NCIS may be the most perfectly unobjectionable series on TV. It’s hardly different from a CSI or Crossing Jordan, except for its air of squareness — which it’s trying to shed (within reason). NCIS is congenial, lightly risqué, and briskly paced while avoiding unsettling images. Like its predecessor, JAG, NCIS is solid, down-the-middle programming, for which there’s always an audience, albeit one that isn’t getting any younger. Hence the NCIS ratings — wildly peaking in its third season.
Mark Harmon plays Leroy Jethro Gibbs, who heads up a team of investigators charged with solving, as CBS kitchen-sinks it, ”any crime that has a shred of evidence connected to Navy and Marine Corps personnel.” A housewife-turned-porn star gets snuffed during her Internet broadcast? It’s an NCIS case because it involves babes in lingerie (back to shedding that stodgy image) and because…oh yeah, she’s the wife of a soldier in Iraq!
Harmon, with his fiftysomething handsomeness and old-jeans demeanor, steadily leads a team of likable crime stereotypes. Dumb and Dumber’s Lauren Holly is doing a stint as the new, rigid NCIS director (and Gibbs’ old flame). Geena Davis aside, this makes her yet another in a string of post-thirtysomething actresses — such as House’s Sela Ward and Prison Break’s Patricia Wettig — to land a role this season as a Powerful Woman…who, ironically, gets a limited number of lines.
Replacing agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander), who was killed off last season, is Special Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), a brisk, acerbic Israeli. Ziva and brash Tony (Michael Weatherly) sparked, predictably but pleasantly, from the beginning — their recent undercover operation as two married assassins was almost hot, their banter somewhere close to cool, and oh, this series wants to be cool. Its attempts are mostly endearing, like a recent slam on Scott Baio. Yes, NCIS, you too can make toss-off pop culture references. But are you really in a position to be snarky about Scott Baio? Just a thought.