CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Series 5 Part 1 Review
Watching CSI can be a frustrating experience one that's made all the more acute when it produces a season like this one. Season Five could have been its best but is, instead, rather an ordinary one. There are good episodes - What's Eating Gilbert Grissom is an excellent episode that deserves to be thought of as among the show's best ever - and there are some very ordinary ones but there's also no way out, as yet, of the particular box that CSI has placed about itself. How exactly do you make an audience care for these characters when there's so very little to care about?
Regular viewers of CSI will already have seen how the producers have flirted with better characterisation but, frustratingly, how they've often pulled back. The end of the second season of the show saw Gil Grissom receive a shocking diagnosis - he was losing his hearing - but other than a mention or two during the subsequent year it was largely ignored until he was seen being admitted to hospital for treatment, which we can only assume was successful. The end of Season Four say Sara Sidle arrested for DUI and admitting that she had a problem but that, crisis or not for an armed CSI officer, was seemingly dealt with by two or three meetings between Sara and Grissom. Trust being enough to resolve any question over her suitability for the job. The relationships between Sara Sidle and Gil Grissom and Warrick Brown and Catherine Willows bump along as they've always done - Season Six appears to have put an end to at least one of these but not before the casting of some meaningful glances from Catherine - leading to this being very much of the same...good but not really moving forward.
The comparison can be made, of course, between CSI and Law & Order but where Dick Wolf really doesn't appear to have any interest in his characters - you can imagine him in a Joe Friday mould saying, "Just the facts, ma'am!" - Anthony Zuiker, Ann Donahue and the rest of the CSI producers have enough of an interest to reveal something to us of their lives outside of the crime lab. This season, then, looked to have been the point at which they'd up the drama and with Catherine Willows grumbling about a promotion early in the year, the producers looked to be preparing themselves to deliver. Things began to look up with the introduction of Conrad Ecklie, who worked the swing shift to Grissom's graveyard shift and who was promoted to being head of CSI over Grissom. There was the suggestion of a conflict between the two men when Grissom walked out during a dinner that was to honour Ecklie's appointment. This later came to a head with Ecklie breaking up Grissom's team but where one might have expected much more drama - Grissom and Catherine were now working different shifts - there wasn't really any to talk of. Catherine took Nick and Warrick with her but it's clear they wanted to remain with Grissom and the longer the season went on, the more she looked painfully out of her depth. Greg came out of the lab to work alongside Sara, who were both reporting to Grissom but where were the other CSI officers. Grissom picked up Sofia Curtis (Louise Lombard) from Ecklie's old team but of the rest, nothing. Despite how busy the crime lab looks, it would appear as though there are only these seven field officers...or is it that the producers weren't really that interested.
Without blaming them for diluting the concept with CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, the producers of CSI have now given us a show where we learn something of these characters but not enough. We see them work but only by interacting with a very small set of lab technicians, leaving CSI as an oddly distant show. And therein lies the irony at the heart of CSI - a show that, thanks to its use of CG, is awfully keen to delve deep within the flesh of its various victims but never so far as to understand its leading cast. An oddly distant show indeed and one that is increasingly unsatisfying as the seasons, this one included, progress.
Viva Las Vegas (43m03s): And they say that aliens never landed at Roswell? Maybe not but they have set down, a la The Happening by The Pixies, in Las Vegas and appear to have left a dead crewmate behind buried in the desert. As Nick and Sara investigate, Greg, now out of the lab, accompanies Gil to a fatal nightclub shooting, Warrick looks into the electrocution of a man in his bathtub and Catherine is assigned to the death of a stripper in a hotel.
Down The Drain (42m15s): Not the kind of thing that will be spoken of during the recruitment of forensic scientists, the CSI team hit the city's sewer and drainage system when, after a night's heavy rain, a body washes up. Investigating, they find bones and suspect murder but they're led to a house filled with high explosives. Meanwhile, Greg attends his first autopsy and has trouble holding it all in.
