The ongoing saga of cop shows in the age of “copaganda” furthers its absurdity at the NCIS front, a show itself mired in absurdity. After having left my job over the summer like so many Americans, I eventually went crawling back and now watch CBS procedurals again. But much has changed in these scant months. I come back to NCIS and Gibbs is gone! The man himself, Mark Harmon, is no longer pressing clipped sentences through his teeth and firing a gun. Who’s gonna take his place, I hear you shout, let it all out, because for some reason the show doesn’t end with his exit. The show never ends.
If I had my druthers — which I did hardly, because I only suspected Gibbs was gone when I saw his replacement walk in — I’d nominate Janina Gavankar, just because I think she’s neat, and she has done this before. She came in to replace the lead on Sleepy Hollow, if you’ll please recall. Of course, that lead on Sleepy Hollow was a woman of color like her, not to pull the race card too quickly. But I don’t suppose you call it that when you replace Mark Harmon with Gary Cole??
From Office Space??
Into the NCIS cube farm comes a grey-haired Gary Cole, five years Mark Harmon’s junior. But you know what? He’s good. The episode I saw made great pains to differentiate him from Gibbs, so Cole’s “Alden Parker” is sort of a SoCal guy, very chill, but professional. Interested in his coworkers. I like him.
It wasn’t until this one episode of one I saw that something clicked. In the way of the NCIS special agent, I was suspicious. Parker is telling a guy that it’s a father’s responsibility first and foremost to protect their children, offering a compassionate, soothing voice. And it struck me. He’s a father. A dad, even. That’s the whole thing.
Suddenly, Scott Bakula, two years Gary Cole’s senior, makes sense. And why NCIS: Los Angeles feels so rudderless, that protagonist gap unfilled by young men equals LL Cool J and the other guy, and the ostensible “mom,” Linda Hunt. And then there’s Blue Bloods, of course, centerpiece CBS brethren. What about aging SEAL Team leader David Boreanaz? Granted, the Peter Lemkov side of CBS bucked this trend, with Jay Hernandez as Magnum P.I. and a whole team of kids on MacGyver after a fashion. That one was like a less painful Scorpion, and I did actually like Levy Tran (big surprise) and Sandrine Holt (wow).
If CBS believes the workplace is family, which it almost assuredly does, then that workplace needs a work dad. And that’s… just so fucking weird.
I read an article on Jezebel recently where the author reflected on the passing on Sean Connery, and this passage was particularly memorable:
“The version of Sean Connery I loved seemed like the most capable, sophisticated, dangerous dad you could imagine. My Connery wasn’t unsexy— that just wasn’t the point. What resonated for me that is he always showed up when the lead needed a dad — from Highlander to The Rock…”
There’s definitely a persistent element in American pop culture — maybe the oldest element, like some dinosaur stones — that dads are the standard of proficiency in anything, but mostly the guy stuff that CBS traffics in. Clearly, it’s internalized even by a writer for Jezebel, and I’m thinking it’s had some adverse effects, namely the non-casting of Janina Gavankar. I realize she’s busy with things, but does that automatically mean that Gary Cole was at the top of the list? And that’s the problem with this whole thing: he’s good in the role, just like Bakula, just like Connery. How are we supposed to change things like this? We all need a dad.
Just think, what could have been