NCIS: The Eighteenth Season DVD Review

3.5 Stars A mediocre season for CBS' warhorse crime procedural

The eighteenth season of NCIS was not its best by far: the mysteries seemed easier to solve than usual, the extended story arcs didn’t provide very satisfactory conclusions, and the defections from the show didn’t have quite the emotional impact of those from earlier seasons.

Sturgeon Season (2020)
Released: 17 Nov 2020
Rated: TV-14
Runtime: 41 min
Director: Michael Zinberg
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Cast: Mark Harmon, Sean Murray, Wilmer Valderrama
Writer(s): Donald P. Bellisario, Don McGill, Scott Williams
Plot: Gibbs and Fornell attempt to track down the leader of a drug ring who supplied drugs to Fornell's daughter; the team deals with the case of a missing cadaver from the NCIS autopsy room.
IMDB rating: 7.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: CBS
Video Resolution: 480P/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 11 Hr. 25 Min.
Package Includes: DVD
Case Type: Amaray case in a slipcover
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Region: 1
Release Date: 08/17/2021
MSRP: $49.98

The Production: 3.5/5

The eighteenth season of CBS’ hit procedural NCIS was a turbulent one to say the least. Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic which made filming for all shows complicated and hazardous (the producers proudly reveal that the cast and crew went COVID-free due to the strict protocols set before the season started) and which reduced the number of seasonal episodes (in the case of NCIS, down by eight episodes to sixteen for the season), the season found several recurring and regular characters taking their final bows. Additionally, as brief as the season was, the writers managed to include two lengthy story arcs to exist alongside the usual case-of-the-week scenarios that the series is known for. Neither was particularly satisfying with the second one setting up the season ending cliffhanger which will be continued on into season nineteen.

Primary among the stories carried forth from last season was the investigation into the opioid poisoning of former FBI agent Tobias Fornell’s (Joe Spano) drug addicted daughter Emily (Juliette Angelo). With NCIS head agent Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and Fornell working together to flush out the counterfeit drug traffickers, the story extended over five non-consecutive episodes with the first of a number of tragic revelations at its conclusion. A second multi-episode arc at the end of the season brought actor Mark Harmon’s real-life wife Pam Dawber on board for four episodes where Dawber as investigative journalist Marcie Warren uncovers the work of a serial killer who has been eavesdropping on their investigation in their individual homes and who sets Gibbs up for a fall in a climactic explosion to end the season. At this point in the season, Gibbs had been indefinitely suspended from NCIS for beating a dog abuser almost to death, setting up limited appearances for the character for next season.

The show celebrated its 400th episode early in the eighteenth season with “Everything Starts Somewhere” which offered the backstory of the meeting and the beginnings of a lifelong friendship between Gibbs and Dr. Donald Mallard (David McCallum). As in previous seasons, the young Gibbs was played by his real-life son Sean Harmon while the young “Ducky” is once again entrusted to Adam Campbell. It’s one of the season’s real highlights. Another is once again provided by the character of medical examiner Dr. Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) who we learn has suffered a catastrophic loss in the death of his wife Breena to COVID in the episode “The First Day.” Once again, Gibbs’ paternal relationship with the team aids in Jimmy’s being able to carry out his duties while keeping his grief manageable.

Brian Dietzen isn’t the only actor this season to get a showcase episode. In the season’s lightest episode, Tim McGee (Sean Murray) and wife Delilah (Margo Harshman) can’t enjoy their Bahamas vacation after being drawn into a case while on the island. The season also allows three other actors great chances to shine, for two of them their series swansongs as they, too, are leaving the show. For Maria Bello’s psychologist Jack Sloane, it’s “True Believer” as Jack and Gibbs travel to Afghanistan to rescue a woman who had saved Jack’s life a decade earlier. For Emily Wickersham’s agent Ellie Bishop, it’s the season finale “Rule 91” where some leaked classified documents during her tenure at NSA are now discovered and threaten to end her NCIS career. And agent Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama who isn’t leaving the show) is reunited with his missing father Miguel (Steven Bauer), a long ago deadbeat dad, in “Sangre” which offers one of the series more bittersweet episodes. With the departure of Emily Wickersham’s Bishop from the team, her replacement is worked into the season’s final two episodes: special agent Jessica Knight played by Katrina Law who is orphaned when her entire team is blown up while investigating a house loaded with explosives and then when she assists on the season finale case once Ellie is suspended from the team while her former NSA maneuvers are investigated.

