CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is on its 14th season. It’s been on since the fucking nineties. Clearly it’s doing something right. It’s also spawned off two successful sister series in Miami and New York, but the OG Vegas version is the last man standing. I’ve seen a few episodes of the program and much like all of the other CBS procedurals(with the exception of perhaps, The Mentalist), its success rides on the fact that you can drop in on pretty much any episode and you’ll see a crime solved, from beginning to end. That’s comforting for many viewers. Personally, I enjoy my crime shows with long arcing stories that weave season to season(See The Shield, Breaking Bad, Justified, The Sopranos). The CBS procedurals are very popular with the elderly crowd. Maybe it’s because it’s harder for them to follow a show like Breaking Bad and just want to see a single act crime drama every week. I’ve got nothing against CBS and the way they operate. It works gangbusters for them. I just wish we as a nation could enjoy more clever comedy and more intense drama. I don’t want to see what the Big Bang Theory looks like in season 16. So let’s see how Rob and Phil saw things this week.
I’ve never watched a procedural before, but I see why they work. It’s okay to be formulaic if you have a good formula. CSI certainly has one.
It began with cops finding a body and someone making a cringe-worthy joke—in this case “we’re stumped” as a response to a query about the origins of handless corpse. I’ve learned from memes that this is du rigueur for the genre. But from there it moves quickly. Everything, every offhanded comment and random observation leads to a break which propels the investigation forward. And every bit of evidence sent to the lab unlocks key information.
I’m curious what Rob, who understands the world at a sub-atomic level, will have to say about the science. While in the real world, it takes three weeks to produce toxicology reports for a dead celebrity, the results in the CSI world all seem to come at an impossibly fast pace. And they are all remarkably useful. There are no dead ends. I wish I were as good at anything as these people are at their jobs. And I’d love to get my hands on their image-enhancing technology.
Beyond the simplicity with which everything seems to work, my main complaint is there seems to be a great deal of interrogation without a defense attorney present. But, I suppose you couldn’t cram so much narrative into an hour if the suspects and witnesses were properly advised regarding their rights.
I really enjoyed seeing Ted Danson, Wallace Langham and Elizabeth Shue, who remains improbably attractive at fifty-years-old. By the way, I see the “didn’t leave Las Vegas” joke, but I’m not taking the shot. I like that the procedural genre employs familiar actors who have slipped off of the A-list. It has a similar appeal to the Senior PGA Tour—giving us a chance to watch Lieutenant Dan, Sam Malone, Detective Kelly and Ali Mills perform at a fairly high level even though they’re not playing Augusta anymore.
I like that the show keeps you guessing (kind of). They show you a pretty obvious culprit early on, but you know that it isn’t the real bad guy because there are 35 minutes left in the show. Then they show you another obvious culprit, but you know he isn’t the real bad guy because there are 15 minutes left. Another potential bad guy surfaces with seven minutes left, but you really can’t be sure he’s the one until the cable box clock reads 10:57. I don’t know that “he was gay!” qualifies as shocking in 2013, but I thought it an able twist in this episode.
I think what makes the formula work is that everything is delivered in slickly-packaged single-servings. Everything is neatly wrapped-up at episode’s end. Not only are loose ends tied up, but there is no moral ambiguity. The bad guy gets arrested and we are happy that he was caught—not only because is he a murderer, but a homophobe to boot. And everybody learns something, too. The crazy survivalist recluse realizes the error of his ways and vows to give his daughter a better life. You get a lot of resolution in a sixty-minute viewing. It is like the Brady Bunch with graphic autopsies.
Compared with other successful long-running dramas, CSI (and its genre-mates) certainly tastes like fast food to me. But that’s okay, fast food now and again hits the spot.
Once again, the wheel lands on me and I am chosen to watch a show that I have never seen before. This time it is the popular police procedural Crime Scene Investigations (CSI). As a person who is generally knowledgable about pop culture, I was fully aware of the existence of CSI and its offspring, but I never sought out the show. Part of my avoidance is my general avoidance of the CBS network, as well as my natural dislike of police procedurals. The only police procedural that I ever watched with any regularity was Law and Order: SVU, and that was mainly to laugh at the over-the-top ridiculousness of it. I suppose you could count Dexter as a police procedural, but Dexter had more season-long story arcs and you couldn’t really just drop in and watch an episode.
CSI has been on for a long time and now appears to have churned over the cast. I seem to remember a big controversy involving salary negotiations with the star William Petersen? Looks like he isn’t on the show anymore. I was pleasantly surprised to see Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue though!
This episode opens with a young man getting chased in the dark by someone with night-vision goggles. The camera then cuts to the young man’s murder scene, with the usual detectives wittily bantering over a corpse. This is exactly what I expected to see at the beginning of a CSI episode. They even managed to fit in a “I’m stumped” pun after finding the victim to be without hands. Oh, CSI.
After interviewing a friend of the victim, the police are pointed to the desert. Using a piece of the victim’s clothes, a police dog manages to find the victim’s blood at the door of an underground bunker. The cops go into the bunker and find night-vision goggles, hunting gear, and an ominous sealed door. One cop enters the door and finds what looks to be an underground house that for some reason has artificial turf as carpeting. Then surprise surprise, the cop has a gun pointed at his head and it’s none other than the Big Baby Head from Justified (Neal McDonough)! Now I am intrigued.
The police find the victim’s blood on his doorstep, on the astroturf, and all sorts of creepy stuff upon further inspection of the bunker. He must be the murderer, right? Of course not, there’s still 40 minutes left in the episode. Elisabeth Shue finds what appears to be a little girl’s room with all sorts of different sized clothes, so clearly Baby Head has been murdering women and keeping their clothes as trophies, right? And it wouldn’t be a CSI episode experience if there wasn’t the requisite finding of semen on a bed. And wait, what’s that, a noise coming from inside the walls? Oh my, it’s one of his victims, still alive! The next scene made me laugh out loud, as Elisabeth Shue is comforting this young girl that they found in the bunker as she is about to experience the cold horror of the rape kit. I haven’t watched The Soup in ages but I’d hope that they used Shue’s facial expressions in this week’s episode.
Now we find out that this young girl is not a victim of Baby Head but is in fact his daughter. See, I knew there was too much time left in this episode! Now we find out that this girl knew the victim. This then points the police to an army surplus store where they find a young man who knows something! They chase him down and he helps explain how the victim came to be without hands. Apparently he found the guy at the front of the bunker already missing a hand, so he cut the other one off and dumped the body, because that’s what you do when you live in the world of Winter’s Bone. The cops end up finding one of the severed hands and discover some DNA under the fingernails. Long story short, Scooby Doo figures out that the murdering ghost was actually the father of the first person interviewed in the episode. Turns out the victim and the interviewee were gay lovers and the father was none too pleased with this. An admittedly interesting twist that I didn’t see coming, but boy was this convoluted. Then again, aren’t most of these crime shows pretty convoluted?
I can definitely see the appeal of this show, and these types of shows in general. They do not take a lot of emotional involvement as each episode is generally separate from the next. There is the mystery “whodunnit” aspect of the plot that makes the viewer try to figure out which person on the screen is the actual murderer. These types of shows never appealed to me. My parents LOVE these shows and I remember watching Columbo with my mom as a child nearly 30 years ago. While I loved Peter Falk’s portrayal of the underestimated detective, I was never really interested in the intellectual exercise of trying to see if I was smarter than the person who wrote the episode. If that’s your cup of tea, more power to you and I hope you enjoy the blood and jizz of CSI.