Monthly Archives: September 2010

My Ten Favorite NCIS Episodes

The NCIS cast

NCIS isn’t your typical action drama. Much more than it’s peers, NCIS focuses on the sometimes complex and always amusing dynamics of a team forced to work together in high-stress situations. It’s the perfect writing and character portrayals that make NCIS so much better than any other procedural drama on television.

When I started writing this post, I was expecting to simply highlight the five episodes that I enjoyed the most since the series began seven years ago. But I found my qualifying list of episodes to be nearly twenty shows long and eventually settled on a Top 10. But even that wasn’t enough and I threw in some honorable mentions at the end.

The show really doesn’t make any bad episodes, simply ones that are less awesome than others. From murder and espionage to terrorism and stolen submarines, Gibbs’ team is the best TV has to offer. So, onto my ten personal favorite episodes, spoilers and all.

10. Frame Up — Season 3, Episode 9

When the team finds a pair of legs on a Marine base, every piece of evidence points to DiNozzo being guilty of murder. After forensic evidence seems to confirm DiNozzo’s involvement, Abby works overtime to prove his innocence. Part of the genius of NCIS is the character development and this episode explored the dynamic between the entire team as they worked to clear the name of one of their own.

9. Judgement Day — Season 5, Episodes 18 & 19

For the purpose of my Top 10 list, I’m considering all two-part episodes to be one, albeit extended, episode. I never really enjoyed Jenny Shepard as the director of NCIS. She just rubbed me the wrong way (as she did many of her colleagues) and by this point of the series, she had become almost intolerable as she used her position as director to settle old personal vendettas.

Tony & Ziva process the scene of the gunfight

In “Judgement Day” Shepard ditches Tony and Ziva and goes rogue with Mike Franks. They end up in an abandoned diner where they are tracked down by four hitmen. Franks and Shepard manage to take out all four, and the team scrambles to explain themselves while Gibbs covers up the director’s death.

The team members are all reassigned to different divisions by the new director at the end of the whole saga which wraps up the fifth season. After what I thought was a subpar season, the writers sent Jenny out with an impressive shootout and wrapped up her convoluted story arc. I don’t know whether I liked this episode because it was a good episode or because it finally ended Jenny’s tenure on the show. She just never grew on me like all the other characters did.

8. Bait — Season 3, Episode 18

When the son of a Marine straps a bomb to himself and holds his high school class hostage, Gibbs volunteers himself as a hostage to get eyes and ears inside the school. The dynamic of the team gets a new look when DiNozzo takes charge of the team in Gibbs’ absence.

Gibbs figures out the boy with the bomb was not acting of his own accord when the boy demands to see his mother who has been confirmed dead. DiNozzo takes charge of the team in Gibbs’ absence and McGee eventually saves the day with some impressive technical traps.

I enjoyed this one because it showed the team having to deal with unnatural responsibilities. With their strong leader mostly out of the picture, the rest of the team is forced to trust their own instincts, rather than Gibbs’ and they come through with flying colors.

7. Under Covers — Season 3, Episode 8

In Under Covers, when NCIS discovers that two married assassins, who were fatally wounded in a car crash, were planning an assassination at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Tony and Ziva have to pose as the married assassins in order to find out who the couple had planned to assassinate and who had hired them.

Tony and Ziva pose as lovers

The episode lacked intense firefights, fantastic forensic work or any of McGee’s technical genius but was excellent for reasons other than what normally makes NCIS great. There has always been tension between Tony and Ziva, sexual or otherwise – and forcing them to pose as husband and wife and stimulate sex was fun.

Tony and Ziva really got to look closer at their chemistry together and the ending scenes showed that the two of them are a lot more fond of each other than they sometimes let on. At this point in the series they’ve only been working together for a very short amount of time, and their relationship will continue to develop with peaks and valleys over the next five seasons. But in this one, their dynamic was excellent.

Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo had been working together for only a handful of episodes at this point, but worked together as if they had been doing this for years.

6. Chimera — Season 5, Episode 6

The team is sent to investigate a death on the USNS Chimera, a top-secret naval research ship. When they get onto the ship, they discover it abandoned except for one dead scientist who died from viral hemorrhagic fever.

