All 20 seasons of NCIS ranked worst to best

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When a show has been on the air for 20 years, it’s inevitable it has its high and low points. For NCIS, a series that began as a spin-off of JAG and turned into a franchise, it’s tricky figuring out which is which. But we’re here to try and do just that.

Every fan of the series has a favorite season, and it is different for each person. The most popular are also not always the classic early years of the series, but the newer episodes, which feature exciting, modern cases and interesting characters.

The best seasons balance unique procedural cases with some fine character work. Some years, the balance can be off as things can get too dramatic or hampered by issues. But when NCIS is on its A-game, it’s a fantastic show and even the poorer seasons can have some episodes that shine. So, as we wait for season 21 to arrive, let’s take a look at how every season of NCIS ranks and get a reminder of just how amazing its run as a CBS hit has been.

NCIS seasons ranked from worst to best

“Sturgeon Season” – Gibbs and Fornell (Joe Spano) attempt to track down the leader of a drug ring who supplied drugs to Fornell’s daughter. Also, the team deals with the case of a missing cadaver from the NCIS autopsy room, on the 18th season premiere of NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Joe Spano as Tobias “T.C.” Fornell, Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
“Sturgeon Season” – Gibbs and Fornell (Joe Spano) attempt to track down the leader of a drug ring who supplied drugs to Fornell’s daughter. Also, the team deals with the case of a missing cadaver from the NCIS autopsy room, on the 18th season premiere of NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Joe Spano as Tobias “T.C.” Fornell, Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

#20: NCIS season 18

This season was rough, coming right on the heels of the pandemic and that dour cloud hanging over it. It had the highlight of the 400th episode, showing how Gibbs and Ducky met. However, much of the season was just too dark, from the revelation Jimmy’s wife died in the pandemic to Emily Fornell dying of an overdose. The overall arc of Gibbs and Fornell investigating a drug ring didn’t quite connect and some cases seemed off.

There was the departure of Maria Bello as Sloane but the plot line of Gibbs losing his temper and being suspended showed Mark Harmon was already prepping his exit. There was the debut of Jessica Knight with the sudden exit of Bishop (and the revelation she was secretly working for the CIA) coming out of nowhere. Her goodbye kiss with Torres didn’t have the impact it deserved and her exit story was weak. NCIS season 18 was pretty much the weakest season, as it was just too downbeat for fans.

#19: NCIS season 17

The return of Ziva should have been a wonderful spark to a great year. However, having her without Tony robbed it of some of the fun it should have possessed. Seeing Ziva dealing with the team “abandoning” her (never mind they thought she was dead) was rough and even though she got a good farewell to reunite with Tony, it was not the epic moment it should have been.

The long-running subplot of Gibbs befriending a neighbor’s kid started okay but got way too convoluted as, of course, it was all part of a wider investigation. There was a thrilling episode of Jimmy and Kasie caught in a robbery and Bishop was affected when Torres was run over by a car. Christopher Lloyd also turned in a fine performance as a war veteran coping with mental problems. But thanks to the pandemic, NCIS season 17 lacked any big cliffhanger or powerful ending, so it started lackluster and just petered out at the end.