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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » NCIS: Season 11
NCIS: Season 11
Paramount // Unrated // August 19, 2014
List Price: $64.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted September 17, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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NCIS Season 11 DVD Review

The Show:

NCIS (short for Naval Criminal Investigative Service) is one of the most successful television series ever made with a wide audience spanning different backgrounds and countries. It is no surprise the show is as popular as it is. The series features continuing story-arcs from time to time but the bulk of the series is episodic and the characters are some of the best written and acted on any network show. The plot follows a core cast of characters working to stop many horrible situations from happening and so forth. These characters care about the community, world, and those who inhabit it.

The number one reason to watch NCIS is the characters and the performances the actors bring to their characters. Each actor has one of the best roles on television and it is rare to find so much talent (both on screen and in scriptwriting) on one show.

The writing and directing on NCIS is strong and plays a huge role in why the show continues to be so excellent. James Whitmore Jr. does a particularly great job in the director's chair and has crafted some of the most excellent episodes.

One of the greatest strengths of NCIS is that it remains creative in how it tells its stories despite being a procedural series. The behind-the-scenes creative team is so good at what they do that even with eleven seasons the show feels full of great ideas and genuine energy. While it would make a lot more sense to begin at the beginning of the show there is little doubt that NCIS can continue to gain new fans through re-runs and new episodes.

It doesn't take long to realize the greatness of NCIS is not in the plots (although there are some great ones) but in the characters, the dynamics, and the unique writing and direction that keeps each episode in a special league known as the highest class in television entertainment. To put it simply: If you haven't already started watching NCIS you're missing out on one of the best shows out there.

The Characters:

Mark Harmon is Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs is the leader of the entire group on the series and the character is one that brings in charisma, intelligence, and strength to the show (especially through guidance to the other characters). Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) probably looks up to Gibbs the most and he brings the comedic factor on the show up by several notches, and still manages to be a dramatic backbone to the entire show too. As per usual, he's a character known for his many and varied film references. Film buffs can and will enjoy.

Pauley Perrette excels as the lovable and high-energy Abby Sciuto; an interesting character that melds the world of gothic-style clothing design with the kind heartedness found in a genuinely loyal and intelligent woman. Abby is one of the smartest and kindest characters on the series. The eccentricities of the character would seem bizarre in one sense of understanding but make perfect sense when considering who the character is that viewers get to know and love over the course of the show. It's actually difficult to not smile when Abby is on screen.

Sean Murray plays the nerdy but somewhat reserved and solemn Special Agent Timothy McGee. This character is a bit of an underdog in the show (McGee started out in a fairly normal office position) yet there are many moments where the strength and dedication of this spirited man shine through and that is wonderful to witness.

Joining the season is a brand new character, Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham) in place of Cote de Pablo as Ziva David (as Cote de Pablo has left the series). Fans will undoubtedly find this to be the biggest drawback of the season as Ziva was a character with a lot of dedicated fans. The new actress does a good job right off the bat with the character Ellie, a smart and on-her-toes analyst for  NSA who leaves that agency to work with NCIS on the agent ground field while using smarts towards figuring out some of the more difficult technical stuff that the team can benefit from. (Ellie is sort of a brainy female version of McGee with unique quirks of her own).

There's also the tough glue to the NCIS department: Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll), who is the one character that manages to keep things running as smooth as possible. Lastly, the show just wouldn't be the same without the eccentric Ducky (David McCallum) and his equally bizarre yet sweet apprentice Jimmy (Brian Dietzen) working on all of the medical examinations.

The Season:

NCIS: Season 11 gets off on the wrong foot. The series is unquestionably one of the most well written procedural series, generally speaking, but that doesn't stop it from hitting a snag with these opening episodes. The writers reportedly had already written the first two episodes of season eleven with Cote de Pablo still written as a regular cast member. At the last minute, essentially, the writers had to toss out everything on those episodes and write new ones that removed focus on Ziva from the premiere and that gave the second episode a bit of "closure" towards the character's arc on the series. The end result is a sloppy premiere episode that is a disappointing kick-start to the season compared to previous years, and a unquestionably poorly rushed exit for one of the series most beloved characters.

