Why ‘NCIS: LA’ Has Procedural Dramas’ Best Christmas Episodes 

NCIS Los Angeles Christmas Season 9 Kensi Deeks Eric Nell
Monty Brinton/CBS

When you think the holidays, chances are you don’t also think explosions, shootouts, and a city in peril. Instead, you probably expect good cheer, kisses (possibly under the mistletoe), gift exchanges, and office parties. Well, NCIS: Los Angeles has all of that, which is why it has established itself, especially in recent years, as the procedural with the best Christmas episodes.

Some of the series’ best and most memorable installments have been its last ones for December. Whether it’s Sam (LL Cool J) trying to do something for his family, Kensi (Daniela Ruah) and Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) taking a major step forward, or everyone gathering for a memorable office party that plays out twice, we always know that hour will not disappoint.

But what makes these episodes so good? We take a look.

The Case Is Secondary

Yes, there’s still a case to solve, and it’s not like there haven’t been some major threats to the city in these episodes. But somehow, the cases still seem to take a backseat to the personal storylines when this time of the year comes around, and it’s done in a way that works so well.

For example, the investigation in Season 12’s “If the Fates Allow” puts Callen’s (Chris O’Donnell) foster brother and his wife in the line of fire, but it’s the character work for the agent and his relationship with someone from his past that takes center stage. (Even the way the bad guy is taken down makes that evident: Callen’s foster brother knocks him out with an oxygen tank, no fight required.)

Densi, Finally!

Who can forget Kensi and Deeks finally getting together and going all in on the ice rink in Season 6’s “Humbug”? (And we can’t forget how they then think no one knows about them for several episodes after they kiss maybe 15 feet away from Callen, Sam, and the entire Hanna family.) It was a Christmas gift for the fans, one that came a year after a phone call from Kensi in Afghanistan was one for Deeks.

Kensi Deeks NCIS Los Angeles Densi Gets Together Humbug

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

That comes after the two discussed spending the holiday together (before the “all in” conversation in that episode) and not for the first time (Season 4’s “Free Ride”). And since “Humbug,” we hear about their holiday plans or get at least something “Densi”; this season, they are planning their future, are getting their dream house, and have received a Christmas miracle from Hetty (Linda Hunt) in the form of Deeks going to the academy to become an agent.

The Team as a Family

One through line on a lot of procedurals is the sell that the team/unit is a family. But on NCIS: LA, we see that’s truly the case, especially when it comes to celebrating the holidays. Kensi and Deeks talk about spending Christmas together before they’re a couple, the office parties make it clear they’re not just coworkers, and Sam invites Kensi and Deeks (and their mothers) over to join his family (Season 7’s “Cancel Christmas”).

Speaking of office parties, as Kensi’s recovering from her partial paralysis in Season 8, she worries about Anna (Bar Paly) taking her spot on the team, leading to her imagining a somewhat humorous catfight breaking out over the cookies and eggnog. But the reality in “Tidings We Bring” is that no one can replace Kensi, as Anna makes clear and everyone knows.

The Team’s Families

It’s not often that we see the team’s family members, but Christmas episodes have certainly been a treat in that regard, especially when it comes to Sam’s; his kids have come home for the holidays (such as in “Humbug,” which also includes his wife, Aunjanue Ellis’ Michelle, in a rare, non-case related appearance, and “If the Fates Allow”). Callen even reconnects with his foster brother in Season 12’s episode, and we wouldn’t be surprised if they keep in touch (especially with the agent offering to pay for his brother’s wife’s surgery).

NCIS Los Angeles Humbug Season 6 Sam Family Team

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

We’ve at least heard of (if not seen) the agents spending the holidays with significant others: Sam and Katherine (Moon Bloodgood) have plans for dinner and Callen has plans to Zoom with Anna in “If the Fates Allow,” and Eric (Barrett Foa) and Nell (Renée Felice Smith) visit her family before they were even together (“Humbug”).

All in all, NCIS: LA has proven that it’s must-see TV when you’re looking for good cheer in December. These episodes bring heart, love, family, and just plain ol’ feel-good entertainment for 40-something minutes at a time.

NCIS: Los Angeles, Sundays, 8/7c, CBS