It seems a bit of a cheat to review these two together, but to be honest each review would so heavily referencing the other series anyway they might as well be combined. The thing is that NCIS LA is great and was one of my goto shows for reliable entertainment this year, while NCIS Original is rubbish and I struggled to bother watching most of the season.
It’s not like NCIS LA is going to be winning any Emmys or anything, but it hits what it aims for – a fast paced and entertaining action movie boiled down to 45 minutes each week. The plots are unspectacular but definitely get the job done in providing opportunities for running around, shooting people, interrogating bad guys, driving fast cars, blowing stuff up, using cool gadgets, playing over the top undercover roles and generally being loud.
NCIS original flavour on the other hand just doesn’t seem to be having as much fun. There’s more politics, the forensics that used to be cool are now just a bit tired and dull and the explosions seem to be limited to the occasional splashy two-parter. It’s now categorised as a show I’d shove on in the background while cooking or ironing and once something’s relegated to background noise it’s very hard to come back.
The biggest difference between the shows though is in the characters. We’ve spent 9 years with the original characters and I’m just plain fed up of complaining about the inconsistent way they’re written. It’s like they take turns being the competent one and all the others are forced into idiot roles. One week Tony is a hugely experienced and talented (if quirky) investigator, the next he’s a frat boy clown. One week Ziva is a highly trained operative, the next she’s losing her temper and over-reacting. One week McGee is still the inexperienced probie he was when introduced but other weeks he actually remembers he’s got nearly a decade of field experience and really isn’t a child any more. There’s no sense of continuity or growth and it’s insulting to those of us that pay attention. The only positive is that the talented actors each actually manage to pull off all those personalities convincingly.
NCIS LA on the other hand actually focuses on the characters and their relationships, and rewards the loyal viewers with continuous (all be it very gradual) character development. Characters behave consistently but not woodenly, and have entertaining personality traits without becoming caricatures. They manage to have fun, make mistakes and have emotions without ever putting the audience in doubt that they are still extremely competent professionals. The building of the relationships and partnerships is particularly charming, I’m far more interested in Deeks and Kensi’s relationship than I ever have been in Tony and Ziva’s.
The only worry I really have is that the decline of NCIS is inevitable, that by keeping a series going for that long without occasionally shaking things up, it ends up becoming either dull, or a parody of itself. CSI original flavour has stayed reasonably fresh for 12 years by continually shuffling characters in and out and bringing new people in. The main team on NCIS hasn’t changed since Ziva joined in season 3, the only other cast changes have been the swapping of the director from Jenny Shepard to Leon Vance in season 6 and frankly neither really felt like a central character. They need new characters to make things interesting again, the introduction of Jamie Lee Curtis’ recurring character was a start, but she only really had an impact on Gibbs so her impact was extremely limited.
With all those complaints, I’m finally calling time on NCIS and dropping it from my watch list. The good thing about the series’ lack of consistency is that I can always drop in for occasional episodes that the grapevine says are worth watching. As my enjoyment of NCIS:LA grew, it just showed how old and out of touch its older sibling was. NCIS LA is fun, lively, entertaining and exciting, NCIS original just plain isn’t.