Here are the sixteen episodes contained on four discs in the season eighteen set:

1 – Sturgeon Season

2 – Everything Starts Somewhere

3 – Blood and Treasure

4 – Sunburn

5 – Head of the Snake

6 – 1 mm

7 – The First Day

8 – True Believer

9 – Winter Chill

10 – Watchdog

11 – Gut Punch

12 – Sangre

13 – Misconduct

14 – Unseen Improvements

15 – Blown Away

16 – Rule 91

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

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, and the image has finally reached a point where it matches the visual quality of the network’s other top shows. The picture quality is perfectly pleasing and sharp enough to note facial details or that actor Sean Murray has lost weight from the previous two seasons but being standard definition, there are occasional slight examples of aliasing if one doesn’t have a good upconverting player or a television with excellent upconverting abilities. Flesh tones are natural and very appealing, and black levels are all more than decently rendered. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track (there is also a Dolby 2.0 stereo surround track available for each episode) does not always take full advantage of the available channels for this action-oriented series. Music by Bruce Kirk 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 though when explosions hit, they hit with real impact waking up the subwoofer. Dialogue, an important aspect of this crime procedural, is always well-recorded and has been placed firmly in the center channel.

Special Features: 4/5

Audio Commentaries: two are offered in the set. Episode #2 “Everything Starts Somewhere” offers actually a video commentary with showrunner Steven Binder and guest actors Sean Harmon and Adam Campbell chatting via Zoom while the episode plays. The other occurs with “Winter Chill” as writer Scott Williams and actor Brian Dietzen spend the time praising each other’s work and Williams offering some interesting information on his writing process in forging an episode.

400: A League of Its Own (7:28). Cast and crew commemorate the show’s monumental 400th episode, Among those speaking are producers Frank Cardea and Steven Binder, director of photography William Webb, and cast members Diona Reasonover (who plays forensic scientist Kasie Hines), Wilmer Valderrama, Sean Murray, Mark Harmon, and David McCallum.

Until We Meet Again (6:36): A farewell to Mario Bello with cast and crew praising her work on the show and featuring her words of goodbye when her last scene wrapped. Speaking are Wilmer Valderrama, Mark Harmon, and producers Mark Horowitz, Steven Binder, and Frank Cardea.

Season 18: A Year to Remember (23:13): the difficulties of shooting during the COVID pandemic and the loss of several cast members exiting the series are discussed by producers Mark Horowitz, Frank Cardea, and Steven Binder and by cast members Mark Harmon, Sean Murray, Brian Dietzen, Pam Dawber, Diona Reasonover, Wilmer Valderrama, Emily Wickersham, and Rocky Carroll.

Grab Your Gear and Wash Your Hands (3:42): a behind-the-scenes look at the extensive protocols in place for shooting a series in the midst of a pandemic. Speakers include Rocky Carroll, Sean Murray, Mark Harmon, and producers Mark Horowitz and Frank Cardea.

Overall: 3.5/5

The eighteenth season of NCIS was not its best by far: the mysteries seemed easier to solve than usual, the extended story arcs didn’t provide very satisfactory conclusions, and the defections from the show didn’t have quite the emotional impact of those from earlier seasons. With the nineteenth season already promising another roller coaster ride (Gary Cole joining the cast, Mark Harmon only being on hand for a small handful of episodes, and a new timeslot – Mondays at 9 p.m. after almost two decades in the same Tuesday spot), who knows where the show will be this time next year.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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Rustifer

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I agree with you in large part as I began to slightly sour on this series even before this season. The changes in cast never seemed to find communal footing in their relationships as in the past. I still haven't bought into Wilmer Valderrama's character with his t-shirts so tight as to nearly outline his entire internal organ displacement. An MRI on this guy must take all of 7 seconds. In comparison to Michael Weatherly, Wilmer is saddled with the emotional acting range of kitchen linoleum.

The experiment of 'epic' storylines overlapping several episodes completely looses the tight script discipline of the case-opened-case-solved single episode framework. Not to mention losing my interest halfway through the plot.

I will admit that Mark Harmon has seemingly tinkered with his internal aging clock to successfully stall its forward march to which the rest of us are so sorrowfully subject.
He and I are the same age, which my wife assures me is the only thing we have in common.

At least kudos for the continuing framing practice of the B&W snapshot before and after each sequence.
 
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