Ten Years In, 'NCIS' Finally Got Me

It's scary, but I'm just going to come out and say it: I have an NCIS problem and it is only escalating.

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Having a so-called TV "guilty pleasure" is one thing. Enjoying a show that's less-than-highbrow is a well-established tradition that everyone honors and no one should actually feel guilty about. But there is a lower form of TV watching that should give us pause, but that some of us, the real gluttons among us, frequently indulge in anyway. I have recently fallen prey to such a show. It's scary, but I'm just going to come out and say it: I have an NCIS problem and it is only escalating.

Let's just put it right out there: NCIS is not a good show. The Navy crime procedural is badly written and badly acted and bizarrely lit and is a strange, discordant mix of corny humor, hokey dead body gravitas, and flag-waving patriotism. This is a show that seems ready-made for half-asleep airplane viewing, it's certainly not something that should require week-in, week-out loyalty. And yet yesterday morning I found myself not just recording last night's new episode, but setting the DVR to record the whole damn season. Why is this? Why am I subjecting myself so willingly, so actively, to such a thunderingly dumb show? Well, probably because it's so dumb.

The gateway drug to the eventual season pass was, of course, a lazy Sunday marathon. I had resisted this popular series for a long time (it's been on for ten seasons, for god's sake), until a few months ago when I got stuck in a morass known as USA's "Gibbs' Rules" NCIS marathon, a hideous string of episodes that each contained a reference to the long list of (incredibly dumb and general) rules for life created by the series' main character, Jethro Gibbs. It was a pretty weak way to associate episodes, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that it was a steady profusion of stultifying episode after stultifying episode that kept me epoxied to the couch for an entire day. I'd watched the series before, had even spent some professional hours trolling about the show, trying to rile up a devoted group of fans who read a site I was writing for, but this was something else. I was really into it.

"Into it" meaning I was reading Wikipedia to figure out the show's mythology; what happened on what season, who died when, why the hell there are even Gibbs Rules (ugh, it's so corny even typing it) in the first place. I needed to know the details; there's something fascinating about how such an oafish show — jingoistic, lightly chauvinistic, smug like a small-town pastor — could be so popular and last for so long. I guess I was initially trying to uncover NCIS' ultimate mystery: Why is it so successful? There had to be some answer in the details. Well, I never found a specific explanation, and have instead adopted the more general philosophy that NCIS' lameness and squareness are both an obvious detriment and a sad, secret asset. Its easiness and relative blandness should make the show a bore, and to many people it likely is. But to some, perhaps to many, that slightly off-brand uninventiveness acts as a soothing agent. When you're not getting mad about some awful thing the terrifically annoying DiNozzo has just said (he's the worst character, right?) or groaning over the way Abby, a forty-year-old woman, is treated like a simple child because she dresses "weird," you're mostly slowed to a calming low-level brain function. The show's dumbness is an initial deterrent but then, oh then, you enter the sweet stupefying grasslands of the no-think place. It's warm and silly and you want to bathe in its glowing Washington light forever, even if vague whiffs of the show's fairly unpleasant politics and remedial storytelling occasionally threaten to pull you out.

For that reason, the show is best consumed in marathon form, and that's how I assumed I would always watch it, in clumps of reruns when nothing else is on. But now I have committed space on my DVR to record this thing in primetime. I'm guessing, or hoping at least, that the reason I've done this is simply to recreate a little of the weekend's slumped-down, slack-jawed torpor in the middle of the ever-hectic work week. Because the other alternative is that I actually like the show, which cannot, absolutely cannot and must not be the case. No, I'm not eager to see the murders solved, or to watch Gibbs slap DiNozzo upside the head, or to listen to Abby prattle on like an asshole in pigtails. I'm there to lobotomize myself for an hour, only having a rise in brain activity when someone says or does something so weird (the show's humor is weird, but in a completely-not-funny way, not in a good weird way) or asinine that some sort of reaction is necessary. That must be why. I am in love with being a lump, glazed-over and drooling, pathetically succumbing to the show's inertia. But whatever my real reasoning, this is nevertheless my addiction. My burden, my sorry secret. Until now, anyway.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.