost feels like I'm watching two different shows, or at least a show with two different versions of some of the lead characters. What was once something of a bridge or generational go-between for the last generation's more even-handed approach to network drama and today's amped up melodrama and action spectacles, has shifted more towards the latter, and I can't help but feel a little disappointed by the shift. What was shocking and atypical in the show's first few years has sadly become routine.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing the show is fatigue. Major cast change-ups and narrative shake-ups in long running shows are nothing new, but NCIS has managed to avoid such double edged swords in its eight years, Kate and Jenny notwithstanding. There is however, the Catch-22 that familiarity breeds contempt. There's definitely a lot of wear and tear on NCIS at this point, and while it's great to see familiar faces week after week, the writing doesn't always play to their strengths anymore (see: Gibbs), and while still pretty lively at the best of times, it doesn't quite "crackle with life" like the earlier seasons did. There's still chemistry, the performers all still take the material and run their socks off, and Abby and Ducky are just as cute as always (in completely different ways of course). But at it's heart there's a lingering feeling that things have become a little routine at this point, and the attempts made to shake off cobwebs were earnest but generally failed ones. I still like NCIS, but I used to love it.
Despite how I feel about the major arc in Season Seven, it's not like NCIS has become a serialized drama, the show remains chiefly an episodic endeavour, and there's still some gold in this uneven season. The big sub-plots in the first quarter and the tail end feel trite and contrived, sure, but the episodes that put the international 24-esque intrigue to the side and focus on the usual caseloads are as entertaining as always. The show's formula has become incredibly predictable at this point, but it still has that free-wheeling sense of humor underneath all of the strum und drang urgency. Things may be getting old, sure, but for the most part, when the stakes don't get ridiculously high for such a tightly focused agency as NCIS, and the murder plots don't get too outlandish (Jet pack, anyone?), NCIS is a familiar old friend that still entertains.
Paramount's DVD treatment is also fine without being particularly exemplary. Picture is a tad soft, but looks perfectly adequate, and the sound delivers a decent 5.1 mix that doesn't go too all out with bombast.
The extras are solid, with the chief offering being the commentaries on two episodes, and the long running cast roundtable that pops up on every set. Most of the featurettes included are a tad on the fluffy side, but it's still a decent package for fans of the show.
NCIS still possesses flashes of what made it such a great show in the beginning. The characters are still there, and they still have their charm, but the narratives are straining, and the tank is slowly running out of gas. With ratings higher than ever, I doubt Leroy Gibbs and company are going away anytime soon, but with the way things are heading, perhaps that would be the better option.
Not guilty, but perhaps a severance package is in order.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 1039 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentary
* Official Site