In its seventh season, the naval police procedural NCIS has become the No. 1 program in primetime, so now seems like a good time to find out what makes TV's top show tick.

In its seventh season, the naval police procedural NCIS has become the No. 1 program in primetime, so now seems like a good time to find out what makes TV's top show tick.

Essentially, NCIS is like one of the Law & Order franchises, only sassier. (Also: all law, no order.)

As with any number of TV whodunit series, the Navy's police team works together to solve crimes, spewing lots of vaguely pithy commentary along the way. The plot twists and turns until the least likely suspect turns out to be the guilty party.

When they're executed well, procedurals make for pleasurable, if somewhat predictable, pulp - the TV equivalent of crossword puzzles and Sudoku. They suck you in, stimulate your brain a bit and leave you with a ribbon-tied resolution.

NCIS fits that bill, though it surely has its flaws. Aesthetically, it's a joke, from the cliche-ridden opening credits sequence to the black-and-white freeze frames before the commercial breaks. And most of the characters are more like caricatures, particularly the unbearably smug Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon).

On balance, though, NCIS is good, formulaic fun - comfort food for tumultuous times. As fascinating as it may be to stare deep into the abyss that is Mad Men or dissect every last detail of Lost, it's easy to see why shows like this one prevail.