I've been a fan of NCIS from the beginning, but going into its ninth season in two weeks, I wonder if there is any creative direction left to go. Season 8 ended with a disappointing serial killer arc and the death not of a series regular but of recurring character Mike Franks (Muse Watson). Franks had previously been shown to be a superheroic survivor, but at the end of Season 8, he spotted the aforementioned serial killer and instead of shooting him from a safe distance, he called him out to fight. Later it was explained that Franks had terminal lung cancer. Is that any reason to pick a fight he likely wouldn't win?
Since Kate Todd's death at the hands of Ari Haswari in Season 2, NCIS became known as a show that doesn't hold on too tightly to its regulars. At the end of Season 5, Director Jenny Shepard made a last stand against three shooters (as a ploy to bring viewers back after the 2007 WGA strike). Since then, however, no regular's life or position has been in realistic peril. If you're going to threaten Gibbs, as they did at the end of Season 7, I say just kill him. That would be a bold move.
Another sign of NCIS's age is the frequent use of guest stars as the regulars' family members. Ralph Waite first appeared in Season 5 as Gibbs's father, though in Season 2 Gibbs told a mobster his father was "long past". Okay, he may have said this to protect his father. Still, in the past two seasons, we've had Robert Wagner as Tony's father, Gena Rowlands as Gibbs's mother-in-law, even Wendy Makkena as the deceased Kate Todd's older sister. And Season 9 promises Lily Tomlin as McGee's grandmother. Do we really watch a crime show to learn all about the characters' personal lives?
The last story arc that grabbed me was Ziva leaving the team to return to Mossad in Season 6. That threw everything she'd done to gain Gibbs's trust into question. I thought she might join NCIS: Los Angeles to boost interest. Things culminated early in Season 7, when Ziva cut ties with Mossad to become a full-time NCIS agent and American citizen. Natural stopping point, anyone?
NCIS has had unparalleled ratings success for a show in its ninth season. I can see it going for another two seasons at least, even if the ratings dip. I'm just afraid it may lose all creative steam before then.