I’ve been with NCIS since ’05, when my dad walked into my room after the season two finale and said “you need to watch this.” I did, and since then have been hooked on the adventures of Gibbs and his ever-changing team. My love of the procedural genre has never been hidden, but NCIS is one that I love just a little more than the others, mostly because it’s one of the few that I get to enjoy with my dad every week…at least that’s what my phone bill says every 15 minutes between 8 and 9PM every Tuesday.

But my affection for the show has not blinded me to the fact that it hit a plateau around season five. It’s not that the show got bad in any way, but it stopped improving. Basically, it found its voice and decided that it was a good place to stay. And you know what, the numbers agreed with that judgement as it’s still the highest rated scripted show on television across all demos.

However, in yesterday’s season premiere, something happened. Something that made me wonder if Chas. Floyd Johnson and Shane Brennan walked into the writers’s room this season and said “you know what, they’re gonna tune in no matter what we do, so why don’t we have a little fun.” There’s an extremely fine line between pushing things to new ground and jumping the shark. And based on the season nine premiere, it appears that NCIS wants to try walking it.

The issue is that most procedurals that make it to a ninth seaason (which is rare in and of itself for any show) are usually on their way out as far as ratings go. But NCIS has yet to have a season where its final overall average audience was smaller than the year before it. In other words, beyond contract disagreements, the show is here to stay for a while longer.

Every character has been fleshed out as much as they can at this point. Everything you could possibly want to know about Gibbs, DiNozzo, Abby, Ziva, Ducky, McGee, and even Vance has been answered. So what’s left to do, just continue solving the crime of the week? Well, normally, yes.

Normally, a show like this would continue doing crime of the week while waiting for the clock to run out. That isn’t to say that the show would get stale, because what keeps people coming back to NCIS each week is the characters bantering with one another, but there’s no arc anymore.

And that’s where it gets interesting.

In the final scene of season premiere (in a move that I can only assume was done intentionally so that the audience would have no questions as to who the bad guy was), an over-arching conspiracy was suddenly introduced. Not a conspiracy that changes anything we’ve been through since episode one, no one was “meant to be here,” but a conspiracy that will definitely affect the future of the characters. Questions are posed that will take more than a single episode to solve. In other words, the writers said “let’s play with our toys now that we polished them all nice and neat.” Those toys being Gibbs and his team.

Now, this isn’t to say that NCIS is suddenly going to abandon the caper-of-the-week format (as the preview for next week’s episode indicated), and this isn’t the first time the show has had a season-long arc, but this is the first one that is this involved. The questions posed are ones that the characters can’t just forget about until it’s convenient for the story. And they’re questions that can’t not be addressed at least once an episode as we continue moving forward. Moments that occurred in various episodes of last season affected what happened in the premiere. Moments that I know 90% of the audience missed, including myself.

There’s no real point here, rather, I’m just making what I hope is a pretty cool observation – and observation that it’s nice to see the most powerful scripted show on television look at their track record and go “yeah, we can put this on the line.”

Want to read more Channel Guide? Of course you do.

To listen to the latest episode of Merrill’s TV Podcast, The Idiot Boxers with Kevin Carr, head over to Fat Guys at the Movies.

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