Series builds on its predecessors with strong characters
The “NCIS” concept continues to succeed and improves with each new spinoff.
That’s certainly true of “NCIS: Hawai’i” (10 p.m. Mondays on CBS), which builds on the original show’s formula of a colorful ensemble and the relationship between the civilian investigators and the Navy and Marine cases they investigate.
The first “NCIS” series was a spinoff of “JAG,” and the 2003 pilot wasted no time getting to a big story with a terrorist plot involving Air Force One. But like “JAG,” “NCIS” is as much about character as plot, which ultimately is why crime-story franchises such as “NCIS” last while others fade away. (Its main competition remains Montecito producer Dick Wolf’s strong “Law & Order” and “FBI” franchises.)
It’s fun to look back at the first season of the original “NCIS” and the team that established the template for the spinoffs: Special Agent Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) as the no-nonsense leader who doesn’t show all his cards, quirky medical examiner Ducky (David McCallum of “Man from U.N.C.L.E”) fame, enthusiastic computer geek Abby (Pauley Perrette), Sasha Alexander as Kate Todd, the smart agent with Secret Service experience and Michael Weatherly as Tony DiNozzio, the agent who gets things done despite his immaturity. (Today the cast has changed, but Mr. Harmon and Mr. McCallum remain.)
By the way, Ms. Perrette is a celebrity who has long supported AIDS Walk Los Angeles, not just by speaking at the annual event but by walking with a team in the walks. I’ve seen her there and at press parties, where she proved to have the same enthusiastic personality as her character.
In one way or another, “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “NCIS: New Orleans” and now “NCIS: Hawai’i” have created similar agents.
“NCIS: Hawai’i” excels largely because of the cast, more so than because of its stories. Vanessa Lachey stars as Special Agent in Charge Jane Tennant, the leader who knows more than her crew realizes.
At home, she’s a mother who manages her kids. In the office, she manages agents of varying skills and maturity levels with the same no-nonsense, brilliant approach, much like Gibbs has done on “NCIS.” But I think Tennant has a sense of optimism that exceeds even that of Gibbs, who knows when to bet on the right people to get a job done. As I said earlier, each “NCIS” spinoff improves on its predecessors.
There’s usually another mature, wise agent in the office besides the special agent in charge on the “NCIS” shows, and in this case, it’s Jesse Boone, played by Noah Mills.
Jason Antoon is funny and down-to-earth as Ernie Malik, the cyber intelligence expert.
A very relatable character is Kai Holman, the “new kid” on the team, played by Alex Tarrant. He’s returned to his home to care for his father and has a lot to learn about his family and his job, but the fact is he does learn, and that’s a journey viewers find worth taking with him.
Yasmine Al-Bustamini plays Lucy Tara, a young special agent who loves her job but feels trepidation about some aspects of it. Seeing her succeed is rewarding for the viewer.
Tori Anderson plays Kate Whistler, a defense intelligence agent who was involved in a former relationship with Lucy.
An interesting dynamic in the NCIS relationship with the Navy is established with the working relationship between Jane Tennant and Capt. Milius (Enver Gjokaj). Capt. Milius tries to respect NCIS’ independence, but falls short at times, and Tennant finds she must remind him he’s not her boss. And as the relationship evolves, Tennant wants to keep everything professional between them.
(Marvel Comics fans will recognize Mr. Gjokaj from the “Agent Carter” series on ABC.)
The plots have been good mysteries, nothing reaching the level yet of the stories on previous “NCIS” shows, but that should come over time. For now, the characters on “NCIS Hawai’i” make the dramatic journey worthwhile.