Becoming Stronger, Faster, Smarter in Old Age
INTERESTING STUFF – 17 January 2016

The Generations of NCIS

In last Saturday's Interesting Stuff post, I mentioned that Michael Weatherly, the actor who has played (very special) agent Anthony DiNozzo since NCIS began in 2003, is leaving the CBS drama when this 13th season ends in the spring.

Weatherly, in his role, brings an important spark to the program and more than some of the other characters, he has grown and changed in smart, interesting ways over those years (as any person ought to) and for these reasons, I wonder if there even is a show without him.

Be that as it may – we'll see - there is something bigger and more important about this program than just one character: how the several generations are represented and work together may be the most respectful of older people on series television without sacrificing an iota of storytelling nor making a big deal about it.

That – not making a big deal of old age (or any of the other ages represented) – is significant because when respect is the norm, it does not need to be noticed or commented upon.

Except that in life, it is not the norm so I am commenting today.

Certainly like me, many fans of the show miss Ziva David, the trained Mossad assassin played by the gorgeous Cote de Pablo. Sometimes it is hard to accept an actor so beautiful in such a deadly serious role but de Pablo convinced me and the chemistry between her and DiNozzo was a rare match on TV and in the movies, a joy to watch.

Her replacement when she left the show two-and-a-half seasons ago, Ellie Bishop played by Emily Wickersham, has not gelled with the rest of the cast nor been defined in any substantial way.

But both, at somewhere around age 30, are portrayed as smart, junior members of the team who are allowed over time to improve their skills as they gradually become more accomplished – pretty much as happens to all people at that stage of their working lives.

Sean Murray as Timothy McGee, the technology nerd of the group who is often the butt of DiNozzo's pranks, has had to struggle to earn DiNozzo's respect and in time found his footing as the years have passed. Again, not much unlike real life.

Mark Harmon as the supervisory agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs hasn't changed at all over the years. As an actor, he is often accused of being wooden and I can't disagree. But Gibbs is played as age appropriate (55? 60? 65?), and there are occasional intimations in recent years of his age, as happens to everyone, catching up with him a bit. Small, but realistic.

The only character who hasn't changed in the slightest is the forensic expert Abbie Sciuto played by Pauley Perette. She's the same 13-year-old she was in 2003; mostly I ignore her except for whatever plot points I need to catch.

Abbie is some kind of anomaly with the writers and producers who have done such an expert job growing the other roles in realistic ways.

And that brings us to the medical examiner, Dr. Donald Mallard, known as Ducky, played by David McCallum.

You might recall McCallum from half a century ago when he played Ilya Kuryakin on the TV spy drama, The Man From UNCLE.

(And if you are a weekly fan of NCIS, you might have caught the insider joke in an episode several years ago when one of the team asks Gibbs what Ducky looked like when he was young. Gibbs answers, “Like Ilya Kuryakin.”)

McCallum is 82 years old now and Ducky is played as the old man he looks like, even allowed to have some common idiosyncracies of elders, such as his propensity to tell long, involved stories from his past in lead up to whatever medical information he is reporting to Gibbs or DiNozzo or the others.

The writers can do this legitimately because Ducky is respected by all for his knowledge, skill, experience and wisdom. Even better, they have shown him over time learning a complex new skill – profiling – in his old age.

I don't mean to overlook Brian Dietzen as the assistant medical examiner Jimmy Palmer. When he first arrived at the show, he was so silly and juvenile that it was hard to believe he could have got through medical school.

But the writers and Dietzen have done a terrific job of showing his growth from childish 20-something to pushing 40 as a husband and father now, while retaining a more adult version of his inner dweeb.

In an excellent recent touch, Jimmy has taken on a bit of his mentor's penchant for long, meandering stories for which, of course, Ducky has no more patience than Gibbs does with Ducky's stories.

As it should be. As it would be in life.

Speaking of long-winded, my point is that there may be other TV shows that handle age, especially old age and its relationship with the younger characters with as much – well, character as NCIS. If so, I don't know about them.

But in the creation of NCIS, one or more developers made a choice to portray each character's age, especially the two elders, with respect and decency instead of the stereotypes and stupid jokes that almost always prevail. And they have held onto that choice throughout the years. This is not an accident.

