And the phemonenon of NCIS rolls on and on. Having now completed its eighth season, the crime procedural behemoth of CBS’ entire primetime schedule seems to be gaining popularity with each passing season. It has for the last three seasons been the highest rated scripted series on television, and even its reruns out rate many shows on other networks during their original airings. Even more amazing is that the show’s audience, always favored by older viewers, is becoming more youthful. With Fox’s own phenomenon Glee scheduled opposite it this past season, Glee early in the season regularly outrated NCIS in the highly coveted 18-49 age group, but as the season wore on, NCIS began catching up to Glee in this important rating measure, even going so far as to beat Glee once or twice during the latter part of their seasons.
NCIS: The Eighth Season
Directed by Dennis Smith et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 1038 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 English, French
Subtitles: SDH. Spanish, French, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 64.99
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Review Date: August 15, 2011
While its eighth season wasn’t the best in its history, the whodunits, particularly early in the season, were often soundly written and always terrifically acted. Only during the second half of the season when the show began a lengthy story arc with two NCIS teams hunting for the Port-to-Port Killer did the show shakily spin its wheels introducing some unappealing new characters and spending too much of its time exploring uninteresting romantic connections between agents, storylines which continually in the past haven’t worked in the show’s favor and which didn’t this season either. The five-episode story arc comprising the hunt for this clever and manipulative killer targeting naval personnel and later members of the CIA and NCIS actually began promisingly, but the final two episodes, which offer his identity and backstory on how he came to be so troubled, peter out into a very anticlimactic season ender.
The Naval Criminal Investigation Service is a branch of the military investigating crimes committed against military personnel. Though most of the crimes involve murder, there are occasionally kidnappings to solve or missing persons to find. The series doesn’t rely as heavily on forensics (though forensics naturally do play a role in the solutions of the crimes) as in the CSI series, but the one thing that NCIS has going for it that most other procedural shows lack is the playful and loving camaraderie among the members of this unit. Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his strict, no-nonsense boss Director Leon Vance played by Rocky Carroll do work together with a great deal of huffing and puffing as they jockey for position over one another (and the episode “Enemies Domestic” actually shows us their first encounter). Also around for another season of mirth and mayhem are eternal cut-up Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), his usual teammate and verbal sparring partner Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), computer whiz Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), forensics specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) and his assistant Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen).
As for the new team who intrudes on our cozy septet, they’re led (most implausibly) by Sarah Jane Morris as team leader E. J. Barrett. She’s joined by linguistics and tech expert Simon Cade (Matthew Willig) and team historical expert Gayne Levin (Alimi Ballard). Among outstanding guest stars who distinguish individual episodes of the series this season are Ralph Waite (as Gibbs’ father following up on last season’s cliffhanger in the season premiere), William Devane, Sam Anderson, Joe Spano (several appearances as the recurring FBI agent Fornell), Robert Wagner (a return appearance as DiNozzo’s con man father), Bruce Boxleitner, Arnold Vosloo, Michael Nouri (in the recurring role as Ziva’s father), Diane Neal, Bob Newhart, Jo Beth Williams, Kerr Smith, and Enrique Murciano who is featured in a couple of shows as Ziva’s new CIA paramour.
The following are the twenty-four season eight episodes contained on six discs. Names in parentheses refer to the participants in that episode’s audio commentary.
1 – Spider and the Fly
2 – Worst Nightmare (twist-filled story is the year’s best episode)
3 – Short Fuse
4 – Royals and Loyals
5 – Dead Air
6 – Cracked (Pauley Perrette, director Tony Wharmby)
7 – Broken Arrow
8 – Enemies Foreign
9 – Enemies Domestic (Rocky Carroll, writer Jesse Stern, director Mark Horowitz)
10 – False Witness
11 – Ships in the Night
12 – Recruited (the most heartrending of the year’s episodes)
13 – Freedom
14 – A Man Walks into a Bar. . . (Mark Harmon, writer Gary Glasberg, director James Whitmore, Jr.)
15 – Defiance
16 – Kill Screen
17 – One Last Score (Michael Weatherly, producer Mark Horowitz)
18 – Out of the Frying Pan
19 – Tell-All
20 – Two-Faced
21 – Dead Reflection
22 – Baltimore
23 – Swan Song (where a member of the NCIS family takes a final curtain call)
24 – Pyramid
The program is presented at 1080i on the network broadcasts, and these downconverted 1.78:1 transfers are anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The show switched to digital production a few seasons ago, but the image has maintained its soft-focused, slightly diffused color palette even when going from film to digital. The picture quality is perfectly pleasing and similar to the network broadcasts, but it’s never going to have the crystal clarity or eye-popping color values of other primetime series. Flesh tones are natural, and black levels are all nicely rendered. There are some minor aliasing problems to be glimpsed in several episodes. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track does not take full advantage of the available channels for this action-oriented series. Music in each episode seems to be the most frequent occupant of the rear channels as the score is generously spread through the soundstage, but ambient sound effects don’t often get the full surround treatment. Dialogue, an important aspect of this crime procedural, is always well recorded and has been placed firmly in the center channel.
There are four audio commentaries in this season’s set. Pauley Perrette’s spotlight episode “Cracked” finds the actress less animated than in earlier season discussions (she’s paired with the director of the episode here instead of a fellow actor where they tend to feed off one another). Rocky Carroll talks the least of the three participants in his commentary episode as does Mark Harmon in his commentary, the least interesting in the set. Michael Weatherly narrates the episode that features his debut as a director, and he’s more grounded than usual though he and producer Horowitz explain too much of the story as we watch.
All of the video featurettes are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“I Have a Question For…” is a series of questions posed to the various stars of the show by fans at an NCIS convention with each star answering individually back on-set. It runs 12 minutes.
“Technically Speaking” is an interview with NCIS technical advisor Leon Carroll, Jr. who describes his job on the show and receives effusive praise from the production staff about how much they rely on him to keep the show operating within realistic bounds. It runs 9 ¼ minutes.
“Practical Magic” is a too-brief 4-minute vignette in which co-star Rocky Carroll and the show’s make-up team explain some of the work they did to take him back twenty-five years in time to appear as his younger self. Since several other actors in the episode had to de-age as well, a more complete overview of the digital effects needed to melt away the years would have been interesting.
“Lights! Camera! Weatherly!” details co-star Michael Weatherly’s first effort behind the camera in shooting “One Last Score” with lots of commentary by Weatherly echoing statements made in his audio commentary. It runs 10 ¾ minutes.
“Grab Your Gear: A Look at Season 8” is actually more of a back-patting bonus as writer-producer Gary Glasberg takes the time to praise every member of the program’s star cast (followed by comments from each of them about how much they love their jobs). It runs 26 ½ minutes.
“Very Special Effects” introduces us to special effects coordinator Larry Fuentes as he takes us through some of the more elaborate special effects he supervised this season. It runs 10 ¼ minutes.
“Murder, They Wrote” gives us an introduction to the men and women who craft the stories for each season’s episodes. Each talk about their favorite characters to write for or their particular fields of expertise. It runs 9 ½ minutes.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Not the greatest season in the history of the show, but NCIS’ eighth season contained a more than average number of crafty whodunits and the usual entertaining camaraderie among the cast that continues to keep the series at the top of the ratings charts. A nice selection of bonus features complete this year’s season eight package.