Review: 'NCIS Hawai'i'

Post by: Rick Ellis 19 September, 2021

Unlike a lot of TV critics, I love a good broadcast television procedural. I rarely write recaps, but I wrote recaps of NCIS for years because I enjoyed the subtle myth-building of the series. And Mark Harmon's Gibbs is one of the great iconic characters of television.

But because I love the genre, I also expect a lot from any procedural. Not every show can be great, but I expect more than workmanlike. When I look at a series, I'm hoping to find some small moments of surprise. All genres have tropes - procedurals more than most - but the shows that can juggle the twin challenges of familiarity and freshness are the ones that I ultimately care about the most.

When I sat down to watch the four episodes of NCIS: Hawai'i provided to me by CBS, I didn't have any grand expectations one way or the other. Despite the NCIS name, the show was unlikely to share any DNA with the mother show. Both NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans have managed to have nice runs without having anything in common with NCIS other than the name. But the question for me was whether NCIS: Hawai'i could carve out a distinctive identity and be a show with a unique point of view and chemistry.

The answer to that question is "not yet," but that doesn't mean that you won't like the show. It is slickly produced, and there is not a wasted moment in any of the episodes. The scenes fly across your screen like cars on a NASCAR track, and unlike the case in a lot of procedurals, there weren't any awkwardly constructed interactions that took me out of the moment.



And yet, I am not sure that I can exactly recommend NCIS: Hawai'i. Don't get me wrong; if you're looking for a tightly written procedural, this is the show for you. But in a weird way, the show's slickness and familiarity also makes it feel a bit disposable.

Vanessa Lachey plays Jane Tennant, the first female Special Agent in Charge of NCIS Pearl Harbor. She's driven and good at her job, but she's also juggling the challenges of being a single mom. Is it wrong for me to bring up that these shows seldom feature a single dad balancing work and home life? There is the new guy struggling to fit in, the quirky science tech guy (Jason Antoon as Ernie Malik), the hard-nose local CIA agent who is hiding a tender side (Tori Anderson as Kate Whistler), the guy who is good-looking but doesn't know it potential love interest for Tennant (Enver Gjokaj as Captain Milius) etc. etc.

Every single one of the actors does a great job with what they're given, and there isn't a weak link in the ensemble. But there is so much thrown into every scene that it sometimes feels like it's an exercise in trying to see how much backstory can be crammed into a single episode. It's as if the producers recognize that viewers are drawn to the complex-ish character mythologies of the other NCIS shows. So they are going to try and lure the viewers in by dumping as much as possible into the script in hopes something will stick.

The other challenge for NCIS: Hawai'i comes from the Hawaii part. The scenery is so instantly recognizable that it is a challenge to shoot a show in Hawaii and not have it feel like every other procedural shot in the same places. And there are indeed moments in the show where you could drop the cast of Magnum PI or Hawaii Five-0 into the same scene, and they would look right at home. Things may change as the season progresses, but for now, the scenery works against efforts for the show to build a distinct identity.

I'm not arguing that you shouldn't watch NCIS: Hawai'i. But while it's smooth and goes down easy, it also feels a bit forgettable. I have no doubt audiences will watch the show, But as to the question of whether it's worth watching...let's check back later in the season.

NCIS: Hawai'i premieres Monday, September 20th, 2021 on CBS.






Last modified on Sunday, 19 September 2021 15:50