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TELEVISION & RADIO | THE FALL TV SEASON

The 'Navy NCIS' premiere could use a little humor to go along with the testosterone.

September 23, 2003|Craig Tomashoff | Special to The Times

Buried not so deeply inside the male mind, there is an unfulfilled fantasy that even watching Britney Spears and Madonna show some sisterly love on a national awards show can't quite satisfy. We dream about being the Tough Cop, that legendary, handsome fellow of few words who can relax at home listening to a ball game, then get called in to save the president's life by kicking some serious bad-guy tail and win the respect (at the very least) of a beautiful woman.

Which pretty much means we all want to live the life of Navy investigator Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the manly man Mark Harmon plays in "Navy NCIS" (or, spelled out, the redundant Navy Naval Criminal Investigation Service), a spinoff of CBS' long-running military crime drama "JAG."

He gets all of this done and more by the end of the series' debut, uncovering a possible terrorist plan to kill President Bush. Every week, it seems, he'll most likely save the world with help from his crack team of associates (David McCallum as wiseacre medical examiner "Ducky" Mallard, Michael Weatherly as a former homicide cop and Pauley Perrette as goth-chick scientist Abby Sciuto).

OK, so the premiere is a plodding mishmash of things we've seen before, like "JAG's" flag-waving bravado and "CSI's" techno-crime busting wizardry. And nearly all the characters seem so tense and terse, they should really think about lightening up with a spa day.

Still, whether it's watching a gun-toting Harmon hunting for suspects on Air Force One or hearing him talk tough with Secret Service agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander), who will eventually join his team, this is ideal viewing for all the guys who have the release date of the next Bruce Willis action movie written in pen on their calendars.

The constant macho dialogue, in particular, seems like something left over from a "Dirty Harry" movie. (As Gibbs tersely tells Todd the rules a good investigator must follow, she shoots back, "Should I write these rules in my Palm Pilot or crochet them on pillows?"

Lines like these are pretty funny, though probably not intentionally so. Instead of giving "NCIS" a playful touch, which could have distinguished it from "JAG," the writers repeatedly make every word and every situation as predictable as possible. Even the attempts to be hip and humorous -- Gibbs gets some shut-eye on a gurney alongside a corpse, the tattooed Sciuto loves to party into the wee hours -- seem as fresh and innovative as an "Adam-12" marathon.

Then again, originality doesn't seem to be the goal here. "Navy NCIS" exists simply to give its audience of Y chromosome owners safe television haven on nights when there is no ballgame or Clint Eastwood movie to watch. Not that there's anything wrong with giving guys something to get the testosterone flowing. Shows like "24" and "NYPD Blue" do the same thing.

However, the crime with "NCIS" is that it seems content serving up meat-and-potatoes television rather than spicing things up.

Too bad. Even the plotlines and dialogue on "WWE Smackdown!" offer fans a few surprises every now and then.

*

'Navy NCIS'

Where: CBS

When: Tuesdays, 8-9 p.m.; premieres tonight.

Rating: The network has rated the show TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

Mark Harmon...Leroy Jethro Gibbs

Sasha Alexander...Caitlin Todd

Michael Weatherly...Anthony DiNozzo

Pauley Perrette...Abby Sciuto

Creator, executive producer, director, writer, Donald Bellisario.

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