Thoughts About the ‘CSI’ Franchises ~ Different Cities, Different Stars, and Varying Degrees of Quality

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on January 31, 2011 0 Comments

I have always liked the original ‘CSI’ program.  It wasn’t as if it was ‘never miss TV’ for me, but something I would watch if I was home at the right time and nothing else was on…that and I had a crush on Gary Dourdan.  In 2002, ‘CSI: Miami’ began its run after it was introduced in a very ‘special episode’ where a crime that took place in Vegas but had its conclusion in Miami thus the cast of one city met the other – much like ‘Green Aches’ and ‘Petticoat Junction’ had overlap.  At the time William Petersen (Gil Grissom) complained that he thought the producers were going to over saturate America with the hook (how crimes are solved in the labs) that made the original ‘CSI’ a hit.  Of course by the time 2004 rolled around the ‘CSI’ franchise moved to New York and thankfully the franchise has never branched to another city – ‘CSI: Rapid City’.  At the end of the day you have to wonder just how many plotlines can writers come up with involving crimes and the crime scene investigators who solve them?


                I’m just going to say it; neither ‘New York’ nor ‘Miami’ have ever equaled the Vegas version of the show.  Despite the reputation Las Vegas has as a ciudad, its ‘CSI’ has much better scripts and characters.  Even after Petersen left the show and his character followed his bliss to wherever wannabe entomologists go, the show weathered his departure well with the addition of Lawrence Fishburne to the cast.  At times the show has hinted Dr. Raymond Langston might have a darker side, much like they did when they had Liv Schreiber (Michael Keppler from Baltimore) for a few episodes in 2007, but thankfully the producers seem to have gone in another direction with the good doc or they have left the explanation with that his father was violent.  Perhaps the thing I really like about ‘CSI’ the most is that it isn’t really a character driven show.  It is the sort of network drama where you can watch at any time and not be lost as to what is happened to Nick Strokes (George Eads) four episodes ago and why Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guifoyle) can’t seem to let the issue go.  Granted, there is a little of that, but it isn’t a cop show genre of say something like ‘The Wire’ a show which I think is best watched on DVD collection or when it is shown On Demand.  You could keep track of the various characters and what was going on…besides, in my humble opinion ‘The Wire’ was probably the best show American TV has produced in the last twenty years, but it really took me having to watch it from the beginning to the last ending fifth season to truly appreciate the arch of the numerous memorable characters.  You really have to watch ‘The Wire’ like you are reading a juicy novel to get it, whereas with a show like ‘CSI’ you can do flips and fumbles around your home and really not miss too much of the narrative.  I know I’m painting ‘CSI’ to be semi-trivial which isn’t my intention because I think the series has taken on fringe topics, such as the furry fandom and their propensity to yiff, and sort of put these subjects out there for, I don’t want to write ‘national debate’ because that sounds too grandiose, but for casual discussion amongst friends. 


                “Remember how we were talking about people who dress up in mascot uniforms because they have a special affinity to non-real animals?




                “Well ‘CSI’ had an episode about it.”


                I wouldn’t have really given too much thought about the quality of the Vegas version if I hadn’t been watching the other two versions On Demand.  I have known that ‘CSI: Miami’ was one of the world’s most popular shows (at least in 2008 and before – I can’t find data after that year) along with the original, but I really never understood it, and I still don’t understand it because unlike Andy Dehnart I’m not overly taken with the lighting and overall look of the show.  Out of the three in the franchise, ‘Miami’ is my least favorite.  I think I could forgive the bad acting and illogic of some most of the storylines if it wasn’t for scenes where Lieutenant Horatio Caine and the other characters talk to witnesses and possible suspects as if had only seconds before maliciously drowned a bag full of kittens.  There is only so far my suspension of disbelief is willing to bend.  There was one episode lately where two ladies who lunch one pregnant the other not (in the storyline it comes out that she has gone to several fertility clinics) the expectant woman wanted the one with a barren womb to throw her a baby shower.  The friend was insulted and cried and then later the pregnant lady is severely beaten up.  Guess who got blamed?  So the Miami gang have ‘Ms. Can’t Have a Baby Although I’ve Tried and Tried’ at the station and they are unloading on her as if she is Hitler reborn saying things that were practically making me want to cry, I who don’t want children necessarily but even if I did can’t have any due to a once cancerous uterus, because they were so harsh.  Not many things on TV, and network TV at that, can make me feel as if I’m going through post traumatic stress without the event that caused the stress, but damn if that show didn’t do it for me.        