After the Navy refuses to read the team in on what the Chimera is allegedly researching, the team discovers that the ship is transporting a salvaged Russian nuclear warhead and that a mole on the ship’s crew staged a viral outbreak to clear the ship for a Russian strike team to come and reclaim the missile.

Gibbs’ team learns of the strike team’s approach and plans to counter them. They sabotage the Chimera, steal the Russian boat and escape with the warhead just before the Navy bombs the ship with the strike team still aboard to cover up any Navy involvement.

The episode moved along at a nice pace and really picked up at the end. The team’s escape from right under the more heavily armed Russian team was perfectly planned and executed.

5. Twilight — Season 2, Episode 23

Every television series strives for phenomenal season premieres and finales, and NCIS is no different. But where they do differ is they deliver bigtime when they’re beginning or ending a season.

At this point in the series, rogue Mossad operative Ari Haswari is on an apparent vendetta to kill Gibbs. Gibbs, Tony and Kate are forced into a gunfight with Haswari’s men while attempting to take the warehouse they think Haswari is hiding. The team gains the upper hand when Kate takes a bullet to her chest to save Gibbs. Tony guns down the remaining assailants and rushes with Gibbs to help Kate, who reveals she was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Kate is killed by Ari Haswari

As they relax and laugh off Kate’s near miss, she is shot in the head by Ari, who was waiting on a nearby roof with a sniper rifle, waiting to shoot. He decided that killing those closest to Gibbs is more of a punishment than killing Gibbs himself.

The second season finale is the only television episode that has ever made me cry—and it did so twice. Not even Smallville killing off Jonathan Kent could get me teary-eyed. I grew attached to the NCIS team very quickly and Kate’s death was sudden and completely unexpected. Part of this episode’s brilliance is how it is set up with the preceding episodes and wrapped up with the following ones.

It was an emotional episode, but one that was absolutely fantastic.

4. Yankee White — Season 1, Episode 1

There are some things that eventually develop into greatness, but NCIS came out of the gate at a very high level. The series opened with the team sticking Tony in a body bag in order to fool the Secret Service and secure the body of a dead Navy Commander.

Gibbs works with Kate, who begins the series as a Secret Service agent, to figure out how and why the commander died. Gibbs’ style clashes with Kate’s but the two eventually identify the perpetrator and Gibbs takes him down on Air Force One.

Kate resigns from the Secret Service at the end of the episode when it is revealed she had been in a relationship with a colleague, but accepts Gibbs’ offer to join his team. It was an excellent start to an excellent series that did a superb job at introducing the characters and their team dynamic.

3. SWAK — Season 2, Episode 22

Just like Under Covers explored the relationship between Tony and Ziva, SWAK takes a look at how Tony’s relationship with Kate has grown. This episode is the one directly before Kate’s death and sees Kate and Tony put in quarantined isolation after being exposed to the plague when Tony opens a mysterious letter containing a white powder.

Gibbs and the rest of the team are left to figure out who sent the letter while Tony and Kate are left along in isolation. Tony ends up being infected while Kate avoids the same fate and Tony slowly begins to die. Leading Tony to believe that she too has the virus, Kate remains in isolation with him as his health quickly worsens.

Her fondness for Tony is displayed as she and Ducky share a tearful embrace as Tony succumbs to the plague. Another emotional episode that once again proved that developing a show’s characters and their relationships is just as important as heated firefights and badass butt-kicking.

2. Call Of Silence — Season 2, Episode 7

Corporal Yost, a former Marine and Medal of Honor recipient who fought in World War II, confesses to having murdered his friend during a battle in the South Pacific. Gibbs believes that there is more to the story and works to prove the hero’s innocence. The team becomes very fond of the man and attempt to piece together what happened.

Tony unearths evidence that Cpl. Yost’s friend had been high school sweethearts with the woman that Yost eventually married. People begin to believe that Yost may have killed his friend so that he could marry the girl himself.

