“NCIS” has to have one of the clunkiest and least descriptive titles on TV. Really, what’s an NCIS? At least with “How I Met Your Mother” you can do the cool HIMYM.
The military procedural show about the Naval Criminal Investigative Services has already been broken down to an acronym that fails to click. But that hasn’t stopped viewers from making it the No. 1 show on television.
And not just squeaking by at No. 1. With more than 20 million viewers, “NCIS” has four million more viewers than the No. 2 show, “Dancing with the Stars,” and four million more than the second highest-rated drama — spin-off sibling “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
“NCIS” gives viewers a nice self-contained mystery each week, while allowing an ongoing story that rewards the regulars. But it never ceases to find inviting ways to bring newcomers into the inner circle. In the first episode of this season, agent Tony DiNozzo, was interrogated by a terrorist. Tony gave up all kinds of intimate information about the people in his department, which allowed those who haven’t been loyal viewers to gain insight into each of the principals. It was a refresher course even fans probably didn’t mind taking since it was filled with the sly humor “NCIS” loyalists love.
Despite the show’s popularity, TV critics have long shoved this viewer-friendly baby into a corner. “NCIS” lacks the hipness of “Lost,” or newcomers “Glee” or “Modern Family.”
So what do the viewers know that apathetic critics don’t? Here are five reasons “NCIS” shouldn’t be overlooked:
The military angle
“NCIS” started out as a spin-off of “JAG,” a much-snappier titled NBC series about the United States Navy’s Judge Advocate General corps of attorneys. CBS picked up the series after NBC canceled it — just one of many false steps NBC had made on its way down the food chain. ”NCIS” spun-off from “JAG” in 2003 and has been steadily climbing in the ratings.
The ratings rise could be due to a number of reasons, but you can’t discount the fact that there are no other broadcast series currently on the air that depict military life, even in a slight way. In a nation filled with veterans and military families, “NCIS” speaks to service to your country with every episode relating to a case involving the military, and ongoing storylines centering on loyalty, including Ziva David’s sense of duty to Israel. With the flag waving proudly in the opening credits to the respect given to the team's leader, former Marine sniper Jethro Gibbs, the red, white, and blue run through this show.
While other military series, including "JAG" and "The Unit," haven’t spent much time in the laugh department, ”NCIS” loves diving into the chuckle zone. Sure, most of the jokes are corny, but all in good-natured fun. The team indulges in plenty of buddy humor, and can’t seem to let a good pun go unsaid. After finding out in one episode that the killer used a Rock Star-like guitar game controller as a murder weapon, NCIS investigator Ziva responds, “So our killer is an axe murderer.” Ouch.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs
One of the great characters on TV, played to perfection by Mark Harmon. He’s a man who doesn’t talk much, but says volumes with a look. In the first episode of this season, Tony describes Gibbs as a functional mute. He’s been married four times, divorced three times. His first wife and his daughter were murdered, although no one on his team knows about them. He’s addicted to coffee and has a protective relationship with young forensic scientist Abby Sciuto. After meeting a man who had been abusive to Abby, Gibbs told him the only reason why he was still walking was because he hadn't heard about him until that day. Make sure Gibbs is always on your side. Gibbs is the dad everyone wants to please. And he doesn’t have much patience with long-winded explanations. “Bottom line” cuts most of the chatter off in mid-sentence.
Two very bad girls
Who can resist a couple of bad girls? Not "NCIS" viewers. Tony under truth serum by the terrorist describes Abby as “ A paradox wrapped in an oxymoron surrounded by a contradiction in terms. Sleeps in a coffin. Really, the happiest Goth you’ll ever meet.” The irresistible Pauley Perrette plays Abby, who sports leather leather and tattoos, and blurts first, thinks later. Ziva’s the tough Mossad agent who just this season joined NCIS. She’s a killing machine, but has found her gentler side with the unit. Sort of. She's still the girl who killed her half-brother even if it was to save Gibbs, or perhaps due to orders from her ruthless dad.
Three generations of hot guys
That’s right. We have nothing but sizzle coming from these men of "NCIS." David McCallum plays chief medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard. One time Gibbs was asked what Ducky looked like when he was younger. He responded “Illya Kuryakin.” That was the Russian spy McCallum played in the 1960s TV show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” McCallum was the Brad Pitt of his day.
Then we have Mark Harmon, the former UCLA quarterback who was voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1986. He looks like Paul Newman, and remarkably just keeps getting better with age.
And finally the current crop of hunky guys represented by Michael Weatherly, who plays the wild card Tony and once was engaged to his “Dark Angel” co-star Jessica Alba. For the nerd herd, we have cyber cutie Sean Murray, who plays the series techno-savvy agent Tim McGee. McGee’s often unaware of his hot guy status, as we learned this season when he had to retake his polygraph test just because the woman conducting the test wanted to see him again.
Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.