Maybe it genuinely was "the best the writers could do" (as Mark Harmon kindly noted on the extras with a supportive smile) but it's certainly not the best that the show deserved, and it's something that clearly annoyed many of NCIS's dedicated viewers. Ratings over the course of the season fell around 3 million viewers. Considering the show is the top rated network drama, it still managed to be a huge season that averaged 18 million. Yet that huge of a drop (which make no mistake, IS a huge drop, that's a higher number than many series even get for their entire year while coming back season after season), a drop that hadn't happened for years - is no doubt a issue related to the poorly handled exit of the fan-favorite character. Some viewers stopped watching.

The issue of Cote de Pablo's absence has been highly discussed by NCIS fans. It was made clear that Cote de Pablo was ready to move on from the show and wanted to do other things, but that she'd be willing to return if her contract was renegotiated with the producers. While fans don't know what happened in those negotiations (the producers swear she simply didn't want to be back), the initial reports were that she wanted to earn as much as some of her fellow co-stars, many of whom were bringing in bigger paychecks for this #1 show. Whatever happened, the result was her absence from Season 11 (besides the poorly tackled 'resolution') and fans were understandably disappointed.

The writers immediately proceeded to enter a "transition" period with episodes where the cast seemed to have fill-in one-off actors taking the place of Ziva, and focusing a lot more on the storylines of other characters in such a fashion as to remind viewers of why they love NCIS. Perhaps it was the right call. The series flailed at the start of the season but episode three is decidedly quick to get things rolling again (while also giving some solemn shout-outs to the absence of Ziva). The season picks up steam right away and becomes much more enjoyable, entertaining, and well-made after its initial struggle.

Then the writers introduce the new character Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham), who is quite obviously meant to fill in the gap created from absence of Ziva.  Luckily, I actually thought introducing this character at the time the witers did seemed reasonable and I was impressed witnessing the great performance of the new actor. Wickersham does terrific here and does manage to blend into the cast quite well and rather quickly. Unfortunately for those making NCIS, a lot of viewers reportedly didn't like the character of Bishop as a new series regular. Perhaps the writers can still make the character work on the series but there was a negative reaction amongst many fans. (Maybe they are just that upset of Cote de Pablo's exit). The absence of Ziva bothers me but I love so many of the other characters that I was glad to be watching NCIS even without one of my favorite characters on the show anymore.

In many ways, the rest of the season has more episodic episodes and less of a long arc as the previous seasons had begun playing with more. These episodes tend to work though and the series continues to find new ways to explore the characters. One episode, in particular, left a impression by making a stance on the issue of illegal immigration while showing the harsh realties many of the people put in those sorts of situations face and why a journey to America sometimes seems like the best option during circumstances that aren't good. To see this kind of episode featured on an important primetime show was quite impressive as it brings the issue towards the forefront for some viewers who otherwise would not even think of this issue at all. Another quality standalone episode features a new back-story revelation for Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo that adds more detail on the character in a way that hits home emotionally, and it dramatically expands upon the already beloved character's history. DiNozzo actually becomes a more mature character during several of the episode this season (though the character remains funny and charming when need be).  When a series as long running as NCIS continues to find new ways to explore it's characters in a way that makes a mark on the series, the writers are doing something right.

There's a heartfelt episode which focuses on the relationship between Gibbs and his father, which was made even more special, meaningful, and essential when one reflects on the fact this season ended up being Ralph Waite's final hurrah, having passed away at an old age during the year. Waite was a great actor and someone who added a lot to the role, which subsequently made leading character Gibbs even more compelling. Waite will be missed and NCIS did good in paying tribute to him in this season. This became one of the more important elements of this season and it is a notably positive aspect of the work done by the behind-the-scenes creative team.

Certainly, NCIS: Season 11 was a bit of a mixed bag as far as the storytelling goes. One of the reasons the series became so popular was because of the romantic sub-plot between Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo and Ziva David. Having the storyline end on a downer note wasn't exactly thrilling, and then viewers were expected to simply accept her absence (which is still something that sounds like it came down to the producers not wanting to pay her what she was worth), and move on. Well, NCIS is still a  good show. It's not exactly the same this season but because it has such a wonderfully expansive cast that makes the best of everything it continues to be a must see television hit. I won't say that this season delivered on all fronts. However, it did manage to impress at many moments, and I'll continue to be a fan. (Though I wouldn't be so opposed to future guest spots from Cote de Pablo as the writers refrained from killing off Ziva when she exited the show).