              Further, and I have seen this happen several times on ‘Miami’, what police person would EVER promise that they are going to catch a killer such as Horatio Caine does while removing his sunglasses and talking to the grieving character with his back to them?  Investigating detectives might promise to do the best that they can, but they can’t promise that they are going to find the murderer when all the evidence points toward the randomness of the event – the promise Caine gives time and time again traps his character into one dimensional storytelling.  I’m sure that anyone who has worked in any sort of system such as police work realizes pretty quickly that the actions of people are not black and white.  The only reason why the issues on ‘CSI: Miami’ are so good versus evil is because the writers, producers, and actors are l-a-z-y.  I think the average two year old can figure out the who of the who done it aspect of the show before even the first commercial break.  Listen kittens, it isn’t like I think the show should be perfection, I just think that it should take itself a bit more seriously and bump up the logic factor.  The reasons the show continually gives for motivations for murder are out of this world stupid; “She said I didn’t have what it took to be a roller derby girl.”   Really, half the time the criminals foiled by Scooby and the gang had better reasons behind their dastardly deeds.


               Before I move on, what about how the Miami CSI’s who are always at the right place at the right time for a crime?  Jogger needing help because he found a victim?  Horatio Caine for some inane reason is right there!  I wouldn’t mind the coincidences so much if the group acted much like their CSI colleagues in Vegas.  Those detectives sometimes draw their guns but they make it clear that they aren’t the first responders to a crime scene whereas in both the ‘New York’ and ‘Miami’ versions crime scene detectives are breaking down doors as if they are part of the S.W.A.T. team.


               Speaking of ‘New York’, I think the writing and the storylines are better than ‘Miami’ but the characters make me cringe.  With the exception of Horatio Caine, the ‘Miami’ crew don’t tap dance on my last nerves the way the fine folks in ‘New York’ seem too…Mayberryish to be believable tolerable.  There’s a character, Adam Ross (A.J. Bukley) that works in the lab who is supposed to be a bit high strung and dweebish, much like David Hodges (Wallace Langham) on ‘Vegas’, but whereas Hodges comes off as relatable, Ross is irritating – trying too hard to butter up the bosses.  We have all worked with characters like that so what makes CBS think we want to experience that individual during our down time?  There is also a couple with a baby daughter.  She is the no nonsense lab tech who hails from Montana while her husband is a native New Yorker with a golly gee disposition – I don’t normally make this observation, but I think I could take them both down in a knife fight. 


             I probably would have more observations about ‘CSI: New York’ if I watched it more, but I don’t so there you go.


             When I started to write this article it was with the pretense of look at how the young franchises don’t live up to the original, but I was shocked to find out that both shows have been on for so long, ‘Miami’ for nine years and ‘New York’ for seven.  What’s really interesting is that I think the ‘Vegas’ version has kept up its standards as well as its willingness to go in directions that haven’t been taken before.  How many network dramas would allow Quentin Tarantino to direct an episode where a CSI agent is buried alive?  Probably a lot, but it was ‘CSI’ where he did it.  You know, it is a far-fetched storyline, but the writing, directing, and acting was good; in fact I would observe that any show can get away with far flung plots if the other aspects are at play.  ‘Vegas’ has kept its characters reasonable.  It isn’t hard to imagine someone like Grissom working in a lab and fascinated with bugs, it gives him a nice three dimensional quality, but giving Horatio Caine a never ending supply of dark sunglasses does not make his character more complex.  I think the Dudley Do-Right traits in both Detective Mac Taylor and Horatio Caine serve their characters ill – Gary Sinise has producing credits for ‘CSI: New York’ I don’t know of if David Caruso does on ‘Miami’.


              All three shows are produced by Anthony Zuiker, who is known for little else besides the shows.  Before writing and producing his ‘CSI’ empire he drove a tram in L.A..  In 2007 Australia awarded him the ‘Big Brother Award’ in the communication and marketing category for the way rights of the suspects are viewed negatively.  “The CSI television series present computer surveillance, DNA-analysis and the overthrow of civil rights in an uncritical, trivialized and dangerously one-sided kind of way.” 



Westerfield © 2011             

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