Judge Jim Thomas may give up on NCIS after a dozen more seasons.
Our reviews of NCIS: The Complete Sixth Season (published September 14th, 2009), NCIS: The Complete Seventh Season (published October 21st, 2010), NCIS: The Complete Eighth Season (published August 23rd, 2011), NCIS: The Complete First Season (published June 26th, 2006), NCIS: The Complete Third Season (published May 2nd, 2007), NCIS: The Complete Fourth Season (published January 9th, 2008), and NCIS: The Tenth Season (published August 26th, 2013) are also available.
More of the same old same old.
NCIS deftly mixes a criminal procedural with a slightly off-kilter family dynamic, with the younger agents desperately looking to Gibbs for parental approval. When it works, it works well, and there are certainly several episodes in NCIS: The Complete Ninth Season that rise to the occasion: "Nature of the Beast" shows us DiNozzo struggling to work through amnesia after being shot and "Newborn King" is a charming Christmas story (though, in fairness, the court is a sucker for Christmas episodes). Other episodes work fairly well within the context of the formula, but after nine years, the formula is becoming too formulaic.
In "Entangled, Part 1," Gibbs (Mark Harmon, Summer School) is daydreaming of his late wife Shannon. Shannon is apparently getting tired of being called from the hereafter, chiding, "How will you ever get what you need if you can't let me go?" It's a telling line, one that applies not just to Gibbs, but as the show as a whole. In this court's review of Season Eight, I noted that the show was "getting to the point that the characters need to grow some, the plots need to get back to some basics, and it may just be time for a character or two to move on." Season Nine of the durable program has the same problems as last season, only a little more so.
Back in Season Three, it was revealed that Gibbs' wife and young daughter were murdered by a drug cartel while he was in Afghanistan. The revelation was a bombshell, and the Gibbs back story became an integral part of the show from that point on. While it was effective, it also set something of a pattern for the show in its later years—rather than show the characters moving forward, the show looks back, revealing old incidents, artificially injecting depth into the characters instead of developing the depth naturally.
The characters themselves aren't changed appreciably, though. More and more, that's becoming a problem. In earlier seasons, the show wasn't afraid to push the characters into new realms, whether it was DiNozzo going undercover with the beautiful daughter of an arms merchant or even killing a main character. No, I don't think that any of the main characters are in any jeopardy from the season finale's big bang—which in itself is an indication that the show has become too predictable. Or maybe that I just watch way too much TV.
When the show looks back with a lighter tone, the results are substantially better, as when Gibbs and Senior FBI Agent Fornell (Joe Spano, Hill Street Blues find themselves in the middle of a case involving their mutual ex-wife (Melinda McGraw, The X-Files). Another reason the episode works well is a final scene that touches on how the past can make moving forward difficult.
Observation: At this point, the "Sell By" date for the long-teased Ziva-DiNozzo hookup may have passed.
It's frustrating, because I want to like this season more, but for some reason just doesn't quite resonate the way earlier ones have. Jamie Lee Curtis' Dr. Samantha Ryan is a perfect foil for Gibbs, but at times she seems too much of a Mary Sue. Similarly, the season's big bad, Harper Dearing (Richard Schiff, The West Wing), is a somewhat cartoonish revenge-seeking villain, always one step ahead of the good guys, taunting the good guys in ways that we just know will come back to haunt him early in Season Ten. The actors do a great job, but the characters themselves are a bit too cartoonish for the show's own good.
All the regulars do good work, but David McCallum must be singled out. While "Thirst," in which he finds both a new love (Cheryl Ladd, Charlie's Angels) as well as a fiendishly diabolical killer, is more than just a little ridiculous, he sells it completely; his warmth and sincere humanity is really as much an anchor for the show as Gibbs' laconic tenacity.
Technically, the disc is solid. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is a tad soft, colors are a tad over saturated, but they're the same way on broadcast. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is good, and shows off the incidental music and the occasional CGI explosion. Extras include several good commentary tracks and a number of relatively superficial featurettes. The commentary track with stars Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo is particularly entertaining, not because of all the insights you get, but because it's fun; some group commentaries feel forced as everyone tries to be complimentary of one another, but there's nothing forced here—they are having an absolute blast.
In one of the featurettes, Mark Harmon comments that the writers to a great job of pushing the envelope without changing the characters. That cuts to the heart of the show's strength and weakness. Some kind of narrative shakeup is desperately needed for the show (see House, M.D. for the law of diminishing returns as it relates to an episodic formula).
Maybe NCIS needs to hire Jack Bauer as a new agent.
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