Paramount // 2006 // 2006 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge John Floyd (Retired) // January 9th, 2008
"You two done playin' grabass?"
NCIS returns for a "season of secrets," a year in which nothing is quite what it seems and everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet (and, in one case, their backyard).
After three seasons as the best show on television that no one ever talked about, Donald P. Bellisario's Navy cop series finally ascends to the top of the ratings and garners the attention it deserves in its fourth full year. Thankfully, cast and crew opt not to rest on their laurels, taking this amiable drama to a whole new level.
In its fourth season, NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service truly hits its stride. Star Mark Harmon begins to explore the emotional layers beneath the crusty surface of his gruff, ex-Marine character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, dealing with both his troubled past and a budding romance. Michael Weatherly's Tony DiNozzo also finds himself in a serious, season-long love affair, allowing him to mature into a more competent, less buffoonish second-in-command. Sean Murray's Tim McGee is no longer the timid, clumsy rookie agent he was in previous years, having now been given a younger sister and a side career as a mystery novelist. After just one season as the attractive but tough-as-nails agency director, Lauren Holly has already become a vital and intriguing addition to the team. Similarly, Cote de Pablo has fully emerged from the shadow of her predecessor, Sasha Alexander, and become a genuine star of the show in her own right. David McCallum and Pauley Perrette continue to keep things lively as the eccentric medical examiner "Ducky" Mallard and goth forensic technician Abby Sciuto, respectively. Even Brian Dietzen's comic relief morgue assistant, Jimmy Palmer, begins to come into his own, developing a funny clandestine romance with by-the-book "probie" (probational agent) Michelle Lee (Liza Lapira). These likable characters having become old friends to viewers after three increasingly well-written, well-acted campaigns, the producers are now able to take them into uncharted territory and challenge the formula of the show without undermining its appeal. The resulting 24 episodes represent the best year of the popular JAG spin-off yet.
The season opens with a slam-bang action tale that finds de Pablo's Mossad Officer Ziva David wanted for murder and desperately turning to the retired Gibbs for help. From there, the year thunders forward through some genuinely bizarre cases and thrilling plot twists, building to a powerful cliff-hanger in which everything you thought you knew about the developing story arcs is turned on its proverbial ear. Highlights along the way include: "Faking It," in which Gibbs' former partner comes to D.C. to help put away a Russian arms dealer, "Smoked," in which the body of a serial killer is found literally smoked in the furnace of an elementary school, "Blowback," a first-rate spy thriller which brings to the forefront French arms kingpin Le Grenouille (Armand Assante), "Dead Man Walking," in which Ziva falls for a man who has been intentionally poisoned with radiation, and the powerful "Grace Period," in which two NCIS agents are killed by terrorists while pulling weekend duty that was supposed to go to Gibbs' team.
Even the weaker episodes are enjoyable, due largely to the attractive, charismatic cast members and the wonderful chemistry between them. "Singled Out" is a modest crime caper that comes alive when DiNozzo is confronted with the prospect of leaving to lead his own team, and Ziva is sent undercover as a nerdy speed-dating candidate. The Halloween episode, "Witch Hunt," is a fairly mundane kidnapping tale that works because of the scenes in which DiNozzo and McGee are unable to hide their reaction to Abby's sexy Marilyn Monroe costume. "Twisted Sister" starts strong but quickly becomes contrived, and is saved primarily by Murray's performance and the funny revelation that McGee's best-selling book is based on his real-life teammates. Later in the year, his writing career again takes center stage when someone steals the unfinished manuscript for his next novel and begins copying the kills. The best part of this improbable follow-up, entitled "Cover Story," is again the effective acting of the underrated Murray. The year's silliest tale, "Driven," is about a prototype HumVee that kills one of its designers on the eve of an important test drive. The story has one good dramatic moment (McGee's momentary inattention nearly causes Abby to suffer the same fate, and the two later make up), but the real draw is a running gag about sexual harassment in the workplace, set up in the hilarious opening scene.
