The holiday season oft brings unexpected guests — as illustrated tonight on NCIS (CBS, 8/7c), when veteran entertainer Ben Vereen (Roots) guest-stars as Director Vance’s estranged father-in-law. Here, Rocky Carroll previews that prickly reunion and the Yuletide installment’s other “bold move”, assesses Agent Bishop’s pros and cons and ponders a trip to the Big Easy.
TVLINE | What all brings Vance’s father-in-law, Lamar, to town? Why now?
First of all, it’s pretty amazing that Ben Vereen was available to play the role of Lamar. And I think the holidays have a way of bringing out people’s need for understanding and redemption. Lamar Sutton was Jackie’s estranged father, an absentee dad who basically left his wife and kids and went on and made another life for himself.
TVLINE | He wasn’t even at the funeral?
No, he wasn’t. The thing that brings him back is that he has heard she had died, so he comes to try to make amends as best he can and possibly have some sort of a relationship with his grandchildren. Vance, of course, is very resistant to any part of this. He has a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that somebody can basically give themselves a “do over” in life, just leave the way this guy did.
TVLINE | This guy’s got some cojones, showing up and asking this.
He’s got quite a set of stones showing up so many years after the fact, trying to insert himself into this family. Vance is pretty dismissive of him, hoping that he will go away, but the guy is so persistent that finally Vance has to read him the riot act.
TVLINE | Yet I suspect a small part of Vance might think, “If the kids can’t have their mother, maybe I can allow them to have this piece of her family.”
I think that because this all happens during the holiday, the season of giving, it affects Vance in a way that normally wouldn’t be the case.
TVLINE | And the case of the week, some mystery illness — what’s going on there?
There’s an epidemic that unfortunately is affecting a lot of children, so it’s kind of a bold move on the part of the writers and producers to do a holiday episode where kids are [in jeopardy]. But you get to see everybody at their best. It’s funny, the fans always ask, “Which episodes are your favorite?” I always love the holiday episodes, because you really get to see everybody at their best. We do holiday episodes very well.
TVLINE | Speaking of “everybody,” does Vance have a take on Ellie Bishop?
I think the jury’s still out. I mean, she does fill a void that was there, but right now, Vance is basically taking his cues from Gibbs. Gibbs was the one who sort of said, “Let’s give her a shot,” so if there is any fallout, Vance’s wrath will be against Gibbs.
TVLINE | What do you think Vance sees as Bishop’s pros and cons?
Well, she’s NSA, so she’s analytical. She’s sort of the opposite of Gibbs who’s a great agent but he relies mainly on his instincts. He’s also not the most tech-savvy guy in the world, so having a new agent who’s of the 21st century is a plus. That said, she’s unproven. The analytical side is fine when you’re in the office sitting in front of a computer trying to solve a crime, but when you’ve got to rely on your physical skill and your instincts and you’re in a life-or-death situation, it’s a whole different story. But it’s a good piece of casting they did there [with Emily Wickersham]. I think the fans really took to Emily from the get go.
TVLINE | What are you hearing about Episode 250?
That still remains a mystery to me. But I’m very excited about the possibility of this new incarnation of NCIS [set in New Orleans]. The buzz is starting to generate about the spin-off, so I’m really excited about that. I’m just hoping that Vance has a timeshare in the French Quarter!