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Never Cheer In Sandpits

WTF? NCIS, Five, 9.00pm

The cast of NCIS, no doubt laughing at some private jokeOver the many, many years that we've been doing our best to tell you all about the many fine things you can find on your television box, we like to think we've done a good job of keeping you abreast of the top US imports. Every so often, however, there's one that slips under our radar. We assumed it would be a little low-key, unwatched show, that would disappear soon enough. How wrong we were - the ratings in America are strong, and even over here it's nipping at the heels of timeslot rival Ugly Betty. And yet, no one we know watches it, and we don't really understand what it's about. So we hereby devote this update to discovering what the fun NCIS is. (Standard lowculture disclaimer: this is all the result of a five-click Google, so we hold no responsibility for the accuracy or otherwise of what follows.)

First of all, that title. At least CSI had the common decency to elaborate on what its initials meant at the back-end of its title. So that's the first stop on our quest, which we're going to call "NCIS! (Huh!) What does it stand for?" A basic googling informs us that it stands for "Naval Criminal Investigative Service", which clears things up a little. We also discovered something of which we were previously unaware: it's a spin-off of JAG, another acronym-based show that we never watched. The plot thickens.

So, we deduce that essentially it's a crime procedural focusing on matters relating to the US Navy. At first we thought that seemed like rather a narrow scope, until we realised that you could level precisely the same charge at Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Footballers' Wives, if you judge them purely on the title. If we bastardise an old theatrical saying, there are no small shows, only small writers. And it sounds like it could be quite an interesting concept; especially since the trailer we saw yesterday in the middle of 30 Rock had lots of people running around aiming guns at people and making demands in a Jack Bauer-sort of way.

Cast-wise, we note with interest that this is possibly the only show ever to have featured Alan Dale in a main role without killing his character off. Yet. It also boasts Jessica Steen in a recurring role (which will mean nothing to a lot of you, but she was great in her guest role on the first season of Supernatural, so we love her). In the main cast, there's Michael Weatherly, whom we know for being in Dark Angel, also known as That Show We Only Watched Because Jensen Ackles Was In It. And to add local colour, Scottish actor and star of Sapphire and Steel David McCallum plays a character called "Ducky" Mallard.

So, to conclude, it's an acronymed show about a naval military police force with lots of cast members whose faces will probably make you sit up and go "hey, I know him/her!", and it's starting its fourth season on Five tonight. This may not be the most compelling reason to tune in - indeed, we haven't even decided if we're going to watch it ourselves - but never let it be said that we don't give the less-hyped shows a chance at the limelight every so often.

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According to Marxist theory, cultural forms such as opera, classical music and the literary works of Shakespeare all fall under the heading of high culture. Low culture refers to a wide variety of cultural themes that are characterised by their consumption by the masses. We might not be Marxists, but we do know we loved Footballers Wives. If you do too, you'll know what this is all about.

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