Last weekend I finished the 12 seasons of NCIS that are available on Netflix. Not quite a binge watching, but a pretty addicting stretch of TV.
While this isn’t a surprise, I often watch old TV shows and series on Netflix, I usually get to a point where I give up. Either the story line becomes tired and stale, or I get bored, and move on. Rockford Files and Columbo are two examples where I fade away after 5 or 6 seasons.
However, NCIS was different. There are several reasons why I stuck with it (and will likely pick up the 13th season when it hits Netflix.)
One thing that NCIS has in spades is excellent writing. The screenwriters weave an intricate tale, on multiple levels, capturing your imagination, and entertaining.
First is the “case” du jour. Interesting enough, with twists, turns and unpredictability. It gets the job done, and keeps your interest. However, there are a few weaknesses. Almost always you see the guilty party in the first few minutes of the episode. This is too predictable, and one of the few holes in the writing.
Secondary is the interplay between the cast. Dynamics between characters that make them seem human and relatable. This feeds the desire to see more. What outrageous thing that is borderline sexual harassment will Tony say next? Will Tony and Ziva just have sex already (or did they? You are left to fill in the blanks)
And tertiary are the longer threads. The chase of Ari from the middle of Season one through the beginning of Season 3 is a classic long form story. You are reminded of it enough to keep you guessing what is coming.
The stories wouldn’t come to life without the appropriate characters. This is a real strength of the program, the dynamics and cohesiveness of the team.
Lead by former Marine Leroy Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon), the team is a rag tag collection of personalities that would seem to be at odds, but instead mesh into a high performing team.
Tony diNozzo, the cad, movie addict, sports buff. A womanizer, who can’t commit, and trades jabs with the strong female character. Tony eats poorly, instantly has a seemingly endless list of classic movie quotes and references, is much more complex that meets the eye. As you work through the seasons, you get glimpses of what makes diNozzo tick, and some huge hints when his father appears, played by Robert Wagner.
Tim McGee the geek, computer expert, and part-time novelist. He appears sporadically in the first season, and becomes a regular in the second season. He is the junior agent, the Probationary agent, affectionately known as “Probie” to his mentor, Senior Agent diNozzo.
The female agent. This is a rolling character, played by three different actresses, all of whom brought a different dynamic to the team.
Caitlin Todd (played by Sasha Alexander) joined the team in the pilot, after she resigned from her job in the secret service. She was a prim and proper, a Catholic school background, she is a good first foil to the diNozzo onslaught. She is killed by Ari at the close of the second season, clearly the contract negotiations went poorly (actually, she was looking to move on).
The replacement female agent is Ziva David played by the lovely Cote de Pablo), who starts as a liaison officer from Mossad, the Israeli spy organization. She brings an “in your face,” kick-ass attitude. As a dynamic, she is a more of “one of the guys” than Kate was. She lasted until Season 11, a long stretch, with lots of subtext. As time goes on, we see a lot of softening of her character, and a sexual tension with diNozzo. Many times I was just screaming at the TV to just screw and get over it…
The third strong female agent is Eleanor Bishop, who joins several episodes into season 11 (after Ziva departs, and there are a few “audition” characters. I personally was hoping for Abigail Borin, the Coast Guard counterpart to Gibbs, joining the team). Ellie is different from both Kate and Ziva, coming from the NSA, and the Analyst realm, she brings a quite different dynamic. Also, being the first female agent who is married, Tony backs off his borderline criminal harassment.
The quirky (an understatement for sure) lab technician, Abby Sciuto (played by the incomparable Pauley Perrette) is a bit of glue that holds the whole team together. Between her and Gibbs, the team hangs together. Abby is bubbly, jubilant, and just plain fun. Dark, not quite goth, she listens to a lot of electronica, and funky music. Brilliant on her instruments, she always plays a key role in unlocking the mysteries of the case du jour.
Who can forget the talkative, reminiscing medical examiner, Dr. Mallard, affectionately known as “Ducky” (played by David McCallum). Not only talking to his corpses, he is a tough as nails character in his own right.
Together, these characters do more than grow on you. You identify with them, anticipate their next moves, and look forward to the story as it unfolds.
Somewhat related to the “writing” is the return of the cliff-hanger story line.
Starting with season 8, I was contemplating cutting the cord and moving on to something else within the realm of the Netflix universe. However, the writers and producers have brought back the massive hook at the end of the season. A story line that is unfinished, and enrapturing.
Every season end sets this up, often tying 2 or more end of season episodes into the thread.
At least when you are watching on Netflix, you don’t have to wait 4 months for the next season premier to find the conclusion.
Yes, I am hooked, and I watched all the episodes. I have even gone back to watch some of season one, as I needed a Kate Todd fix.
I can hardly wait until Season 13 is on Netflix. And damn them for leaving season 12 with another cliff-hanger.