Alden Parker (Gary Cole) had big shoes to fill. He was tasked with stepping up in the absence of Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), aka the most iconic character in the entire NCIS franchise. To his credit, he did just that. Not only did he manage to keep the show running (metaphorically and literally), but he instilled confidence in a fanbase who may have been unsure about going forward without Gibbs.
The big question heading into season 21, of course, is whether Parker is going to stick around. There’s been a lot of time dedicated to his character, so the notion of him leaving would not only amount to a huge waste of time on the part of the writers, but it would once again throw the leadership of the show into question.
Is Gary Cole leaving NCIS season 21?
Fortunately, there are concerns to be had here. Parker is definitely coming back for season 21. Cole went into great detail about the daunting task of replacing Harmon during a 2022 interview with TV Insider:
"“They actually wrote a moment that was not just for the team in the squad room but for the audience when Parker said, ‘I know this is weird. OK, I get it, but we’ve gotta get past this so we can get the job done…’ That was a way for the [show] writers to send the signal to the viewers that yes, this was going to be different but also familiar because the show has been on for so long and has worked on so many different levels.”"
In the same interview, co-star Sean Murray described Parker as a purposeful change of pace from the personality and decision-making of Gibbs. “Parker came in as a very different character than Gibbs”, he explained. “I think we have something different going on.”
The notion that Cole pulled off a transition that could have been disastrous is shared by NCIS executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson. He told The Hollywood Reporter that he avoided making comparisons between Gibbs and Parker during the latter’s first few appearances, but knew they’d found their new flagship actor when he saw what Cole was doing.
“In the end, we hit gold with Gary Cole”, Johnson opined. “There were a lot of names bandied about… We pitched it to him that he was going to come in and wasn’t sure he was going to stay with the team, so that he didn’t have to feel like he was stepping into the shoes of someone who had been there for 18 seasons.”
Now that the character has moved past this transitional period, and is guaranteed to be the focus of the show for years to come, we will hopefully get a chance to see the character get fleshed out. There were flashes of the man he was prior to his time with NCIS, and even moments of anger and bitterness that were uncommon, given his usually calm facade. That’s the guy we want to see more of in season 21.
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