#2: NCIS season 9
Not only did this season have some great action but some excellent character work. Tony in particular got great depth, like the episode where he wanted to make up for his bullying ways in high school only to realize he’d been the one bullied. Meanwhile, Abby’s attempts to give her brother a kidney led to the discovery that she was adopted, shifting her view of the world and acknowledging Gibbs as her father figure. She wasn’t the only one dealing with dad issues as Tony had to help his dad out of a murder charge while Jimmy dealt with his judgemental father-in-law.
The 200th episode had Gibbs shot and gave a look at different ways his life could have turned out, from Kate alive and married to Tony with Ziva a spy to Abby and Tim together. We still got wild cases of terrorism, Vance’s brother-in-law being involved in a case, Ducky falling for the wrong woman, the gang trying to find a woman for Gibbs, and Tony returning to the Baltimore PD for an investigation. Best of all, Jamie Lee Curtis was a fabulous guest star as a psychologist who aids the team. It all climaxed in an explosive (literally) cliffhanger to cap off one of the best seasons NCIS has ever seen.
#1: NCIS season 3
To many fans, season 3 is when NCIS became the show we all love. It opened with the team dealing with Kate’s death, Sasha Alexander was wonderful as a ghostly Kate saying goodbye to each team member before departing into the great hereafter. That led to the introduction of Ziva; Cote de Pablo instantly sparked the show to a new level.
From the start, she and Tony had an incredible chemistry, while McGee started to move beyond bumbling comic relief. An early highlight was a brilliantly written episode with Gibbs playing mind games against a death row prisoner when an agent’s life was at stake.
A big moment was looking at Gibbs’ past, the first mentions of his late wife and daughter and how that affected him. The episode of Tony and Ziva going undercover together was a great romp while both Tony and McGee were in the hot seat for suspected murders. The show flexed cases from murder victims who weren’t what they seemed to spy cells, a bear attack, and a bomb threat.
Lauren Holly brought her own energy as Jenny Shepherd with an interesting dynamic with Gibbs. The two-part finale introduced Mike Franks and an amnesiac Gibbs trying to solve a case. With so much great storytelling capped by a unique cliffhanger, this has to rank as NCIS‘ best year for fans to get into.
NCIS seasons 1-20 are streaming on Paramount+.