As the last paragraph indicates, NCIS does commit some of the same transgressions common to other primetime cop dramas, presenting its viewers with a fair number of far-fetched crimes and unlikely subplots. The difference is that this is a character-driven show filled with characters that are actually enjoyable to have around. Unlike the grim C.S.I. franchise and its somber, self-absorbed protagonists, the heroes of NCIS seem like people you could have a beer with after a long day at the office. They have a natural rapport with one another that makes them credible and accessible to the viewer, and the writers are savvy enough to provide them with tension-breaking comedic lines which are not unnecessarily ironic or cynical. Because these characters are so well-drawn by the creative team and so well-essayed by the cast, the audience genuinely feels for them when they are in trouble, just as we laugh with them when they are ribbing one another. The second half of Season Four does feature some heavy drama (including several tragic deaths, a good deal of soul-searching, and a few complex romantic entanglements), but these serious moments are too effective to undermine the overall tone of the program or alienate viewers weary of slick soap operas and soulless tabloid sleaze masquerading as police procedurals. Producer Bellisario (Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap, JAG) has made a career out of creating shows with likable casts, and the NCIS team is his strongest ensemble yet.
In addition to featuring some of the series' finest episodes, this set also includes some great extras. Six episodes feature commentary tracks by members of the cast and crew (with Bellisario himself providing analysis of the season-ender, "Angel of Death"), there are six featurettes (including a tour of the morgue set, complete with a rundown of autopsy procedure, conducted by McCallum), and there's a fun two-part roundtable discussion with the entire principal cast. As the show improves, so too, apparently, do the bonus materials on the DVD releases.
Here's a list of the featured episodes, with original airdate:
* "Shalom" 9/19/06
* "Escaped" 9/26/06
* "Singled Out" 10/03/06
* "Faking It" 10/10/06
* "Dead and Unburied" 10/17/06
* "Witch Hunt" 10/31/06
* "Sandblast" 11/07/06
* "Once A Hero" 11/14/06
* "Twisted Sister" 11/21/06
* "Smoked" 11/28/06
* "Driven" 12/12/06
* "Suspicion" 1/16/2007
* "Sharif Returns" 1/23/07
* "Blowback" 2/06/07
* "Friends & Lovers" 2/13/07
* "Dead Man Walking" 2/20/07
* "Skeletons" 2/27/07
* "Iceman" 3/20/07
* "Grace Period" 4/03/07
* "Cover Story" 4/10/07
* "Brothers In Arms" 4/24/07
* "In The Dark" 5/01/07
* "Trojan Horse" 5/08/07
* "Angel of Death" February 29, 1968
As funny as the subplot about McGee's writing career is, it stretches credibility quite a bit -- especially as more details of his novel, "Deep Six," come to light. There are also some warning signs for regular viewers of series television that this show could easily become mundane, such as its growing penchant for ill-fated romances and the increasingly serialized nature of the plots.
This is a great season of a great show, and there are plenty of bonus materials to satisfy loyal fans who have already seen these episodes.
In light of its exceptional entertainment value and interesting extras, this court believes that NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service: The Fourth Season has acted in the best interest of television viewers everywhere, and is therefore innocent of any wrongdoing. It is hereby sentenced to permanent incarceration on your DVD shelf.
Review content copyright © 2008 John Floyd; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #70
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 2006 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast & Crew Commentaries On Select Episodes
* Cast Roundtable (Parts 1 & 2)
* "Ducky's World" Featurette
* "Behind the Set: The Production Design of NCIS" Featurette
* "Dressed to Kill: The Dressing of the Sets of NCIS" Featurette
* "Prop Master" Featurette
* "Picture Perfect: The Looks of NCIS" Featurette
* "Season of Secrets" Featurette
* Official Site
* Review - Season 1
* Review - Season 3