When it was originally on: 2003-present
Original network: CBS
Where you can stream it now: Netflix or CBS All Access
Had I seen it before: I’ve been present while my parents watch/discuss it, but never really WATCHED a full episode for myself. Now, it has come to my attention that there is a backdoor pilot for NCIS which is Season 8, Episode 20 of the CBS series JAG. I actually didn’t even know NCIS was a spin-off, much less that there was a backdoor pilot, so there is a chance that I would’ve felt differently or followed this episode better if I’d seen that JAG episode as I suppose many 2003 audiences did. However, most people that would be saying ‘hell, let’s see what NCIS is all about” in 2020 wouldn’t bother to watch that JAG episode either, so I really don’t feel like I’m being wrong or unfair by judging this pilot as I do, in spite of my lack of context.
What IMDb says: The cases of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Washington, D.C. Major Case Response Team, led by Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Why I picked it: NCIS is one of the longest running, most watched scripted programs still on the air. And while I’ve never gotten the impression that it would vibe with my personal tastes, it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised. I also wanted to make sure that when I was figuring out which network shows would make The List, I had representatives from all the major ones. CBS doesn’t really have any smash hit successes that aren’t procedurals.
What I liked: Um. Let me get back to you on that. Or maybe I won’t. I didn’t like much.
What I didn’t like: Did they just forget to give anyone on this show a personality? And no, wearing red lipstick and black hair in pigtails despite being a lab tech doesn’t constitute a personality. There’s just not much of anything to distinguish one character from the others. I don’t really know what their lives were like before they joined NCIS. Everyone’s just a snide sarcastic asshole trying to solve a murder.
Based on my understanding of the show, I expected NCIS to feel like more of a team. I expected a sort of Star Trek-esque squad of people that each have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of solving murders. They’d have different backgrounds and personalities that sometimes made it hard to work with each other, but everyone was so integral to the job that they’d always rise above those differences to save the day.
The pilot doesn’t really do this. The only real NCIS people we get for the bulk of the episode are Gibbs, DiNozzo, and Duckie. Caitlin is in this too, but she hasn’t joined NCIS yet and instead just spends the whole episode following people around asking what they’re doing or telling them that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. There’s no teamwork happening and no chemistry between the cast.
I also wish they could have done more to reassure me that the cases on NCIS will be different and more interesting than the cases on other police procedurals. The show isn’t about regular crimes, it’s about navy crimes! Surely that provides for interesting angles that those “normal” cop shows would never have, right? Surely they don’t just insert dysfunctional government bureaucracy into an otherwise run-of-the mill murder mystery and call it a day, do they?
This particular case does take place on Air Force One, but somehow that fact doesn’t really make it that much more interesting than your standard Law and Order episode. The only thing that really changes is that NCIS gets into a pissing match with the Secret Service and FBI, but when the question of “who’s responsible for solving this murder?” is given more weight than “who murdered this person?” there’s a freaking problem. If that’s all that NCIS has to offer me that similar shows do not, I’ll be watching those similar shows instead.
And you know how they ultimately end this? By suggesting that the terrorists were inspired by Air Force One. Yes, the Harrison Ford movie. Such an episode perhaps could’ve worked later in Season 1, but a pilot needs to instill confidence in the writers, and excuse me for not being particularly confident in writers who chose to lift their “here’s what’s REALLY happening!” moment from another piece of fiction. The case is just so weird that there’s no way for me to see how they can possibly come up with more cases like it.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Nope.