So although I have my doubts, I hope the show can survive the departure of Tony DiNozzo. Even at 13 years and counting, NCIS stands as a beacon not only for how old people should be portrayed in movies, books and on TV, but real life too.

Comments

I'm so glad you did this post re NCIS. I even watch the re-runs when nothing else is available. It is a great show for all the reasons you mention & also I believe that the writing is quite good. As for Abby, I think her quirky personality adds quite a bit to the cast because at least in my work experience there was always someone like her who was so smart that most everyone overlooked the quirkiness.

I've had the feeling that DiNozzo would be the next to leave........he's getting older & if I had my way, he'd join Ziva, wherever she is, & they'll ride off into the sunset. :) Have a great w/end, Ronni. Dee

Ronni, your critique of the characters and their development is so well done.
I would be interested in your critique of "The Good Wife" and the aging lawyers as they are confronted with the younger colleagues and even younger interns.

Having never watched NCIS, I might just start watching reruns or DVDs from the library after reading your post. If I get totally hooked, I can blame you!

The only reason I kept TV as long as I did were the two shows, NCIS and The Good Wife. When I got a Roku and could stream those shows I cancelled my TV. I love them both, but NCIS has always been my favorite. I will miss Tony and his infectious smile. We shall see if Gibbs, Ducky and McGee can save the show. I hope the writers do a better job of replacing him than they did with Ziva.

I would be somewhat mollified if they had Tony run off and join Ziva somewhere.

I'm with Joyce here...I seldom watch TV and when I do it's OPB or the History or Discovery Channel.. I read or listen to audio books while I sew or do needlework. For someone who remembers the first TV on her street in North Hollywood, where I grew up and who was addicted to TV from The Mickey Mouse Club thru E.R.

Then I got very busy with raising children, working full time and being a single parent with 4 children and TV wasn't interesting to me so I just dropped out of most programming. I never even watched The X-Files!

Lately I've had access to Netflix and Amazon Prime and been watching the occasional movie..I've noticed years of NCIS available but police procedurals (like police crime books) don't hold much interest..at least until I read todays blog post. I think I'll give it a try next time I'm bored with books on hand or done with the latest quilt..you can't quilt and watch TV at the same time!

Elle Your neighbor in Beaverton

Ronni--Strangely enough, the writing for the role of DiNozzo was always my least favorite when I was still watching the series. I started watching NCIS in about the 3rd season and stopped watching a season or two ago. Why did I stop? 1) It seemed that nearly all of the good, recurring roles that were ended were female. I always wondered about that. Were the women not being paid well enough to keep them? 2) The show was very predictably written. The formula was quite set.

I have appreciated that, for the most part, casting was age appropriate.

How do you feel about NCIS Los Angeles (I stopped watching after the 2nd season) and NCIS New Orleans (which I've never watched since I have never developed an appreciation for the actor who plays the lead character.)

I am currently trying out that "free month" Netflix offers. (It's not exactly free - I had to increase my bandwidth package, which does cost money.)

Like Ella, I pretty much stopped watching TV a long time ago, so there's a lot of content to sample while I try to make up my mind. I went looking, but alas, NCIS isn't available on Netflix in Canada.

I think when the month is up, I am going to say, "No thank you." I will cancel and put the bandwidth back where it was. There may well come a time in my life when I want to fill up my days with movies and TV series, some of which are admittedly rather better written than I had expected -- but, for me, that time is not yet.

I'm a tv junkie, and I watch several of the NCIS series, although certainly the original is still the best. I agree with all you have said about the characters -- except Abby. I love Abby-- she's quirky compassionate, brilliant, enthusiastic, and cute. And, her character brings out a side of Gibbs (Harmon) that you don't see otherwise. He sincerely likes Abby; he protects her, encourages her, humors her. Without her in the cast to tease out that side of Gibbs, he would be loose a very important part of his personality.

Jethro of NCIS Los ANGELES is Hetty. Marvelous .
NCIS New Orleans has a wonderful 'Tony' substatutet in Lasal. With a southern drawl that will melt your socks.
I started watching all this with CSI Las Vegas.
A new good one is Code Black.
Just my 2 cents.

I am huge NCIS fan. Won't miss it and watch reruns. I can't imagine it without Tony. I thought that about Ziva too. New girl doesn't do it for me.

I like the New Orleans version.

Elaine of Kalilily.. I am a TV junkie too.

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