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CSI for Mental Midgets?
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 13, 2009
(Note: this review only covers the first season, as I currently only own that. Please be advised that reviews are very subjective, and this one seemingly runs against the majority)
Allow me to begin this review by stating that I am in no way a fan of "CSI" series, which appears to be the inspiration for NCIS. But I have watched - and enjoyed - CSI for few years so I feel comfortable drawing comparisons (I've also watched a few episodes of JAG, but never liked that so I won't compare it to the other alleged alma mater).
NCIS is a series about criminal investigators, employed by the Navy. It draws heavily on the aforementioned CSI theme ("follow the evidence"), albeit with much larger holes in the plot and other 'features' that sadly diminish the whole.
Now, CSI is a series where the viewer is regularly expected to suspend disbelief (just how many more of these dorky "can you enhance that image" scenes must we endure? You know the one - where the computer miraculously resolves a brown-green pixel into the Mona Lisa), which is sometimes annoying, but standard for most entertainment TV. But in NCIS it gets to a point where it becomes really, really hard to ignore reality and feel somewhat insulted by what the writers expect you to accept:
Examples from just the first four episodes (I saw the whole first season):
- During the Pilot, NCIS 'hijacks' Air Force One, *and* smuggles a body off the plane; they then go up against the *active* head of the President's security detail and win. If that is not enough: while doing so, they discover a terrorist plot based (I'm not joking here) on the movie 'Air Force One'.
- In the episode 'Seadog' NCIS not only miraculously (because there is no evidence to support this) deducts that instead of a drug deal, another terrorist plot is afoot. They find out that the main suspect is a victim (OK), and the victim has nothing to do with the main story (hmmmm). It gets worse: NCIS also deduct (from a Google search) that the whole of USA is dependent on three (3) power masts that are all conveniently located in Virginia, and they manage to catch the terrorist (singular) trying to sabotage them at the correct mast (if you follow the ridiculous plot he could have been at any of the three).
- in 'hung out...' they force an admission of guilt by threatening the life of the suspect (and you can forget about reading him his rights). This, by the way even though they *have* hard evidence in the form of DNA.
- let us forget the abominable 'the Immortals' episode where the writers manage to get everything wrong - only to serve up a wafer thin story about insanity. It takes place aboard a destroyer but could have happened anywhere where people have PCs (evidently the writers think that US warships are run by top-of-the line PCs configured to play MMORPGs). This was one so bad I constantly hoped it was a joke episode - or a dream.
- In 'the Curse' (number 5, but we skipped 'Immortals') NCIS rush a case to confront a suspect with incomplete and fabricated evidence instead of waiting for the data. While not laboring under any deadline (to be precise, the case is already a decade old). They do the exact opposite of following the evidence.
What's worse is that in NCIS the investigators often do not follow the evidence, but a hunch. A hunch, by the way, that is in no way supported or even indicated by any evidence:
- The poisoning of the 'Football' carrying aide to the president is in reality a terrorist plot to force the president into a certain kind of action. No evidence for this.
- The 'can you enhance that image' clue found on a getaway car (the logo of a power company) leads the investigators to look up, find, and somehow verify a specific document on the internet that would allow foreign terrorists to take down the whole USA. Yeah.
But plot holes and fantasy science aside, there are more problems with this series:
- Almost everything feels second-rate - actors, image quality, color fidelity (watch CSI, West Wing, Brothers & Sisters or even FireFly to see how it's done right) - everything looks cheap or cobbled together. The lab tech is (what the studio thinks is) a Goth chick, ostensibly to please the geek crowd (even though I have the feeling that the studio managed to irrecoverably alienate them with 'Immortals'). Instead of CG the studio uses second-rate video games and animation software. Heck, they even use corny complimentary (or public) footage from military vessels and planes, just like many old "B" monster movies.
- The whole series is doused in cringe-inducing, and what only can be charitably called 'W Bush era "Patriotism"': Normal Law Enforcement Officers are fat idiots that get in the way. 7-year old kids should salute their father's casket on his funeral (meant as an advice for solace). Ugh. Terrorists are everywhere. Interestingly, and I hope that this is pure coincidence, the only 'dirty' naval officers in the first segment are an ex-con, and (uh, oh) one of the first enlisted women aboard a Navy Vessel. The one 'untainted' Navy suspect turns out to be a hero.
Are there any upsides to NCIS? There are, and they are somewhat far in-between. Acting is fair, in some instances even good (sadly usually from a guest star). The investigators follow a more low-tech approach, which I found refreshing. And, it would have been great if the investigators would follow the evidence. Alas, they regularly do the opposite, low tech evidence be damned.
All in all I am somewhat surprised that I'm the only one who is disappointed by NCIS. To me it simply feels like a clichéd, dumbed down, cheap version of CSI that somehow manages to get the one thing wrong that kept CSI watchable. To be honest, I had expected more from this series. Seeing that this review is at odds with that of everyone else I must assume that I was simply expecting something different.