The Time Warner/CBS dispute was just cleared up, which is a relief to fans of the #1 TV show NCIS. The show achieved top ratings status in its tenth season, which has just now come to in Paramount Home Video's 6-disc NCIS: The Tenth Season DVD release.
The season was an eventful one for fans of the investigators at the Navy Yard. Season nine had ended with their headquarters being blown apart in a bomb. Although at least half of the shows are concerned with solving freestanding mysteries, others carry the thread of solving the bombing, or delve into the backgrounds of the main characters. Abby (Pauley Perrette) is given an episode about her childhood, but Tony (Michael Weatherly) receives more attention overall. His troublesome father (Robert Wagner) returns for one episode, and he also grows closer to Ziva (Cote de Pablo), becoming involved in a multi-episode intrigue about Ziva's father, an Israeli intelligence executive linked to various high-level assassinations. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) eventually gets in hot water about the rogue nature of NCIS's actions, and bad politics loom on the horizon as the season ends -- with Gibbs engaged in what looks like very villainous activity (VVA).
Audiences dearly love the interpersonal chemistry on NCIS and the way it has developed over the years. Masculine leader Gibbs is now a man who rarely if ever makes mistakes, and his judgment is seldom questioned. Having had his sassy and cocksure attitude sniped at for ten years, Tony DiNozzo is afforded more respect this year -- his attitude is more serious, especially when the episodes are hinting at possible romantic overtures between him and Ziva. No longer the slightly chubby quasi-nerd, Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) is now a fully functional action man. He's still faster at hacking into closed sites in record time, however, and can be relied upon to pull expository facts out of the ether faster than Star Trek's Mr. Spock or Data. No longer is anyone on probation, not even Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen). He must step up to the plate when his morgue mentor Ducky (David McCallum) is put out of action. Abby is now more than ever responsible for the show's touchy-feely sentimental touches -- all the Goth accoutrements are now just protective coloration. As Pauley Perrette has probably become network television's hottest sex symbol, nobody resents listening to her 40-second barrages of impenetrable tech-speak.
Format-wise, NCIS is still an action thriller TV show, and viewers have no trouble with the concept. More people get shot and more gunfights occur than in the old TV westerns from the 1950s. Our team always shoots straight, never misses, and they retain an uncanny ability to effect last-second rescues with miraculous shots to the head. In other words, the show enjoys the fantasy of wrapping things up in a violent, exciting and cool way every week. Who could possibly think of shutting down this tiny unit -- six people are covering the security needs of the entire nation. The FBI, other security agencies and the whole federal government look incompetent by comparison. The NCIS success rate is so good that they've turned their unsolved cases file room into an additional playroom-enhanced Interrogation chamber.
NCIS promotes the Navy and Marine Corps, yet inadvertently makes it look as if the death rate in those services is astronomical -- dead sailors, officers and Marines show up every week, or at least pieces of them. We get a lot of speeches about heroism over those morgue corpses, which are often so well done that we can't tell which are the plastic dummies from the effects vendors and which are made-up actors. 1 The presence of David McCallum as Ducky the morgue doctor-pathologist is one of the show's more pleasant aspects -- we old folk remember McCallum as the coolest of the cool on that old spy TV show, in which he played a Russian, but on the side of "Freedom". A few months back I attended a screening of Hell Drivers, in which McCallum must have barely been out of his teens -- the movie was made in 1957. Owing to his fame in NCIS the audience gave the screen a healthy round of applause. I still don't understand why they chose to name him Dr. Mallard, however. The Ducky nickname is cute, but the name Mallard was always given to incompetent M.D.'s in comedies, to indicate that the doctor is a 'quack'.
NCIS is the longest-running and surely the least offensive of the post 9/11 TV shows that sprung up to get a piece of the prevalent hysteria over Homeland Security. I still find aspects of the show troublesome. Patriotism is fine until someone wants us to wave the flag in unison, and the show has more un-ironic worship of uniforms, warriors and the righteous force of arms since the 1950s, or jingoistic WW2 war pictures. When Charles Durning once appeared playing a Medal of Honor winner, Gibbs practically kissed his feet -- a nationalist extremism that average citizen soldiers of WW2, and I daresay medal winners, would reject. The show promotes the idea that more active terror plots are happening than in the average James Bond movie, and it of course expects us to nod in approval when the NCIS good guys break laws and hack into everything from computers to vending machines in the name of expediency. Expediency is reassuring -- we all want heroes to wade into the mire and sort out the bad guys. With ex-Mossad agent Ziva an internal part of the NCIS crew, the movie also promotes a pro-Israeli line. In general the message is that keeping America whole and untouched is the ultimate good. Other countries are places where bad things happen -- everybody else is likely to be a shifty foreign rascal. When helpless Afghan or Iraqi women or children appear, it's usually a cue for Gibbs and his stalwarts to score 'empathy credit'.
That's nothing new and only partly relevant to the appeal of NCIS, which mainly gets us for the same reason all 'friendly office buddies' shows get us. We'd all love to be part of a well-oiled, highly respected team of people doing something meaningful and relevant. These are great folk to be around, and the shows' pacing and tone is always highly entertaining. I normally avoid TV series like the plague, and NCIS very quickly wore down my resistance.
CBS / Paramount Home Video's DVD set of NCIS: The Tenth Season spreads 24 episodes across six discs, giving each show plenty of bit rate. They are almost as punchy as the HD broadcast originals. Besides the luxury of doing away with the commercials, we like the helpful English subs. Our Time-Warner providers, or a satellite, or somebody crushes the cable audio so that the tracks are too tubby.
The disc set is generous with the extras by Light Source & Imagery. We're afforded plenty of EPK style interviews, overall featurettes and 'looking back' interest pieces to keep the fans happy. It's fun to see the actors out of character, to see Michael Weatherly directing, etc.. The honchos running the show wisely don't run an ego trip on us but instead simply say what they're doing to keep viewer interest at a high level. Some of the technical people offer opinions and take looks back at work they're proud of over the years (even though I've seen a lot of mediocre CG work from time to time). Special featurettes visit with a real NCIS director (so it must be real) and assess the 10-year arc of shows and characters, including the many that have been killed. Several episodes have commentaries and deleted scenes are offered as well. That last entry makes sense -- NCIS doesn't normally have 'accordion' scenes that can be made short or long depending on how the rough cut turns out -- this show is very carefully timed from script to screen.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
NCIS: The Tenth Season rates:
1. For a while it seemed as if religious significance was being attributed to the corpses' genital areas -- they often glow bright white, as if struck by a holy light. Networks can show just about anything these days, but let one nipple pop through and heads will roll.
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T'was Ever Thus.