Ask Matt: Gibbs Still Looms Large Over ‘NCIS’

NCIS Mark Harmon as Gibbs
Cliff Lipson/CBS
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.

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There's been quite a bit of change in Season 19 of the CBS drama.

Is Mark Harmon Still a Part of NCIS?

Question: Why is Mark Harmon still credited on NCIS? I know he is a producer, but he is no longer on the show. I find it strange. — Jeff B

Matt Roush: I don’t know how much longer they’ll continue leading the NCIS opening credits with Mark Harmon’s image as Gibbs, but in the short term I get it, even if it is misleading or possibly giving viewers false hope that Gibbs will return on either a part-time or (less likely) full-time basis. (I still get “Say it ain’t so” missives on a regular basis since Harmon’s departure.) Gibbs’ metaphorical ghost still looms large over the show and his team, and as an executive producer, Harmon will no doubt continue to have some sway over NCIS’ future. And because the character is still out there, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise for Gibbs to show up for a “very special” episode from time to time. But depending on how this and next season (should there be one) play out, at some point they’ll need to stop pretending he’s still the star of the show.

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Betraying Asimov’s Foundation of Robotics?

Question: I will preface by saying that I am enjoying Foundation on Apple TV+. It is an interesting and well-done space opera. It borrows a few names and a couple of plot points from Isaac Asimov’s books, but it was obvious from the start that it was not going to follow the books closely if at all. I didn’t complain: The books are mostly people sitting around talking, and that does not make for compelling TV. At least, I thought, they were trying to be faithful to Asimov’s vision. When it then became apparent that events were going to revolve around individual heroism and not geopolitical and economic forces, it meant that the producers really WEREN’T going to be faithful to Asimov’s vision, but again, I understand the needs of crafting an entertaining story and keeping an audience, and the story could still get to the end Asimov wanted.

But (SPOILER ALERT) to allow a robot to kill (or at least participate in the death of) a human character is a complete slap in the face to Asimov. His Three Laws of Robotics are at least as famous as his Foundation stories, and an Asimov robot would NEVER kill a human, or allow one to be killed. For the producers to even think this would be appropriate in a story credited to Asimov, means they understand nothing of his works at all. I will continue to watch and even enjoy Foundation. But don’t call it Isaac Asimov’s. — Rick C

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Matt Roush: I don’t pretend to be an Asimov expert, so find this argument fascinating. My problem with Foundation had more to do with pacing and tone — sometimes cerebral, sometimes generic space action—rarely conveying to me what about these stories made them so foundational to the genre. I was also interested to realize that some of the best parts of the series (the three stages of Empire) had nothing to do with the books. So why even call it Foundation?

Another Theory Why Y Was Canceled

Question: FX canceled Y: The Last Man. Could this be because it was exclusively on FX on Hulu? I’m sure I’m not the only person who is fast reaching the limit on how much I can shell out every month so I can watch a show “exclusively on yet another blah blah blah” streaming service. Is there no limit to the need for the entertainment business to extract every penny they can from viewers? Or is that a stupid question? — Craig

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Matt Roush: Not stupid, and I’m reluctant to say naïve, but the reality is that streaming is where it’s at these days, representing the biggest shift in viewing and programming habits since the introduction of cable and the VHS/DVR. For many of those reaching their limit, if they haven’t already, the real choice is between continuing to shell out for cable and moving to an all-app streaming way of life. (I’ve also heard from those who can’t stream because of high-speed connectivity issues, and maybe the new infrastructure bill will eventually bring relief to many of these communities.) The previous discussion of Y: The Last Man suggested there were complicated financial and timing considerations, further muddied by the pandemic, that may have sent Y packing. Exposure on linear FX might have helped, but if the ratings were lacking, that could even have hastened its demise.

Too Many Ghosts in Ghosts?

