Ask Matt: Missing Casey on ‘Fire’ and Gibbs on ‘NCIS’

Chicago Fire Jesse Spencer and NCIS Mark Harmon
Lori Allen/NBC; Sonja Flemming/CBS
Chicago Fire and NCIS

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Carrying a Torch for Capt. Casey

Comment: PLEASE tell me Jesse Spencer (Captain Matt Casey) has not left Station 51 and Chicago Fire forever. His character was such a major role and the storyline with Brett was just beginning. I am so saddened by this, to see my FAVORITE show losing a major character. I have watched since Day 1. — Deborah B

Matt Roush: Hang tough. As Jesse Spencer suggested in his exit interview, we probably haven’t seen the last of Casey, but as a regular full-time member of the ensemble, his time has come. The best news about this — and the departure of Agent Gibbs on NCIS, which has once again dominated my mailbag (so bear with me this week) — is that when they honor a lead character by letting him or her leave without killing them off, the door is always open for their return.

Is Parker Likeable Enough to Lead the NCIS Team?

Comment: I have a problem with the Agent Parker character on NCIS. The introduction of the character was such that he was very, very unlikeable until the very end when he helps Gibbs avoid being arrested. His character was similar to Jason Beghe’s Hank Voight, who was an awful character, a villain actually, on Chicago Fire, and then suddenly we are expected to stop disliking the character and accept him as the hero of a show. That just doesn’t work for me with either of them. As far as NCIS, I am just considering the last episode with Gibbs as the series finale. — Andy

Matt Roush: NCIS certainly gave fans the option to go out with Gibbs, given the closure of his storyline and that arc basically allowing for a reset. But I’ll take issue with your characterization of Special Agent Parker as villainous. He was obviously antagonistic initially, which seems reasonable given the tension that often exists among competing arms of law enforcement. But there’s an underlying humor to his authority that fits nicely into the show’s dynamic. I’m with you, though, about the portrayal of the Voight character. Given how he was introduced on Chicago Fire, I never found him redeemable or credible as a series lead, which is among the main reasons I’ve never connected to Chicago PD.

Putting Gibbs’ Departure in Context

Question: I really hope that NCIS will survive Mark Harmon’s departure. But why did they have to have back-to-back departures of Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Emily Wickersham’s Ellie Bishop? Also, why did they have to bring in an outsider to “lead” the team when a very capable Tim McGee (Sean Murray) could have been promoted? Furthermore, why did they have to move the series from the 8/7c Tuesday time slot it had occupied and ruled for 18 years? Having NCIS on at 8/7c provided a lead-in for CBS’s FBI and FBI: Most Wanted. Without NCIS as a lead-in, I have discovered that my viewing-loyalty to the CBS Tuesday lineup has vanished. — MaryLee S

Matt Roush: So many “whys,” and you surely know there’s never going to be a satisfying answer. Bishop’s departure just happened to precede the long arc of Gibbs’ farewell, and I bet even as they were developing Mark Harmon’s exit strategy, they were harboring a slim hope he’d change his mind. (But the writing was already on the wall, or the page.) To your interesting scheduling question, the move of NCIS was absolutely a calculated risk. CBS is trying to copy NBC’s success with its “One Chicago” Wednesday lineup by stringing together a full night of FBI shows — which to me is overkill, but that’s how broadcast networks operate nowadays, exploiting what few successes they have anymore. Also, moving NCIS to Monday at this critical time for the show is a test of its staying power on a new night and later time, plus CBS needed something to try to feed an audience into the new NCIS Hawai’i spinoff. [Please don’t ask me if CBS is trying to “kill” NCIS with this move. It’s still an asset for the network, even without its leading man, and whether this works or not, it’s a valid scheduling strategy.]

And for the final word for now, some supportive comments from Diane H: “I thought the farewell to Gibbs was well done and well deserved. Gibbs deserves some peace and happiness. I think it leaves the door open for him to make guest appearances. Gary Cole’s Parker also gives McGee a rest since being in charge wasn’t something he really wanted. I’d like to see McGee’s wife and twins at some point.”

Why So Many Farewells?

Question: One thing I’ve noticed this broadcast season is that almost every show seemed to have lost a cast member or two, way more so than in previous years. Is it just me? If not, is Covid partly to blame for the turnovers? Shows like NCIS, The Rookie, FBI: Most Wanted, A Million Little Things, The Resident, Chicago Med [and most recently Billions and Chicago Fire-ed.] all lost main cast members. — Marc

Matt Roush: There really has been an unusual amount of turnover this fall, including with some very high-profile characters and actors, and each has their own personal or professional reason for moving on. (In a handful of cases, it might also be a creative or financial decision.) I’m only aware of one instance where Covid was the primary motivator — for Million’s Stephanie Szostak, who went from regular to recurring because of the difficulty of going back and forth from Connecticut (where her family is based) to production in Canada. Another element in play here is that successful shows tend to run much longer than they used to because networks are loath to let go of anything that has audience awareness. (See: The Blacklist.) And at a certain point, many actors want to try something new or their priorities change, and the weekly grind of playing the same person indefinitely isn’t so appealing.

Say Boo!

Question: As a huge fan of the original British version of Ghosts, I’m ridiculously happy that the American version is doing so well. I wonder what’s become of the headless character, though? I know he’s not a frequent character in the British version, but we haven’t seen the headless American at all outside of the first episode. Do you know if they’ve dropped him from the story? — Mark

Matt Roush: I’ve seen through the Nov. 4 episode, and I could swear I spotted the headless ghost in one of these episodes in the background. It seems clear he’s not part of the core ensemble of hilarious spirits, but I love the idea that there are ghosts wandering around the house — and not just stuck in the basement — who no one pays much attention to.

Steaming Over Streaming

Comment: It’s just not fair for SEAL Team to leave regular TV channels and go to Paramount+! I am the daughter and wife of men that were career servicemen, and SEAL Team has appealed to me since it first began. I have read that they want to appeal to a younger generation by moving to streaming (as one reason). I’m in my 80s and don’t want anything to do with streaming, changing my TV programming and paying for more TV than what I have now. I’m so disappointed that the producers and Jason (David Boreanaz) want to leave loyal followers behind with this move!! It’ll be interesting to see if it works out well for them or not. I’m not following though it has been one of my top five shows I’ve faithfully watched every week. — Mrs. Mac

Matt Roush: I’m not surprised to be getting anguished mail about this again now that the transition is happening this Sunday. And seriously, CBS, you’re moving the show in the middle of a three-episode arc? That’s just sadistic, knowing how many core viewers (at least according to my mailbag) are unwilling to follow SEAL Team to streaming. Yet. There’s nothing I can say here to console viewers who don’t want to or can’t face the reality that in 2021, streaming is to TV what cable was back in the 1980s, only more so. At least with Evil moving to Paramount+ for its second season, they didn’t tease its fans like this.

And Finally …

Question: I’m wondering about 9-1-1: Lone Star. Is it returning? I really like the characters on that show. — Kathy

Matt Roush: Yes, the 9-1-1 spinoff was renewed for a third year, and it will be back at midseason. I’d presume early 2022 and most likely back on Mondays, but none of that has been confirmed or announced yet.

That’s all for now. We can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)