NCIS: Season Two review, NCIS: Season 2 DVD review

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Buy your copy from NCIS: The Complete Second Season (2004) starstarstarstarhalf star Starring: Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette, David McCallum, Sean Murray, Sasha Alexander, Brian Dietzen
Director: Various
Category: Drama
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Hello, and welcome to another entry in an ongoing series that we like to call “I Would’ve Never Known How Good This Show Was If We Hadn’t Gotten One Of Its Seasons To Review.” This time, we examine “NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Services,” a show which, despite the fact that it’s now in its fourth season on CBS, I had never seen a single episode of before this collection of its second season arrived at the Bullz-Eye offices. Obviously, as you can see by my rating, I’ve become an instant fan, but let’s delve into the reason why.

“NCIS” actually began as a spin-off of “JAG,” introducing several of the characters – Agents Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), coroner Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum), and the queen of the NCIS lab, Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perette) – in a two-part episode during that show’s eighth season. The “JAG” fans tried out the new show, of course, but given that it was up against “American Idol,” the series didn’t really begin to make any headway until its episode were re-run after “A.I.” had finished up. When the second season began, executive producer Don Bellisario (“Quantum Leap,” “Magnum, P.I.”) decided it was time to draw a more pronounced dividing line between “NCIS” and the show that spawned it; he declared that at no point during Season Two would the teaser for any episode – a.k.a. the bit before the opening credits roll – have any visible connection to the military, thereby emphasizing the “Criminal” aspect of the series over the “Naval.”

There are, of course, a ton of crime shows on the air at the moment, so what sets “NCIS” apart from the others? It’s the combination of the characters, the humor, and, to be momentarily non-specific, the feel of the show. (More clarification on that in a moment.)

The characters don’t come across as cookie-cutter clichés, although the potential would no doubt be there if you just looked at a one-line description of each of them: Gibbs is the hard-ass boss, DiNozzo is the man with the unstoppable libido, the coroner is brilliant but eccentric, and you’ve also got a token anal-retentive (Agent Kate Todd, played by Sasha Alexander) and a nervous newbie (Agent Tim McGee, played by Sean Murray). It’s the little details tucked into the scripts throughout the season, however, that slowly but surely flesh these rough sketches into full-fledged individuals. Agent Todd, we discover, won a wet t-shirt contest while on spring break in Florida during her college years. DiNozzo is a movie buff who’s forever noting similarities in cases to various films, but the only thing he loves more than movies and women is his car…so when it’s stolen and ends up involved in a high-speed chase several states away, his horror as he watches its demise unfold on TV is palpable. It also explains why we see a rare moment of legitimate understanding from him when McGee tells him why he takes the bus to work. (McGee’s first car was an ’84 Camaro, but it was totaled within minutes of him taking it on its first spin, and he’s ridden the bus ever since; when DiNizzo hears the story, he walks over and gives McGee a hug, saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”) Ducky lives with his 98-year-old mother – who appears in one episode this season, played by legendary actress Nina Foch – and is forever speaking of her exploits. And Gibbs…well, given that he’s constantly yelling at someone and has a tendency to smack his agents upside their heads to get them moving, let’s just say the least surprising thing we learn about him is that he’s been through three wives to date.

Ducky: Do you suspect foul play?
Gibbs: Well, you know me, Ducky...I suspect everything.
Ducky: Yes, that's an admirable trait for an investigator. And also, I suspect, the reason your three marriages ended in divorce.
Gibbs: Really? And all this time, I thought it was because I'm a bastard.

The best character on “NCIS” – and, by no coincidence, the cutest – is the pigtail-sporting Goth girl known as Abby. Her last name on the show is Sciuto, but it might as well be Gilmore, given that she’s forever hopped up on caffeine (every agent knows that providing her with her favorite beverage – called Caff-Pow! – is the surest way for her to get results more quickly) and making pop culture references that Gibbs never, ever, ever gets. Seriously, Perrette couldn’t be any more adorable.

The comment about the overall feel of the show begins with a touch derived from Bellasario, who had the vision of opening each segment of the episode with a black and white shot of the last frame of that segment before cutting to commercial, accompanied by a sound that’s intentionally reminiscent of a flashbulb going off. Despite the humor running throughout the show – sometimes nervous (understandable, given the crime scenes the team deals with), sometimes verging on slapstick – the dramatic aspect of the series is never terribly far from the forefront. Even when the show does get overtly “military,” it often pays off in a big way; one of the best-acted episodes of the season, “Call of Silence,” features Charles Durning as a WWII Medal of Honor winner who admits to having committed a murder almost 60 years ago in a battle at Iwo Jima. (Durning was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance, but playing a WWII veteran was hardly acting for the man, as you can read here.)

If there’s any complaint to be had about the show, it’s the fact that it’s so clearly not shot on location…but, to be fair, I’m probably only aware of it because I’m a resident of the Hampton Roads area, where the NCIS team regularly finds themselves. There’s one episode involving the murder of a bikini contest participant in Virginia Beach, and despite what the scenery may indicate, trust me, palm trees are few and far between in a beach town where the temperature drops below freezing on a regular basis during the winter. Also, I had to laugh out loud at an episode guest-starring Mya, when a GTS map showed that a huge multi-story nightclub that was supposedly in Norfolk at the exact corner where my wife and I lived in our first apartment. (Strange, you’d think the noise would’ve kept us up.)

Do yourself a favor and check out “NCIS: Season 2.” If the only reason you’ve never investigated it (no pun intended) is because you thought it was strictly a “military show,” you needn’t be concerned; it’s so much more than that.

Special Features: Once again, CBS does the fans of its shows right by taking the time to put together a nice package of special features. In addition to a pair of commentaries (the one by writer Chas. Floyd Johnson is painfully slow at times, but the one for the season finale by Perrette, Weatherly, and writer John C. Kelley is mighty funny), there are also four featurettes. Two of them are season-specific, with one doing a general sum-up of the second season, the other noting what’s changed since the first season. We also get a tour of the NCIS lab, courtesy of the perky Perrette, but the one about “The Real N.C.I.S.” contains the coup of having the actual head of the N.C.I.S. admit that once you take the incredibly sped-up timeline of the cases out the picture, the show is extremely accurate. TV coming close to reality? Who’d’ve thunk it?

~Will Harris