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The Gremlins Reference You Missed On NCIS

Since its debut as a standalone series in 2003, military cop drama "NCIS" has run for over 400 episodes across 18 seasons and counting, airing more-or-less continuously since its premiere (via IMDB). While the many stories told over the course of the series have generally been confined to single episodes or short arcs, the members of the titular Naval Criminal Investigative Service team at the show's core are arguably its primary draw. Whereas plot details often vary from week to week, the interpersonal dynamics between key characters benefit from their repeated appearances across large numbers of episodes.

An ongoing romance between NCIS team members Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), for example, is a fan favorite storyline that's no longer an active part of the show. Before the two actors stepped down from the "NCIS" cast, one notable trait exhibited by DiNozzo was a tendency to reference popular movies.

Among the many works DiNozzo references is the 1984 monster movie "Gremlins," culminating in a string of nods to the film and its sequel in the Season 7 episode "Moonlighting."

Someone fed him after midnight

"Moonlighting" is the 20th episode of "NCIS" Season 7. Its plot hinges upon a team-up between members of the NCIS and the FBI, which becomes necessary to investigate the shooting death of Naval Petty Officer Scott Roebuck (Andra Fuller). At one point, as cases involving a dead body often do, the investigation requires the expertise of Chief Medical Examiner James Palmer (Brian Dietzen).

Over the course of multiple seasons of "NCIS," DiNozzo refers to Palmer as "Autopsy Gremlin." This nickname notably follows the conventions of some of the titular gremlins in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" — for example, The Brain Gremlin is the film's primary antagonist, whereas another gremlin named Daffy is often also referred to as "The Crazy Gremlin."

DiNozzo's "Gremlins" references really begin in earnest, however, when he jokes that Palmer, being like a gremlin, should be kept out of direct sunlight. This is one of three rules, originally explained in the first "Gremlins" film, which are necessary for owning a Mogwai, the benign creature that can transform into a gremlin if one of those rules is broken. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) responds "don't get him wet," referring to the films' second rule.

Later on in the episode, upon noticing an allergic reaction Palmer experienced after getting a henna tattoo, DiNozzo remarks "dear god, someone fed him after midnight." This is, of course, the third rule of Mogwai ownership, bringing the series of references to a humorous conclusion.