NCIS: Season Four
When it comes to creating a television series it turns out that crime actually does pay. While all the major networks have been cashing in on crime drama CBS is making itself number one with them. You might even say that CBS now stands for the Crime Broadcasting Network. There is also a trend towards forensic procedures in crime fighting. Once again CBS is there with no less than three CSI series. They also have a variation that has a more military slant called NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service). While the scope of NCIS is crimes involving personnel or material under the jurisdiction of the Navy and Marines the innovative writers have managed to stretch the premise just a bit to make sure the stories are always fresh and exciting. It is difficult to pin down the genre of NCIS it seems to be very successful in incorporating elements of so many. There is, of course, the crime at hand. Usually there is a race against the clock to find some murderer or threat to national security. Then there is the forensic show with the use of science to narrow down the list of suspects. Finally there is comedy. Many crime shows have a few lighter moments in an episode but this on has truly funny bits seamlessly added to the script. It is one of the best written, directed and acted shows around. This is one of the few series on television that I have to make sure are on my DVR so I don’t miss anything.
This season is called by the network the season of mysteries. This will be the overriding theme that pervades the whole season. At the start of this season Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) had resigned from NCIS. He has taken off to live in Mexico with his mentor on the job, Mike Franks (Muse Watson). In his absence Senior Special Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) has taken on the leadership of the group. New to the group is Special Agent Michelle Lee (Liza Lapire) who transfers to the legal department a few episodes in. Still in the saddle is Junior Special Agent Tim McGee (Sean Murray), a computer expert who is also now a famous writer with a best selling novel based loosely on the other team members. Former Mossad operative Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) still acts as the Liaison to NCIS by working the cases with them. There is also a support team acting behind the scenes to help solve the crimes. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) is eccentric and brilliant; an intensely meticulous man of science who finds the smallest of clues. Usually found at Ducky’s beck and call is his assistant Gerald Jackson (Pancho Demmings) who is having a not so secret affair with Agent Lee. The oddest member of this group is Forensic Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). On the surface she is a ‘Goth chick’ sporting short skirts, platform shoes and numerous tattoos. She is also the most open with her emotions and always ready to provide an encouraging word to her friends and co-workers. She is rarely without a huge cup of some heavily caffeinated drink.
In the first episode of the season the balance of the team is off and needs Gibbs to return. Ziva has witnessed a non-sanctioned hit by a Mossada agent and winds up on the run. With no official avenues open to her she contacts Gibbs and gets him to return. Naturally the Director of the NCIS, Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) is more than willing to reinstate him. It doesn’t hurt matters that she was his former field partner and lover. While each episode has its own criminal to bring to justice there are several running mysteries afoot in this season. Tony has begun a serious love affair with a doctor at a nearby hospital. Dr. Jeanne Benoit (Scottie Thompson) is talented, bright and in love with Tony. Jenny has been sending Tony on special clandestine missions that no one including Gibbs knows about. Jenny also is on a vendetta to capture an international arms dealer, René Benoit, alias La Grenouille ("The Frog") played by Armand Assante. The brilliance here is each of these sub plots are handled in a subtle manner. The writers give a few clues every episode or so but leave it to the audience to start piecing things together. It is rare that a television series gives the viewers credit for some intelligence. This series manages to stand out above the plethora of others in its ability to combine a running story with exciting single episode drama.
If I happened to find myself in the position to pick a winning series for a television network one name would be at the top of my ‘go to’ list; Donald P. Bellisario. He has a track record on television that most studio executives would give an arm to have. There is a running theme in almost all of his series, he loves the military and his protagonists tend to be current or retired members of either the Navy or Marines. Bellisario served as a Marine sergeant in real life. His shows display the attitude that you may not agree with the war but you have to respect the soldiers. With NCIS the crime is not really the main thing in the story. This is a truly character driven series. The characters are written in a realistic fashion with full back stories and a lot of potential for further development. Humor is introduced by means of the quirky nature of the characters with little running gags for the enjoyment of fans. Little things like Gibbs hitting Tony on the head or bribing Abby with a large caffeinated drink; they add a nice, familiar touch to the stories. Another example of character growth is between Ziva and Tony. In the previous season Ziva was constantly the butt of jokes over her unfamiliarity with American sayings. There was also playful flirting between her and Tony. In this season the language jokes are lessened and the flirting has become playful banter between partners with mutual respect.
Mark Harmon is a consummate professional actor. He has been in television and films for years and has just gotten better every year. This is the kind of role he is perfect for. As Gibbs he is a damaged man, a former Marine Gunnery Sergeant and sniper, who now has to overseer a talented team of agents. As rough and tough as Harmon plays the interaction with his subordinates he is able to show a softer side with Abby. There is more of a father-daughter vibe there than anything. Speaking of Abby this is a fantastic role for Pauley Perrette. She not only plays a forensics expert on television, she is one. She graduated with honors earning a Master's Degree in Criminology. She portrays Abby as a young woman who is certain in the reliability of her science and her optimism in her friends. As the other female presence in the team Cote de Pablo gives her character the opposite of Abby’s attributes. She plays Ziva as a beautiful woman who can snap your neck with one hand. She has always been in dangerous situations and now has to learn to stop being a loner and work as part of a team.
Paramount not only knows how to make television series a success they know how to present it on DVD. The technical aspects of this box set are fantastic. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is excellent with brilliant colors and dead on contrast. The Dolby 5.1 is balanced the way a show should be. The channel separation is excellent and the rear speakers provide a realistic ambience. When it comes to DVD extras Paramount give you something really special. Disc two features the first part of a cast round table. The cast gathered together for dinner and some viewer’s questions. They sit around a big table over after dinner drinks and openly discuss every aspect of their lives, careers and characters. Part two of the discussion is found on disc three. Disc four has ‘Ducky’s World’ which looks at the set and background of the morgue and how it relates to the investigations. There is also a featurette on the design of the main NCIS set. Disc five has ‘Dressed to Kill’ which focuses on the arduous task of realistically dressing the sets. Also on this disc is a look at the domain of the prop master. Finally, on disc six there is ‘Picture Perfect’ which goes into the unique look and feel of the series. There is also a featurette called ‘Season of Secrets’ which considers some of the mysteries that thread throughout the season. This is one of the better series on television today and with the imaginative extras a must buy for your continued enjoyment.