The First Season
NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service is a television series based upon the government agency of the same name. The NCIS is a federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction on crimes involving persons and property associated with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. NCIS was a spin-off series of the popular show JAG, which is a popular drama about the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. The characters of NCIS made their first appearance in the two-part JAG episode "Ice Queen (1)" and "Meltdown (2)". The episode was also used as a pilot for NCIS and helped sell the series to CBS. The episodes "Ice Queen (1)" and "Meltdown (2)" are not included in this set. I thought this was a shame.
Something about this series you won't necessarily find with other crime dramas is the venue for crimes. Due to the investigative nature of NCIS, they are not restricted to city or a local region when it comes to jurisdiction of a crime. Instead they have jurisdiction that can take them all over globe (or at least where there is Naval and Marine presence). This large scale jurisdiction provides storylines that came take the cast all over. They deal with crimes of passion, fraud, homicide, manslaughter, terrorism, espionage, and sometimes their cases lead to run-ins with other federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, CIA, and ATF, as well as local and state officials. In the end, it makes for some fine entertainment. However while NCIS has a different scope of crimes than other crime dramas, it still feels a lot like the other crime dramas, except the stories can be slightly more grand. In terms of format, NCIS closely resembles the CSI series. The focus is not so much on the drama surrounding the lives of the NCIS Agents, but the cases they work on. Like CSI, the NCIS Agents spend the episode uncovering various crimes by looking at evidence, the key players involved, and putting the clues together. Of course, character development is an important aspect of NCIS and after watching the entire first season you'll really like the cast.
Headlining the series is Mark Harmon, who played Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan on The West Wing. Harmon plays lead NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs is a former Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant, who brings vast investigative experience, determination, and surefire leadership to his crew. Harmon gives a tremendous performance and makes a very convincing criminal investigator. Directly under Gibbs are two other NCIS Special Agents. The first is Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), who had a starring role on the short lived science-fiction series Dark Angel. DiNozzo, also called Tony, is a former Baltimore homicide detective who brings experience as a law enforcement officer to NCIS. He is a young, brash individual whose hormones lead him just as much as his desire to solve the case at hand and catch the bad guys. The next agent is Caitlin "Kate" Todd played by Sasha Alexander. Alexander played Gretchen Witter on Dawson's Creek. Todd is a former Secret Service Agent who served on President George W. Bush's protection detail. After a run-in with Gibbs in the season premiere episode "Yankee White", she was forced into early retirement with the Secret Service, but found a job working for Gibbs. She brings experience as a profiler to the cast and is a rookie investigator.
The rest of the main cast members consist of Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) and Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). Ducky is a seasoned medical examiner and he always has some unrelated tale to tell about anything and everything. He brings his expertise in postmortem examination to provide the NCIS Agents with the forensic details they need to close the case. Abby is the general forensic technician. She provides forensic support for just about everything that doesn't fall under Ducky's realm. This includes ballistics, chemical analysis, etc. Other cast members include reoccurring roles from Alan Dale as the NCIS Director Tom Morrow and Sean Murray as Special Agent Timothy McGee. Director Morrow is a steadfast voice of reason and he assists the NCIS crew when they run into other agencies (CIA, FBI, DEA, etc.) through the course of an investigation. McGee is a rookie NCIS Agent who is a MIT and Johns Hopkins graduate and he brings computer expertise to the cast. In season one he is a reoccurring character and returns in season two as a fulltime cast member.
The cast is an intriguing bunch. For the most part I liked all of the characters. As previously mentioned, Harmon is very convincing as the lead investigator. His interaction with the rest of the cast is also done quite well. Weatherly is also quite good with his role. His brash personality is believable and complements Gibbs all too well. As for Alexander, I had mix feelings about her. In the early episodes, her character felt far too naive for her experience. Despite having little investigative experience, she is a seasoned Secret Service Agent. I would expect her experience in the Secret Service would have made the transition a lot easier. I just felt her character was being undermined as a green rookie who didn't know left from right. Fortunately in later episodes she started to fit in a lot better. Ducky is a great character. McCallum gives his character a fun personality. He is very eccentric despite the grim details of his job and more often than not his mannerism and behavior make for a good laugh. Abby also has a fun personality. She is not a particularly strong character, but her indifferent lifestyle makes a good match for the rest of the cast. Director Morrow is a character with far too little screen time. Dale looks and sounds the part too perfectly and he is also very convincing when on screen. McGee is another quirky character and it will be interesting to see how he develops in season two as a fulltime cast member.
As for stories, the episodes include a variety of entertaining cases for the NCIS Agents to tackle. They range from homicides with a twist to serious terrorist threats. Some of the episodes are hokey, but most tend to be pretty exciting. The season premiere episode "Yankee White" is notable. This episode marks the first encounter between Gibbs and Kate. Their paths cross when a Navy commander dies on Air Force One. The episode is one of the stronger stories of the season with a diabolical back story. "Seadog" is another interesting episode that leads the NCIS agents to work along with the FBI and DEA. The body of a Navy commander washed ashore not too far from two known drug dealers. The logical conclusion is the Navy officer was running drugs. Gibbs is determined to prove his innocent. The real interest from this episode comes from the accidentally related events that came about from their investigation.
In "Minimum Security" a Navy translator from Guantanamo Bay detention center is found dead while operating a motor vehicle. The investigation takes the NCIS crew to Cuba, where they suspect the resident NCIS Agent of corruption. What makes this story interesting in the notion of a corrupt NCIS Agent and Gibbs' team trying to weed out the good from the bad. In "Marine Down" a recent widow receives a call from her dead marine husband claiming to be alive. NCIS gets involved on the chance he is still alive. The interesting details of this episode come to the fore when there is significant evidence someone is trying to cover everything up.
"Bete Noire" is a strong episode where the cast finds themselves in a terrible situation. Three NCIS employees Ducky, Kate, and Gerald Jackson (Pancho Demmings) are taken hostage by an unknown assailant. In return for their safety, the assailant wanted all of the evidence pertaining to a recently killed terrorist. The assailant did not want NCIS finding out about the terrorist attack that had been planed on an American military installation. It is a grueling time for the cast and emotions run high. It sets a big story arc in motion where Gibbs' determination becomes key. The unknown assailant returns in the season finale and brings lots of drama and intrigue with him.
In the episode "Dead Man Talking" the NCIS office falls in disarray when one of their own is killed. Special Agent Pacci is found dead in a building's elevator with his chest ripped open. In the past episode "unSEALed", Pacci asked for Gibbs' assistance, but he blew him off. Feeling bad about it (and also the loss of a fellow agent and friend) Gibbs proceeds with utter determination and pushes his crew to unravel Pacci's case to find out who and why he was killed. It is an intricate episode that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
However while the majority of the episodes are entertaining, intriguing, gripping, and a lot of fun to sit through, there are some exceptions. Episodes like "The Immortals" felt hokey. In this episode a seaman is found underwater with weights chained to his body. During the investigation, the NCIS crew found out there was a connection between online role playing games and the dead sailor. In the end, this story just wasn't that interesting. Part of the problem is that due to the nature of NCIS investigations, some of the stories are really big with terrorists and the like, while others have a guy who took a game too serious. The level of intrigue jumping between the two is vast.
Overall NCIS makes for a fine crime drama. The scope of the NCIS Agents allows them to deal with a wide variety of crimes ranging from crimes of passion to terrorism. The stories are all written quite well, although there are a couple hokey stories that are simply uninteresting. The characters are all likeable and they have a humorous demeanor on top of their serious manner that works. In the end, NCIS is a good series for people who enjoy other crime dramas.