Harvest (42m15s): When a young girl is kidnapped outside of a convenience store whilst hitchhiking, Catherine wonders about her own daughter, with her worst fears being confirmed when Lindsay is also caught hitching a lift. When the body of the first girl is found, things don't add up - at the time she was lifted, she was already dead. Elsewhere, Greg's back in the lab to train up another replacement and Nick is taken off field work after failing an exam.
Crow's Feet (42m15s): Possibly the most ridiculous moment in any CSI ever...a plastic surgeon asking Catherine Willows, played by the considerably nipped-and-tucked Marg Helgenberger, if she's ever thought about cosmetic surgery. "Yes, and then some!", ought to have been her answer. Still, it's on her mind as she investigates the death of a woman from what appears to be the Ebola virus but when another corpse turns up, the trail leads to a health spa that's got some unique methods of slowing the aging process. Meanwhile, Greg, Sara and Grissom look into the death of a man whilst his home was being fumigated and whose neighbours also appear to have inhaled the poison.
Swap Meet (42m15s): Las Vegas swings! Or at least a little bit of it does as Grissom and Sara investigate the murder of a woman at a swingers' party. That she had sex with multiple partners doesn't make the case any easier. Meanwhile, Conrad Ecklie gets promoted in preference to Grissom and Catherine sees it as a way to make Swing Shift Supervisor.
What's Eating Gilbert Grissom (42m12s): Haunted by the reappearance of the killer from The Execution of Catherine Willows, Grissom leads his team in an investigation into his identity with the blue paint on the hands of the victims being the only connecting factor. As the anniversary of the execution of John Mathers approaches, Grissom is determined to prevent another death but is concerned that the killer may be a good deal more clever than his team give him credit for. Maybe too clever to catch.
Formalities (41m17s): At a dinner held to formally announce Conrad Ecklie's promotion, Grissom, who was due to speak in honour of his new boss, is called away to investigate the death of a high school student at a nearby hotel. As he is paired up with Swing Shift CSI Sofia Curtis (Louise Lombard), he finds that the dead girl was one of two that were kidnapped from a party in the hotel suite and that time is running out to find the other.
Ch-Ch-Changes (42m14s): When a woman is found dead two miles after she was stopped by the police, Grissom and his team find that she may not have been a woman at all. As the investigation takes Grissom into the world of sex changes, he finds that there are those who are not prepared to wait for the proper treatment before taking their new identity but that there are also those, which may include the killer, who are prepared to take advantage of them.
Mea Culpa (42m16s): Whilst giving evidence, Grissom is confronted by a contradiction to what he and his team have produced and have only a short time to prove the case. Meanwhile, a weapon that Warrick has submitted to the lab from a new crime scene accidentally goes off and Ecklie, who is sill not best pleased from when Grissom walked out of his celebration dinner, takes this opportunity to investigate Grissom's team, eventually breaking it up and promoting Catherine Willows onto the swing shift.
No Humans Involved (41m07s): Now split over two teams, one Grissom's and one Catherine's, the CSIs investigate two cases - one involving the hunt for a killer after a young boy is found dead, apparently starved, whilst the other is to determine who may have killed a prisoner in a holding cell. With Warrick taking an aggressive line in his work, Catherine learns that management may not be quite so straightforward after all.
Who Shot Sherlock? (42m14s): Greg is out on his final case before he can work independently as a field agent but has one that would stump even the mighty Sherlock Holmes...who, as it happens, has been found dead. Grissom involves himself with the remaining members of the Sherlock Holmes club to uncover the killer. Elsewhere, Nick and Warrick investigate the death of a man, killed as the jeep he was driving left the road and crashed. With Ecklie taking a keen interest, Catherine urges them to leave nothing open to doubt.
