• Post category:Television
  • Post last modified:January 8, 2022

CSI: Dead Men Do Tell Tales

csiIn the fall of 2000, a remake of the old thriller series The Fugitive (1963-1967) was expected to be a hit. It was what CBS believed in. Audiences couldn’t care less, but they did like the new show slated after The Fugitive. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation quickly became a sensation and in spite of its unrealistic portrayal of crime scene technicians (their jobs were somehow fused with the duties of a police detective, making them much more “active” in solving crimes than actual technicians), the show caused a spike in the number of students looking to become CSI technicians, and it spawned a whole franchise. The new Fugitive was dead after one season. CSI lasted an impressive 15.

Working the graveyard shift
Set in Las Vegas, the show introduced us to CSI supervisor Gil Grissom (William L.Petersen) and his team who were working the graveyard shift. Grissom had a special interest in bugs and was close to his second-in-command, Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), the daughter of a legendary mobster/casino owner. Other technicians at the shift included Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), Nick Stokes (George Eads) and the young Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox).

Over the years, personal relationships, careers and fates changed, with Grissom starting a love affair with Sara and eventually departing. He was replaced by two other supervisors (played in consecutive order by Laurence Fishburne and Ted Danson), but one thing was always certain – Las Vegas would continue to be exposed to serial killers, bombings and often sexually charged crimes, with a sense of humor.

Pushing the envelope
As the great procedural TV sensation of the decade, created by newcomer Anthony E. Zuiker and brought to its full potential by the cunning blockbuster movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, CSI pushed the envelope in terms of what was possible to show on broadcast television. Detailed graphics popularized forensic science and allegedly created a “CSI effect” on trial juries (they started demanding more forensic evidence). The show helped viewers understand the science better, but that also meant really getting under the skin of murder victims in every episodes in a way that wouldn’t have been possible on Quincy M.E.. A formula developed where the story was complemented by a few montage sequences in each episode where a technician would test his or her theory in the lab, scored by a pop tune or instrumental piece. CSI always tried to be informative as well as exciting and entertaining. However, much of its soul vanished in 2008 with the dramatic departures of Peterson and Dourdan; there was nothing wrong with Fishburne or Danson, but the show seemed to go on without much inspiration, merely because the ratings were still high enough.

At its best, CSI offered very compelling storylines (I have fond memories of a serial killer teasing Grissom over an entire season with gifts in the shape of creepy miniature constructions), a cast that seemed like family to us and each other, and it was a vibrant part of pop culture, so much so that Quentin Tarantino ended up directing a (great) episode.

When the time came for a final two-hour farewell, those days seemed long gone. It was still pleasant though to see Grissom back in Vegas for a literally explosive case that was mainly tailored for die-hard fans of the series. A sweet reunion for those who still cared.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation 2000-2015:U.S. Made for TV. 336 episodes. Color. Created by Anthony E. Zuiker. Cast: Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows, 00-12), William Petersen (Gil Grissom, 00-08), Laurence Fishburne (Raymond Langston, 08-11), Ted Danson (D.B. Russell, 11-15), Elisabeth Shue (12-15), George Eads, Jorja Fox (00-07, 09-15), Paul Guilfoyle (00-14), Gary Dourdan (00-08), Eric Szmanda, Robert David Hall, Elisabeth Harnois (11-15), David Berman, Wallace Langham (03-15), Jon Wellner (04-15), Liz Vassey (05-10), Lauren Lee Smith (08-09).

Trivia: Followed by another series, CSI: Vegas (2021- ), as well as three spin-off series, CSI: Miami (2002-2012), CSI: NY (2004-2013) and CSI: Cyber (2015-2016).

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