Gibbs, with a few tricks up his sleeve and the help of a former Japanese Imperial Army Lieutenant who runs a local sushi shop, helps Yost remember what happened. In a heartbreaking scene, Kate, Yost and the prosecuting Commander end up in tears. As Yost relives the scene, he gradually recalls that his friend was in severe pain from the attack and was moaning and yelling. Japanese troops were moving nearby, and the noise was putting the entire team at risk. Yost hit him in the head to knock him out so that he would be quiet, which accidentally killed the man, but saved the rest of the teams’ lives. The episode ends with Yost and the Japanese Lieutenant, once ferocious enemies, raising their glasses to each other over a shared sushi meal.

Call Of Silence is one of the most emotional television episodes that I’ve seen. Charles Durning does a phenomenal job as Corporal Yost and their are numerous touching moments throughout as the team bonds with him. When officers come to arrest Yost, DiNozzo reveals the Corporal’s Medal of Honor and the officers spring to attention in respect of the award.

This one had me close to tearing up, and I thought that if this wouldn’t do it then nothing would. But I would find out that the powerful writing of NCIS would get the better of me just a few months later, in this season’s finale.

1. Truth or Consequences — Season 7, Episode 1

Season six ended with Ziva leaving NCIS because of a breakdown in her relationship with DiNozzo. The sixth-season finale ends with Ziva being captured by a terrorist in Somalia and her fate in serious question.

The seventh season premiere picks up four months later and shows that DiNozzo has also been captured by the terrorist Saleem Ulman. The episode uses a time lapse formula and focuses on Saleem’s interrogation of DiNozzo. Under the influence of a truth serum, DiNozzo recounts the happenings of the NCIS team after Ziva’s departure.

DiNozzo & McGee interview a replacement candidate

In doing so, he introduces each team member and recounts their attempts to find a suitable replacement for Ziva. The team considers several qualified candidates, but finds fault with each one and eventually realizes how much they miss Ziva. DiNozzo reveals that while the team feared her to be dead, an MTAC conversation led Tony to begin to think otherwise. McGee, DiNozzo and Abby begin to track Ziva’s movements since she left NCIS and eventually place her on the Damocles, a cargo ship that went down in a storm off the coast of Somalia with no apparent survivors. Still clinging to hope that Ziva is somehow alive, the team tracks Saleem’s camp by following his shipments of Caf-Pow. But the NCIS director refuses to authorize a military engagement on foreign soil without first confirming Saleem’s presence.

DiNozzo then procedes to volunteer himself and McGee for a “secret fact-finding mission thingy that’s not secret in the Sahara” in order to confirm that Saleem is where they believe he is. The two agents allow themselves to be captured by Saleem in order to facilitate an extraction.

Tony held captive by Saleem

Saleem then reveals that he is holding Ziva captive by bringing her into the room, visibly beaten. He tells them that one will tell him what he wants to know and the other will die. Saleem returns after leaving briefly and puts a knife to Ziva throat ready to kill her. Tony quotes “True Lies” and tells Saleem he has 30 seconds to live. Saleem laughs and reminds Tony that he is tied up and therefore unable to kill him. Tony responds by reminding Saleem that he’s under the influence of the truth serum and can’t lie.

“Remember I told you my boss was a sniper?” are the last words Saleem hears before Gibbs takes him out with a killshot to the head from a nearby hill. Tony and McGee half-carry, half-drag Ziva with them out of the room and meet up with Gibbs.

The team returns to NCIS headquarters battered and bruised. The ride the elevator in silence and enter back into the squadroom. Everyone looks at them, including Director Vance who is standing on the stairs. Vance begins clapping and everyone joins in. Ducky and Abby are waiting for the team and Abby walks up to Ziva and draws her into a hug as they exit the elevator. The episode ends with Tony sitting down at his desk and making eye contact with Ziva over Abby’s shoulder.

I can’t truly put into words the absolute brilliance of this episode. Far and away my favorite episode, the work put into building up to this incredible peak was phenomenal. Michael Weatherly was incredible as the truth-serumed stall man. Truth Or Consequences had humor, emotion, drama, action and suspense. It was everything a television episode ever could hope to be.

Season 8 premiered this week and while it was very good, it had nothing compared to Season 7. I want to say that NCIS will never top what they did in Truth Or Consequences, but to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. I don’t know how, but I know they could.

