‘NCIS’: The Moment When Brian Dietzen Realized Who He Wanted Jimmy Palmer to Be

by Suzanne Halliburton

NCIS star Brian Dietzen wants to play his character, Jimmy, a very specific way.

Dr. Jimmy Palmer is the chief medical examiner for NCIS. He’s brilliant, a bit socially awkward, and he idolizes both his old boss, Ducky Mallard, and Gibbs.

Plus, Jimmy, in the crime-riddled world of NCIS, wants to remain a hopeless optimist.

“It’s interesting,” Dietzen told Starry Mag in 2019. That was back when he took over for Ducky. “Once I realized this show might go for a little while, I wanted this guy to be an optimist. I wanted him to look at the glass and say ‘it’s half overflowing.’”

Richard Cartwright/CBS

Dietzen has 320 NCIS episodes under his belt. So he’s had a ton of time to work on and think about who Jimmy is.

“I figured if I’m going to be playing this character for a long time,” Dietzen said, “I want to step into those shoes each day instead of tortured shoes where I’m saying, ‘It’s hard to go to work.’ I love going to work. We all have our down days, of course, but Jimmy Palmer is a guy who says, ‘I’m ready to go and I’m excited to be here.’”

So, it’s Jimmy’s choice to be sunny, not an NCIS character flaw.

“It’s not about a naivety,” Dietzen said. “It’s about optimism and a self-fulfilled happiness. I think that’s refreshing. I think it’s certainly refreshing for viewers to see that on TV and I also think that, just for me as an actor, it makes it a pleasure to play.”

Bill Inoshita/CBS

But 2021 is a difficult year for his character. His wife, Breen, died of complications of Covid-19. Because of the tight restrictions, he couldn’t hold her hand by her bedside. She slipped into a coma and died. Jimmy never got to tell her good bye. It made it very difficult for this optimist to get over her death. It left him aching and nothing could distract him.

Breena and Jimmy married in the finale of season 12. He dealt with her death in the NCIS episode entitled The First Day. It ran Feb. 9. The agents realized that the always optimistic Jimmy wasn’t coping well.

Gibbs (Mark Harmon) finally pulled Jimmy aside and told his friend and co-worker that distraction wouldn’t work. Gibbs spoke from experience, having lost his wife and daughter. Jimmy finally broke down as he hugged Gibbs.

When NCIS season 19 premiered last month, Jimmy had to calmly give some bad news to Torres (Wilmer Valderrama). Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham) left the team and broke Torres’ heart in the season 18 finale. But she had Jimmy, not Torres, take care of her apartment. Jimmy had to tell Torres that Bishop disconnected her phone number.

Then Jimmy had his heart tweaked again when Gibbs decided to stay in Alaska and not return to NCIS. He and Ducky had a discussion about their friend. Ducky told Jimmy to be happy for Gibbs finding some serenity.

And for Jimmy, that was OK.