Nearly half a year has passed since the last time a new episode of NCIS or its Hawai’i-set spinoff aired on CBS due to the WGA writers strike and SAG-AFTRA actors strike, but NCIS: Sydney has finally premiered in the 2023 TV schedule to bring the action back to primetime. CBS has gone all-out on advertising the new show, including airing commercials upside down and building plenty of hype. Now that the series premiere has debuted, I loved getting a laugh out of a subtle joke early in the episode, but also found myself thinking that something needs to change if the show is going to last.
What Happened In NCIS: Sydney’s Premiere
Called “Gone Fission,” the NCIS: Sydney premiere had to not only tell a compelling story, but also establish how exactly an NCIS show was going to work set an ocean away from the continental United States. NCIS Special Agent Captain Michelle Mackey (Olivia Swann) and Australian Federal Police Liaison Officer Sergeant Jim ‘JD’ Dempsey (Todd Lasance) led the investigation into the death of an American seaman, with no small amount of tension. Mackey wanted to be in charge since the death was of an American; JD wanted to be in charge since he died in Sydney Harbour.
Their respective bosses decided to put Mackey in charge, and the case quickly became complicated when the team discovered that there was a lot more to the dead man than initially appeared, and he was only the first to die. By the end, they’d uncovered a sleeper cell dedicated to penetrating the United States’ nuclear secrets, and the sleeper cell got dangerously close to pulling off their mission.
Mackey and JD got a well-earned “congratulations” after they disobeyed orders to dig into elements of the case that didn’t make sense, but were less enthusiastic when they learned that their bosses were so impressed that they wanted to establish an ongoing NCIS/AFP team in Sydney. They’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, and the foundation is set for the franchise’s newest entry.
The CSI Joke
The case that introduced NCIS: Sydney was pretty intense, and the show had enough to do in setting up the show without focusing too much on humor. Still, there were some fun meta jokes, including the back-and-forth between Mackey and JD about NCIS, with Olivia Swann’s character saying “NCIS: Sydney” has “got a certain ring to it.” What’s not to love about a self-aware TV show?
The first moment that got a laugh from me was much earlier on, however, and pretty subtle. After Mackey and NCIS Special Agent DeShawn Jackson (Sean Sagar) were introduced to the AFP characters, forensic pathologist Dr. Roy Penrose (William McInnes) said:
Well, I’m Dr. Roy Penrose. I’m a forensic pathologist. I am indentured to the AFP while I wait for my retirement or death, whichever comes first. Is there something I can do for you, Agent Ma-kai of the CSI?
It’s hard to say if Penrose deliberately mispronounced Mackey’s name or said “CSI” instead of “NCIS,” but I got a kick out of it! The only CBS TV franchise that could really rival NCIS would be CSI, which began back in 2000 with the original series, launched no fewer than four spinoffs, and is continuing in the 2024 TV schedule with CSI: Vegas Season 3.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a day a couple decades ago when I might have confused NCIS and CSI, so the understated joke in the “Gone Fission” premiere not only worked for me, but immediately made Penrose a contender for my favorite NCIS: Sydney character.
What Already Needs To Change
While I enjoyed the first episode of the newest NCIS show, something was bugging me that didn’t really register until the very end. Mackey going rogue was essential to saving the day and certainly exciting to watch, but I don’t think it’s sustainable if NCIS: Sydney decides to continue cracking cases by having her break the rules, consequences be damned… especially if there aren’t really any consequences.
I was annoyed on the young sailor’s behalf when Mackey tricked him into thinking he had to let them on board the ship, since he would have been punished for doing so. Of course, he was shot dead moments later, so a reprimand wasn’t exactly going to be a problem.
Still, every time she broke a major rule in the pilot, I found myself thinking that NCIS: Sydney was lowering its own stakes by letting her get away with it. Why should we worry if she does it in the future, if there were no consequences in the first episode? She didn’t have to be pushed to a point of going too far, so it just wasn’t that interesting when she kept doing it.
Now that her work with JD and the rest impressed the bosses in the U.S. and Australia, they should presumably have the resources and access to do their jobs without breaking rules en masse, so this issue really may not even exist beyond the series premiere. And I do cut slack when it comes to pilots, since they have to cram a lot in to set up and sell a series.
I’m hoping that Sydney will show more layers to Mackey as the episodes continue, because I do like the character and Olivia Swann in the role. She has a fun dynamic with Todd Lasance as JD, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next as franchise fans wait for NCIS and NCIS: Hawai’i to return in CBS’ winter 2024 lineup.
See what’s next for Mackey, JD, and the rest with new episodes of NCIS: Sydney on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. The case of the week wasn’t 100% closed, as the team definitely wasn’t buying the official story about what caused the explosion that may or may not have killed off the sleeper cell.
It’ll be interesting to see if this show is more serialized than other shows in the franchise. NCIS historically has moved from case to case to case most of the time, with perhaps one or two major serialized stories to revisit throughout a season. For now, you can always revisit earlier episodes of NCIS and NCIS: Hawai’i streaming via Paramount+ subscription, as well as every episode of Sydney that has aired so far.