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March 5, 2009 | Comments ()


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Standard Operating Procedural

"NCIS"/ Dustin Rowles

TV Reviews | March 5, 2009 | Comments ()


Most of us here live in a small pop-culture world; by and large, we’re only regularly exposed to certain demographically friendly shows. We watch shows like “The Office” and “30 Rock” on the networks, “Mad Men” and “Big Love” and “Dexter” off network. But relatively speaking, those shows are low-rated and little seen amongst the larger population of North America (both “The Office” and “30 Rock,” if you can believe it, routinely finish fourth in their respective time slots). There’s a huge sliver of very popular network television that many of us only know from adverts. Did you know, for instance, that the “Ghost Whisperer” broke the top 20 last week? Who among us watches the top 20 rated “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”? Unsurprisingly, “Two and a Half Men” is the 12th highest rated show of this season, and yet still so few of us watch it. “The Biggest Loser”? Big hit. Hell, people are still watching “The Bachelor.” On Monday, it was the highest-rated show of the night. I never would’ve known that but for those undesirables among my Facebook friends who reminded that the show still airs in their status updates.

But the biggest mystery to me is a show I don’t even see adverts for very often. A show that’s been on for six seasons, yet I couldn’t tell you the name of a single cast member other than Mark Harmon. For the love of God, it’s even the sixth highest rates show on TV. I speak of “NCIS,” of course, a show up until a few hours ago, I’d never seen a single second of. Knowing it was only another procedural, and that it involved the Navy, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm I could muster for it. I assumed the worst: Another “CSI” knock-off, which itself was a “Law and Order” knock-off (I once watched the entire first season of “CSI,” and never could make sense of why it’s the second most popular show on TV behind “American Idol.”)

I was right. It is your standard, no funny-business procedural, complete with all the necessary procedural mainstays: An off-kilter computer guy (Sean Murray), a gothy lab rat/forensics expert (Pauley Perette), a medical examiner (Jeffrey Palmer), a senior field agent (Michael Weatherly), the team leader (Mark Harmon) and, of course, his relatively little-seen Director (Rocky Caroll). The only real wrinkle in the casting formula is a Liaison Officer (Cote de Pablo), who I suppose provides the show with its sex appeal. NCIS stands for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (I have no idea if such a thing actually exists), and they work out of D.C. to solve the many, many criminal homicides that supposedly occur by and against naval personnel (it’s not that far-fetched, I suppose, since there were an average of 90 deaths by homicide among members of the military between 1980 and 1999).

The show — which was spun off from another show I’ve never seen, “JAG,” plays along like most procedurals do: Each episode opens with a dead body or two; the computer guy traces credit card statements and phone calls; the medical examiner determines cause of death; the forensics woman reveals how the person died; the computer guy cracks a code; the field agent strong-arms people; the Liaison officer bats her eyelashes; and the boss walks around intently, grunts some orders, and figures it all out in the end while holding a gun to the suspect’s head. Then, in the end, the director stoically gives everyone their attaboys.

Granted, I’m selling the show a little short. I watched several of this season’s opening episodes, and it’s not a bad show, really. It’s kind of generic, but it’s easy to watch, self-contained (no prior knowledge of the show hindered my ability to follow along), and comfortable. There’s an occasional dose of humor, it’s not completely sterile like many of the procedurals running today, and the investigations, though not particularly compelling, are satisfying. It’s also got that cheesy but likable Donald Bellisario vibe to it (right along with another horrendous Donald Bellisario theme son). And that Mark Harmon — he’s a handsome man, though they’ve done something very strange to his hair. It’s sort of the military version of Gareth Keenan’s hairstyle from The British “Office.”

In other words, I didn’t hate it. It’s not a stupid show, just not a particularly smart or convincing one, and there are no running storylines to keep you coming back (though, that lack also wouldn’t dissuade someone from watching it had they missed a few episodes, which is probably why it’s such a huge ratings hit in our attention deficit culture). Indeed, after spending a few hours with it, I don’t want to throw my computer screen out my window. But then again, I’m not inclined, either, to watch it again. There’s only room enough in my life for one procedural, and for the moment, that’s “Life.”


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