The DVD:


Video:

NCIS: Season 11 arrives on DVD in a 6 disc set, with 4 episodes per average disc. The season is presented in the original television broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with anamorphic widescreen enhancement for presentation on 16:9 televisions. While the encodes are reasonable for NCIS on DVD, the series could use some more breathing room. Occasional compression artifacts are a bit distracting and the series looks somewhat duller in standard definition. The series always has had some washed out cinematography (as a stylistic choice it is given a bit of a hazy appearance) and  colors are usually more muted and less pronounced alongside this creative choice for the visuals. Even so, NCIS has a sleek, modern filmmaking style that is appealing and looks about as good as one would expect for a recent television series. For a DVD set this is a very reasonable release as far as its presentation quality is concerned.

I just wish Paramount and CBS would give NCIS Blu-ray releases. (I don't understand how a show that is the most successful drama series on network television at this time can't receive them; the network and studio have not even bothered to test the waters for such a release, and NCIS: L.A. Season One doesn't count as it's an entirely different show. A lot of fans of NCIS don't like it's network spin-off and today there are more home media enthusiasts with Blu-ray capability as sales continue to go up for the format each year). Over 18 million viewers tune into the program each week and Paramount doesn't even want to test the waters for Blu-ray releases? I want to purchase all of NCIS in HD and hope that it happens. (Maybe a complete series set can happen someday.)

Audio:

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound presentation offers a reasonably engaging surround sound mix which adds something special to the show. The dialogue is always easy to understand and the audio keeps music and sound effects well utilized in the surround stage, offering a more enveloping and satisfying experience.

Both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 stereo audio is provided. Subtitles are included in English SDH (for the deaf and hearing impaired), Spanish , and Portuguese.


Extras:

Commentary tracks on the following episodes (with some cast members, producers, writers, and directors of NCIS): Past, Present, and Future, Crescent City (Part 1), and Shooter.

Celebrating 250 (4 min.) features executive producer Gary Glasberg discussing the success of the show to have had that huge of a run and how rare it is for television series to reach 250 episodes. This featurette also highlights the cast.

NCIS In New Orleans (15 min.) is all about the introduction within the season to the new NCIS series, as there was a two episode New Orleans arc meant to help begin the spinoff premiering this year. Mark Harmon is executive producing the spin-off and actually had suggested it be a new spin-off series ( NCIS: New Orleans, which is premiering Tuesday, Sept. 23rd after NCIS (9/8 central).

Game Change (24 min.) a look at the making of season 11 of NCIS, featuring cast interviews discussing the series and the "game changer" of cast member Cote de Pablo leaving the show, talk about new material being introduced in the year, and the new character this season, Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham).  

Remembering Jackson Gibbs: A Tribute to Ralph Waite (5 min.) is a tribute in-memoriam featurette to the late actor who performed as Gibb's father on the show with interviews on Waite's importance to the NCIS team.

On the Record (6 min.) is a behind the scenes featurette with Michael Weatherly and Pauley Perrette about their recordings of self-written songs for the release of the NCIS: Benchmark Official Soundtrack. Weatherly's "Under the Sun" and Perrette's "Somebody Saved You" are featured as this piece takes viewers into the recording booth of these song creations, both of which are personal: Under the Sun was written by Weatherly in response to 9/11 and wasn't revisited until NCIS, and Perrette's is about the experience of feeling saved by another person, and she opens up a bit about how she feels confident it will resonate with anyone who has ever experienced that feeling.

Finding Ellie Bishop (8 min.) features interviews with some of the cast and executive producers, as well as the new actress cast herself talking about the role and being brought into the cast; the search for the right person to have the part. The piece shows select screen test footage -- for this new character to the NCIS team, Bishop.

In the Stills of the Night is a brief behind the scenes making of featurette about the crime scene photos done for the series and the people who make them for NCIS.

Background Check (4 min.) is about the supporting background actors. In other words, recurring extras who do work in the backdrop of scenes. It's a short bit with footage and discussion from series leads about the work contributed by extras to the show.

Joe Spano: Fornell for Real is a brief appreciation piece about the contributions brought to the show by actor Joe Spano and what he brings to NCIS. Spano and other cast members note his role and his importance.

Final Thoughts:

NCIS remains one of the most easily enjoyable television programs around. The actors make the series so special and relevant to audiences and the cast continues to do an excellent job with the show. The downside to the season is the absence of Cote de Pablo after leaving the series but it doesn't stop the writers from ultimately keeping things moving forward and the series remains solidly entertaining with a still large cast of wonderful characters to make it worthwhile.

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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