Line of the episode: “Ziva’s not replaceable.”

Getting Back To Music

A few months ago, my friend was looking for a fourth member to join a band that needed a keyboard player that could sing and play some acoustic guitar. That’s basically what my music talent enables me to do so when he asked me if I’d be interested I said why not.

We had our first gig last week, playing at the Canton County Fair. It wasn’t a huge ordeal, but it was a good sized gig for a band like ours. We weren’t great, but were were closer to great than we were terrible, at least we were in my opinion. We could have organized ourselves a little better and we’re much better musicians than we are comedians.

Anyways, the fair organizers asked us back next year and we just got a request to play at someone’s wedding in March of 2012. Any gig’s a good one, right?

When I was in high school, I played around writing some music, but never particularly liked anything that I wrote. I got involved with other things in college and music kind of fell by the wayside. There was that ill-advised attempt to start an accapella band and one solitary music class, but other than that, I cut music out of my routine. And for me, that was a little unfortunate.

I missed it.

Church choir is enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t challenge me musically like the band does. I’ve improved exponentially on the guitar, have improved my vocal range and become a passable piano player. As a band we do a lot of classic rock and contemporary pop songs. But Justin writes a good bit of original stuff and I decided I’d try my hand at songwriting. And it’s harder than I thought.

Everything I write sounds cheesy to me. Maybe I don’t have enough life experience to draw from. I know my best lyrics come from things I spend a lot of time doing – mainly, the STRIPES parody songs that drew national acclaim.

Whether or not I ever manage to churn out something that becomes part of our set-list who knows? But just getting back into a routine that includes music has made me immeasurably happier.

Rebuilding The Big 12

This year saw a lot of movement in college football. The Pac-10 added two schools and re-branded themselves is hopes of creating a more powerful national image. The Big 10 moved further away from actually having ten teams, adding Nebraska as their twelfth team. The SEC deservedly decided that they were good enough the way they were and stood pat, having won three of the past four BCS championships.

The Big Loser this summer was the Big 12. They lost Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big 10. Amidst rumors of a complete conference purging they managed to salvage themselves when Texas elected to stay put rather than join the Pac-10. By 2012, the Big 12 will have only ten members. The Big 12 has really made some strides in the past few years towards gaining national acclaim. Despite a 2-5 record, the seven BCS championship game appearances are the most of any conference. They’ve produced winning teams, Heisman finalists and NFL caliber players. Losing Nebraska and Colorado hurts, but the Big 12 isn’t dead.

They can certainly continue to exist as currently constructed. Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M certainly give them enough big-name firepower to remain entirely relevant on a national scale. They’ve got enough regional rivalries built up to maintain the fevered atmosphere that has become the norm during conference play.

However, of the BCS conferences only the Big East is smaller than the Big 12 in terms of membership. While the Pac-10 and Big 10 have both beefed up to match the twelve teams featured in both the ACC and the SEC, the Big 12 is now ironically down to ten teams.

The Big 12 should look to rebuild and re-brand itself now, just as the Pac-10 has done. Reach out to both TCU and Boise State to gauge interest from those schools. Considering the flak that both schools have taken in recent years about their lack of schedule strength, joining a BCS conference could have both monetary and material rewards for them.

Adding these teams would create a football conference that could rival any conference in the country. It would also allow the Big 12 to realign the football divisions it uses. With Boise State filling one of the vacant spots left by Nebraska and Colorado in the North, the Big 12 could move Oklahoma or Oklahoma State out of the South and replace them with TCU.

Some may question splitting up the in-state rivals, but if the Big 10 can separate Michigan and Ohio State, any rivalry can be split. Adding TCU and Boise State to a conference that already features national powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas along with improving programs like Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Missouri would create a phenomenal football conference.

In regards to basketball, neither team departing the Big 12 takes with it an elite program, allowing TCU and Boise to replace them fairly easily. The Big 12 would use its current division-less basketball arrangement.