Comment: I guess I’m in the minority. Not a fan of Ghosts. I’ve watched several episodes and just can’t get into it, though it is a show that should fit my profile of interests well. The show seems a bit “clunky” to me. Partly it’s that I find it rather claustrophobic, with the large ensemble of ghosts “crowding the stage” most of the time. I did see the Thorfinn funeral and Pete’s wife episodes, and there was some relief there — and character development — with the greater focus on one ghost. I think more episodes exploring the individual ghosts like that (without the whole cast hanging around) will help. I also am just not into either of the main characters. Much has been said about the flatness of Utkarsh Ambudkar‘s character and acting (though I understand he’s very good on other shows), but I’m also struggling with Rose McIver‘s character and acting. It all seems very one-note to me, and I really won’t be able to stand one more instance of Sam shouting at a ghost, then all the human characters wondering what she’s shouting at, and then some lame attempt to cover it up. Happens way too much and is really not that funny. Maybe the show will improve and I’ll check back in, but I’m done for now. I’m glad many others are enjoying it and that the show is finding critical and ratings success. – Tom D

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Matt Roush: As always, nothing is more subjective than comedy, especially farce, though, like Tom, I’m also glad Ghosts appears to have found its audience for now, even if he won’t be among them. On the evidence of recent episodes, it does seem like Ghosts will showcase its various characters with more depth as time goes on, but I find this set-up loaded with possibilities, in part because there are so many characters — and I’m encouraged that the writers don’t try to service them all every week, so there are entire episodes when a few of the ghosts never or barely appear. I didn’t realize there was a backlash against Jay (Ambudkar), maybe because I don’t pay a great deal of attention to social media, but I enjoy the character’s droll hipster attitude about being caught up in what essentially is a corny and farcical situation. To me, Rose McIver has a tougher job mining comedy out of the well-meaning ingenue role as she tries to find a balance between both worlds. Does every joke land on Ghosts? Of course not. But looking at the rather bleak and uninspired landscape of most network-TV comedies, at least Ghosts attempts something different.

What’s With Sasappis?

Question: How come on the new show Ghosts, the ghosts all reflect to some degree (e.g., accent, terminology, body language) who they were in life, except for the Native American. For some reason, he speaks just like you or me. This seems strange — why is he an exception? — Jeffrey G

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Matt Roush: An interesting observation, which reminds me that what I like most about Sasappis (Román Zaragoza) is that he refutes the stereotype of the solemn “noble native” with his wry, snarky line readings. Maybe because he’s one of the younger-in-spirit ghosts, he has been able to adapt to the changing times over the centuries — it’s already been shown that he’s addicted to trashy reality TV — and that’s reflected in his more modern vernacular. Much of the humor of Ghosts comes from the disconnect between what we expect characters of a certain period to say and what comes out of their mouths. It may not always be consistent, but that adds to the comedy.

The Lunch Box Could Welcome Some Familiar Faces

Question: So Becky is stepping back as a partner at the Lunch Box on ABC’s The Conners. Hmmmmm, does anybody else besides me think this might be a great time to bring back previous fan favorites like Leon (Martin Mull) and Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) to help Jackie run the place? Barring that, I hear Jackie has a nephew she hardly ever gets to see anymore? — Ken K, Gettysburg, PA

Matt Roush: It couldn’t hurt to reach back to the Roseanne era from time to time, and these were wonderful characters, so this would have my blessing.

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And Finally …

Question: Do you have any news about the renewal of Making It? I recently discovered this show and binge-watched all three seasons (well worth the price to buy seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon). The Makers are incredibly talented, and even though it is a competition, they encourage — and sometimes assist — one another. I hope more people discover this gem. — Deanna, Raleigh, N.C.

Matt Roush: No official word yet on a fourth season, but I’m hopeful, and fairly confident, that there will be one. The show is still listed as active on NBC’s press site, and a Baking It spinoff will begin streaming on Peacock next month. So it would appear that NBC is still eager to stay in business with Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman & Co. on this charming series, which is perfect for the off-season but would also be right at home during the regular TV year.

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.)