Snakes (41m46s): Catherine's team is busy with two crime scenes - one the death of a man in a van built for a wheelchair user, but who did not use a wheelchair, and the discovery of a decapitated head of a woman, inside which is a dead baby rattlesnake. With Grissom's team lending a hand, the CSIs enter the world of narcocorrido, where violence and drug use is glamourised and where revenge is to be celebrated.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has, unlike many other DVD releases, gotten no better or worse since its first appearance on disc. Anamorphically presented in its original 1.78:1 off a high-definition master, this fifth season of CSI looks very good indeed with rich colours, an impressive amount of detail and capable of handling the frequent switch between the bright sun of the desert to the darkness of the CSI labs without any problems. However, being of a standard with the earlier releases, this isn't anything than you won't, should you already own a CSI set, have seen before.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVDs is a clear improvement over the NICAM stereo of the broadcast versions with clear use of the rear channels and subwoofer that brings the viewer into the action. If there's a problem, it's that no episode really stands out but, then again, this shows a consistent approach that serves the show well on DVD.
Commentaries: There are five on the discs, spread out fairly evenly across the set. As is typical of earlier CSI sets, series producers Danny Cannon and Carol Mendelsohn - it's either them or their co-producers Ann Donahue and Anthony Zuiker - open the extras with a commentary on the first episode in the box, Viva Las Vegas. That's followed by commentaries on Down The Drain (Ken Fink and Naren Shanker), Formalities (Dustin Lee Abraham and Naren Shanker), Who Shot Sherlock (Rich Catalani, Ken Fink and David Rambo) and Snakes (Richard J Lewis, Dustin Lee Abraham and George Eads), which, if you're familiar with these sets, are a decent mix of the technical and the trivial. Oftentimes, the producers, writers and directors will explain some background to each episode whereas the researchers will explain how an actual crime scene would be read and recorded by a forensic scientist. George Eads, in the manner of any actor who appears in a CSI commentary, is game for the talk of brain spatter but, in the end, sounds slightly out of his depth. In all, they're not a bad listen but there's never a great deal of fun to be had with them, whereas in the manner of Eads, a cast commentary might be a good deal lighter than one featuring only the producers.
Maintaining The Accuracy (10m55s): Interviews with the CSI researchers and producers as well as the criminologists and experts that they use to give some factual basis to the show are peppered throughout this feature, which sees them admitting, possibly for the first time, where reality is stretched. In the words of Forensic Pathologist Dr Gary Telgenhoff and Criminalist Daniel Holstein, both of whom are advisors to the show, it's a good drama but they've learned to live with the inaccuracies. Meanwhile, researcher Sarah Goldfinger admits to the wah-wah effect, whereby a test that ought to take 30 days may only take 30 seconds of the show. Anyone who's been left scratching their head between a viewing of SE7EN, where a search of the fingerprint database may take all night, and CSI, where it takes seconds, may finally be able to rest a little easier.
Of course, the most notable thing about Season Five of CSI was the Quentin Tarantino-directed finale, which I found to be disappointing, but looking at it in the context of this first half of the season, there's little that he could have done with it. Grave Danger, such as it was called and which will doubtless make the second part of Season Five when it's released at the end of June, wasn't a great episode but looked at now, it's easy to see why Tarantino might have struggled, with his 'Poncho' being his grasping for characterisation in a show that's very light on it.
With that in mind, Season Six, which is currently showing on Five, is the first time that I've been dipping in and out of the series. Add that I had already stopped watching CSI: Miami at the start of the third season and was a touch upset at someone switching on the lights at the start of Season Two of CSI: New York, this review has come from one who had enjoyed the show but who is now a little disillusioned with it. There are still good moments - the return of Lady Heather in Season Six was a particularly good one - but the longer CSI has gone on, the more disappointing it is that the characters haven't developed as one might have hoped. This fifth season is, then, not bad but not a great deal better than any of the four that preceded it and whilst it will be an essential purchase for those collecting the boxsets, it's not the one that I would recommend to someone beginning their CSI adventure.