Midseason report card: Did ‘NCIS’ season 11 survive without Cote de Pablo?

2013 is a very different time for television than 2003, namely in that there is so much more now when it comes to great television. Therefore, what may have worked to allow “NCIS” to be a great show a decade ago does not necessarily put it into the same pantheon today. There is so much competition now, and whenever you make a change that is so big that it alters the foundation of the show, you have to be sure that you are doing the right thing.

This is the primary question that you have to ask about the first half of season 11: Did they handle the exit of Cote de Pablo correctly? We’re not going to sit here and play the “what if” game, or question whether or not CBS could have done more to keep her (mostly because that is an entirely different conversation); instead, the subject at the center of this Midseason Report Card is if the show made the most out of the transition, and satisfied both fans of Ziva and those hoping to see something new with Ellie Bishop.

What worked – The final scenes with Ziva and Tony were beautiful, and remain the biggest tear-jerker that “NCIS” has produced all year. The first two episodes were among the strongest of the entire year, with “Under the Radar” and then the Christmas episode “Homesick” also being at the top of the list.

The other things that “NCIS” has done well this year are things that have allowed them to be a hit for as long as they have: They do a great job of routinely bringing back people who we have come to know and love on the show, and they also do a great job of giving them something fun to do. We also feel like the introduction of Bishop was almost as good as it could have been, given that the expectations for the character were almost impossible to live up to. We at least applaud the writers for not just making her into Ziva 2.0, or someone else to be with Tony.

What didn’t – When you think about it, Cote really only appeared in about 20 minutes of this season onscreen. When you think about the eight seasons of buildup that we had for her and Tony, that’s just not enough. We did at least finally get a kiss, but it was much later than anyone would have wanted it to happen.

Also, the cases that took place around that middle portion of the season, and even one following the arrival of Bishop, were rather boring. When you have a show that is such a procedural, this is so important to nail every week. We don’t think “NCIS” did that, and that in turn caused some of the frustrations surrounding Ziva’s exit to echo louder than they otherwise would have.

Overall – For a show 11 seasons in to be inconsistent on such a level is very troubling, given that there were some episodes this year that we loved, and then some we don’t even remember now because they were so boring. The great episodes help to overshadow the bad, but the challenge for the second half of this season is to find some stability. That’s where we are really going to know whether or not the Bishop experiment is a success or a failure. Grade: B-.

What grade would you give “NCIS” this season so far? Let us know below.

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