Ask Matt: Why Has ‘NCIS’ Turned so Dark — and Is Gibbs Leaving?

Mark Harmon Gibbs NCIS
Sonja Flemming/CBS

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.

NCIS Goes Dark—And to the Dogs

Comment: I’ve watched every NCIS-related show from their JAG origins. But this week’s NCIS episode is my last. While I am surely onboard regarding the horror of animal cruelty, I do not watch this show to give myself nightmares. I don’t know why the show has taken such a dark turn this year, but this is the last thing I needed after surviving 2020. Please remind the writers that the show is supposed to be “entertainment.” But whatever, I’m gone. — Connie

Question: Why has NCIS decided to abruptly kill off a bunch of minor characters for no apparent reason? It has given the show a weird vibe lately. — Shaun

Matt Roush: I addressed this recurring topic in a recent column, perhaps facetiously arguing that after a year like this, even an escapist action procedural like NCIS can’t help but face some tragic realities. If the show had somehow endorsed or exploited animal cruelty, I’d better understand Connie’s reaction, but we all have our breaking point, and soon enough I imagine NCIS will go back to saving the world from terrorists and solving cases with their typical panache. But to Shaun’s point that the characters of Breena (Jimmy’s wife) and Emily (Fornell’s daughter) died “for no apparent reason,” I’d argue that COVID-19 and addiction are valid concerns for any show to address, even if it does discomfit those who just wish to be entertained.

And What About Gibbs?

Question: Tell me it ain’t so about Gibbs. The show won’t be the same. — Phyllis, Riverview

Matt Roush: For a longer explanation of why Phyllis is so concerned about Gibbs’ suspension at the end of this week’s episode, check out this article. The bottom line: As in the past, whenever NCIS was up for renewal, there’s a ton of industry speculation on whether Mark Harmon will sign up for another season — this would be his 19th — and the latest story twist is fueling those concerns. I’d advise just to keep watching and see how it plays out, both onscreen and off. (I’ll repeat that this isn’t a spoiler column and I don’t know where the story is heading, and wouldn’t spill even if I did.) This could be a bridge to the star eventually leaving, or reducing his presence in the series, depending on how negotiations play out. But it’s a pretty clumsy one. The last thing I’d expect is for Gibbs to be written out of the series under a cloud. I also feel, like Phyllis, that NCIS won’t be NCIS without its leader, and it’s just as unthinkable the show would continue without him as it is to picture the even-longer-running Law & Order: SVU without Olivia Benson.

Why is Bonnie Such a Mean Mom?

Question: I enjoy watching Mom, but I don’t think it’s funny how Bonnie constantly puts down Wendy. It’s seems like bullying. Why do the writers do that? And why the actors also accept that?? — Eleanor

Matt Roush: You’ve got to have a thick skin to live in the world that Mom portrays, and while Bonnie’s tongue is indeed wicked — and not just to Wendy, but also to Marjorie, her own mentor — Allison Janney plays this role so masterfully that you know these barbs come from a place of love — and damage. Beth Hall does a great job of shrugging off most of Bonnie’s withering remarks — Wendy’s a nurse, after all, and probably hears worse at work — and Mimi Kennedy is just as resilient as the more grounded Marjorie. (I’m really going to miss these women!)

In the bigger picture, what you’re responding to is the style of hard jokes that comes off as insult humor, which is a specialty of Chuck Lorre’s brand and not to all tastes — just remember the sort of invective that flew out of Sheldon’s mouth on The Big Bang Theory. I’ve always felt that Bonnie needed these metaphorical punching bags so she wouldn’t destroy herself. You’d think marrying Adam would soften her up, and to some degree it has, but a nicer Bonnie wouldn’t be as funny.

Is Home & Family Coming Back?

Question: What happened to Home & Family that was on every morning on the Hallmark Channel? Is it coming back? — Roberta H, New York, NY

Matt Roush: By now you’re probably as tired as I am of this refrain, but COVID happened, forcing a production hiatus in January that apparently gave the producers an opportunity to rethink the series. According to a report on Deadline earlier this month, Home & Family will go back into production the week of March 29 and return to air April 5 with a new format that includes airing three days a week (Monday-Wednesday) from the original five.

Looking to the Skies for Answers

Question: Whatever happened to Big Sky, and how are we supposed to remember what happened when they keep airing an episode, then going on hiatus? — Laurel

Matt Roush: Once again, welcome to the TV season of COVID, which has forced many shows to go to this unfortunate “hiatus” model instead of airing straight through without interruptions. In the case of Big Sky, at least the break came at a turning point in the show, which resolved most aspects of the original kidnapping case, although psycho trucker Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty) is still on the loose — which tracks with the source material of C.J. Box’s Cassie Dewell novels. When Big Sky returns, scheduled for April 13, it won’t be that difficult to get back with the program, which will be introducing a bunch of new characters and presumably a new primary storyline.

In Defense of Grey’s Firehouse Spinoff

Question: I agree that Andrew DeLuca’s death on Grey’s Anatomy was excessive, while for a sporadic character I don’t worry. But I don’t understand the persistent criticism of Station 19, which is a beautiful series, dynamic, interesting, positive. It should be appreciated even just for the fact that you get out of the hospital and there is action. It allows us to see how first aid takes place, which always precedes medical intervention. It is normal that the two series often intertwine: Ben and Miranda are married, Carina and Maya are together, Robert is followed by Amelia and Webber. I certainly believe that Station 19 has given some dynamism to Grey’s world, which with the pandemic risked being too entrenched in the hospital corridors. What’s the problem with seeing two series instead of one? A TV fan should just appreciate it, right? – Sonia

Matt Roush: Even TV fans have their limits, I’m afraid, and while I appreciate your spirited defense of Station 19, and you make good points on how it differs from its hospital cousin, I do feel it’s a terrible miscalculation for the two series to be so interconnected that they can’t exist adequately on their own. Last week’s two-part crossover culminating in DeLuca’s death was an especially egregious example, and I’m still getting mail from viewers who were rightfully upset that Grey’s returned from its long hiatus right in the middle of DeLuca’s medical emergency.

And Finally …

On a personal note, I wanted to end this column with some happy news, so while we’re soon heading into that time of series finales and uncertain fates of others, I’m beyond thrilled that Syfy has given an early Season 2 renewal to one of my favorite shows so far in 2021: the hilarious and inventive sci-fi comedy Resident Alien. Bravo!

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.)