Losing Nebraska and Colorado temporarily hurts the Big 12. But the remaining schools have come together to save the conference and their next move should be to rebuild it

Fantasy Baseball 2010 – Playoffs Round 1

My 165-74-13 record during the regular season earned me the number one overall seed in the playoffs and matched me up against the eighth overall seed (Tug Z’Nuff) in the first round. Tug Z’Nuff and I met in Week 6 of the regular season, with me prevailing 7-4-1 but that matchup was long history. Only four hitters that were on my team in Week 6 are currently on my roster. Six have since been dropped and two others have departed via trade.

The results changed slightly the second time we danced, and I used a weekend surge to survived a mid-week slump and moved into the semifinals with a 10-2 victory. Nothing too unusual as my team stuck to the plan they used all season and rode to the regular season crown—dominant pitching and just-enough scrappy hitting.

Logan Morrison put up a big week

I lost home runs and stolen bases this week, won average and on-base percentage and barely hung on to runs and RBI. I made a couple of managerial moves that paid off big time this week, and enjoyed solid weeks from multiple players rather than a huge week from one guy. In a week where Dan Uggla was limited to three games with a groin injury and hit only .083 I managed only three homers, one each from Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada and Ben Zobrist. I made up for the lack of power by having seven hitter post OBPs of .385 or better and had nine players score multiple runs—seven had three or more. New pick-up Logan Morrison scored seven runs for me in his first week and Nick Swisher led my squad with five RBI. I won runs by one and RBI by two. Kosuke Fukudome stole my only base and Scott Rolen rebounded from some bad weeks with a .412/.545 performance this week. His power is still way down (only 2 HR since June) but he remains a run producer.

Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher both enjoyed nice weeks as the Yankees won eight straight games. They combined to hit .395/.444 while scoring seven runs and driving in eight with two home runs. Travis Hafner has a second nice week for me, hitting .300/.391 with two runs and three RBI. I knew his counting numbers wouldn’t account to much in Cleveland’s lineup, but his ratio stats have been well above average since I picked him up. Apart from Uggla, the only player to disappoint me this week was Lorenzo Cain who put up a .182/.250 line, scored one run and failed to steal a base.

King Felix truly is royal

After going 4-2 in the hitting categories, I needed only to split the pitching ones to advance. My pitchers did more than split, they swept them 6-0. They recorded four wins, a whopping seven saves, 63 strikeouts and seven quality starts while posting a 2.80 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. All of those numbers were enough to win each category rather comfortably. Wins, quality starts and strikeouts looked surpassable when Tug Z’Nuff picked up three starters to throw on Sunday, but only one recorded a quality start, none picked up a victory and they managed only seven strikeouts in over 16 innings.

Josh Johnson had a nice start this week in which he struck out 12 in six innings and Jaime Garcia and Barry Enright both won their starts this week, but the star was once again Felix Hernandez. He made two quality starts with a 0.00 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 17 strikeouts. In fact, he’s allowed just one earned run in his last 45 innings. He’s more than fulfilled the expectations I had when I used my second round draft pick on him. Not to be outdone by King Felix, my closers had themselves quite a week too. Feliz and Franklin each saved a pair of games while Aardsma picked up three. None of them allowed a run and I ran away with saves 7-0.

I activated IF Jeff Keppinger midway through the week and to make room for him I parted ways with my seventh-round pick, Nyjer Morgan. Morgan disappointed all year, experiencing a considerable offensive drop-off from 2009. I took him mostly for his stolen base potential (42 in 2009) and he had 33 for me this year, but was also caught 15 times, likely costing me runs. His batting average and OBP dropped over 50 points from his 2009 numbers and with him looking at being suspended for up to 15 games, I was finally done with him – leaving me with just 10 of the 22 players I drafted.

I also made one more move late Sunday night, picking up Cleveland OF Michael Brantley and dropping Mike Minor. Logan Morrison took a foul ball off his face and Nick Swisher is dealing with a balky knee, leaving me an outfielder short. I anticipate both guys will be fine in a few days at which point I’ll bring back Minor, but until then, I needed a bat to keep the spot warm.

The semifinals will feature matchups between division rivals. Murderer’s Row and Honey Nut Ichiros (both from Division 3) will face off as the second and third seeds while I get Division 4 rival and fifth-seed Whipple23. Whipple23 finished fifth overall with a 133-96-23 record and knocked off the fourth-seed, Angel Dust n Hoffman 8-4 in the first round of the playoffs.

We met just the once time in the regular season, a 9-3 win for me in Week 9. That week we split the offensive categories and I swept all six of the pitching ones. He’s since cut some hitters in exchange for starters so I’m looking at a disadvantage again in regards to number of starts. I have just one pitcher making two starts, and it’s a rather unspectacular one in Jake Westbrook, while Whipple23 has five pitchers scheduled to make two starts. I’m going to need Adam Wainwright, who has lost four starts in a row to bounce back this week while my other starters continue their good work.

With the 10-2 win, I moved my overall record to 175-76-13, nearly 100 games over .500. The first round win also assured me of a Top 4 finish in the league which qualifies me to move up a level next year to a higher-ranked league. But I’m focused on getting through the next two weeks first!

Curtis Granderson’s New Swing A Hit

For about a week into the 2010 season, Curtis Granderson looked like a terrific addition to the Yankees. He homered in his first at-bat as a Yankee and then hit a game-winning home run against Boston two days later. He put up a .357/.419/.607 triple slash line with two homers, five RBI and three stolen bases in his first week in Pinstripes. Yankee fans everywhere celebrated. They had their first true center-fielder since Bernie Williams’ heyday.

Granderson has improved against LHP

But the exciting opening act quickly gave way to a less than appealing second one, and Granderson saw his numbers fall precipitously to .225/.311/.375 until he hit the disabled list in early May with a groin injury. By that time, many fans had soured on the energetic center-fielder and Granderson’s struggles coupled with Austin Jackson’s otherworldly start for Detroit prompted calls for Brian Cashman’s job.

But Granderson returned from the DL smoking hot, temporarily quieting doubting fans by hitting .417/.461/.750 the first week back from his injury with four doubles, a homer and four RBI. But just like he did in April, Granderson slumped and all the concerns and worries about him came to the forefront again.

Through the summer, Granderson continued to struggle with consistency. His offensive performance in general was of concern, but more specifically troublesome was his dismal showing against left-handed pitching. Coming off his worst season as a professional in 2009, Granderson was showing little to no improvement in 2010, despite moving into a better lineup and a more friendly hitting environment.

After taking three 0-fers in four days against Boston in early August, Granderson requested that hitting instructor Kevin Long take a long look (pun intended) at his swing and make any necessary adjustments to improve it. Long did so, although both reported that only minor mechanical changes were made.

Granderson has moved his hands back

After two days out of the lineup, Granderson returned with noticeably less moving parts during his at bats. He went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk that day and recorded both hits against a left-handed pitcher. One game told very little, but progress was progress. Granderson had two three-hit games over the next few games and slowly inched his numbers towards respectability.

Since his extensive work with Long, Granderson has hit .288/.358/.602 with seven home runs in 21 games, numbers that are notably better than what he has posted beforehand. After Thursday’s game against the Athletic’s and lefties Dallas Braden and Jerry Blevins, Granderson is hitting .248 against righties and .247 against lefties. Again, not overly impressive numbers by any means, but a welcome improvement.

While his season totals remain unspectacular, his performance against lefties since he debuted his re-worked swing are utterly phenomenal. In 21 at-bats, Granderson has posted a line of .428/.476/.809 which translates to a ridiculous 1.285 OPS. In other words, a better number than Mark McGuire posted during his 70-home run season and a better mark than any National League or American League MVP since Barry Bonds in 2004.

Granted it’s an extremely small sample size, but Granderson’s improvement has been a very welcome development for the Yankees. Even more so as they’ve dealt with injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Lance Berkman, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher in the past month. Granderson has been an asset defensively for the Yankees all season, and getting his bat going for the playoffs would be an huge boost to the league’s top-rated offense.

His transition from the Motor City to the City That Never Sleeps hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated, but Granderson has played excellent defense in centerfield this year and has been a league average hitter so far in 2010. His rejuvenated offense only makes him that much more of an asset to the Yankees as they attempt to repeat in 2010.