CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Series 2 Part 1 Review
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has just finished its third season on Five in the UK and is one of the standout shows from the US that premiered in the last few years - a group that also includes The Shield and Boomtown. From our limited exposure to US television schedules, one struggles to say that these shows, alongside long-term successes like Law & Order and ER, demonstrate a resurgence in the quality of American television but they do indicate that, if not yet up there with the very best examples of British television, such as Edge Of Darkness or The Prisoner, the best examples of recent US shows are some way ahead of anything currently being produced in the UK.
The concept of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is that of a straightforward police show but one that only highlights the work of the forensics department led by Gil Grissom (Petersen) as opposed to following the entire police investigation. Whilst the police detectives are never far from the CSI offices or laboratory, the series examines the manner in which the CSI department research a crime through to a conclusion - usually one in which the police have been given cause to make a successful arrest by the evidence collected by the CSI team but occasionally, one in which the case is closed in such a way that is less than satisfactory to the relatives of the victim.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is, at heart, a wonderfully glossy and highly entertaining show about forensic scientists but it is also one in which crime is presented as attractively as the main cast. As writer Anne Donahue notes with a certain amount of regret in one of the extras on this DVD, murder is not sexy, cool or beautifully lit but it is here. She is, of course, quite right, but this is television as filmed by directors more influenced by Ridley Scott, and Blade Runner in particular, than the gritty reality of Law & Order or Homicide: Life On The Streets. The clearest indication of this intention is in a name found in the end credits - whilst CSI was created by Anthony Zuiker, it is Jerry Bruckheimer's name that goes furthest in explaining why the show has developed into being one where Las Vegas crime scenes look terrific and where murders are solved in a whisker over forty minutes. Your opinion on Bruckheimer will no doubt be coloured by your artistic and political point of view - the standard line is that his big, dumb blockbusters were but one more nail in the coffin of smart mass-market films and he has admitted his politics are right-of-centre with his latest series, Profiles From The Front Line, being a feel-good show about American troop deployment across the world - but his ability to produce an entertaining, if vacuous product is rarely in doubt.
Then again, where CSI: Crime Scene Investigation scores higher than many of Bruckheimer's movies is in cutting much of the appallingly leaden dialogue that blights his visually thrilling but overlong films - aspects that tend to counteract one another to produce very average films. Indeed, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is short, direct and avoids pointless sub-plotting. For example, over the entire three seasons that have been shown in the UK, only one investigation spanned multiple episodes - that involving Paul Millander - and there is only a handful of actors outside the main cast who reappear in multiple episodes, including Melinda Clarke as Lady Heather (Slaves of Las Vegas here as well as in Lady Heather's Box in Series Three), a dominatrix at an S&M club who fascinates Grissom. Beyond these examples, it's difficult to recall any others although mention is made on the audio commentaries of attempts to hire an actress to play a District Attorney but who took a role in another television series, after which the plan fell through.
The main fault of the show, however, is that by relentlessly sticking to a format that will be familiar to viewers, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has allowed a blueprint for a successful episode to develop and the worst of the episodes presented here lazily conform to this outline. Rarely will CSI: Crime Scene Investigation veer from this guide that it has imposed upon itself but yet...well, it still works and is really quite excellent at what it does with enough variation, convincing dialogue and genuinely exciting story lines that the sense that every episode can occasionally feel like the preceding one is counteracted. Much as the developed part of your brain can tell you it's all nonsense, your primitive side can't help but agree yet does so with the qualification that it looks and sounds great and there's sufficient quantities of gore to merit this an after-the-watershed time slot.
Of course, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation does have a small number of character developments that occur throughout the series, notably Catherine's fractious relationship with her ex-husband, Warrick's addiction to gambling, the hint of an affair between Sara and Grissom and the shocking conclusion to this second series that had great implications for Grissom's future, notably given form during Series Three in The Accused Is Entitled in which the whole of the CSI department is put on trial. Without giving anything away - those who are already fans of the series will know what it is to which I am referring - the series conclusion seemed messy and dropped in at the last moment during the run of the show on Five but in rewatching these first twelve episodes back to back, what is fascinating is the way in which it is hinted at throughout, done very subtlety at first but noticeably consistent with later events in this series and the next.
William Petersen as Gil Grissom gives the series a much-needed focus and his value to the series is immense, making Grissom a much-liked character despite having little empathy with the relatives of victims and in playing a highly intelligent man often frustrated by the inability of others. As good as Petersen is, however, Grissom could be too difficult, too prickly a character to lead a series were it not for Marg Helgenberger's Catherine Willows - a divorced ex-stripper with a young daughter who retrained as a CSI. Catherine is a more emotional investigator than Grissom, sometimes taking a personal interest in the crime and deciding on the guilt or innocence of a suspect too early in the investigation but she softens Grissom by a sufficient amount such that the two play off each other very well.
As competing CSI officers at approximately the same level, Gary Dourdan and George Eads as Warrick Brown and Nick Stokes, respectively play off against one another well but Dourdan's Brown has a better developed character courtesy of the scriptwriters, including his problems with gambling, being blackmailed by a judge and his clash with Brass, with the latter being well-played by Paul Guilfoyle as an abrasive cop moved out of his position as head of CSI in Series One, Episode One following the death in service of a young forensics officer, which he blamed on Warrick. The last CSI officer is Sara Sidle, played by Jorja Fox, who is an old friend of Grissom and who was originally called in to investigate Warrick after Brass was forced out. Finally, it is worth mentioning the character of Greg Sanders as played by Eric Szmanda, who is a young CSI lab technician with the hots for Catherine Willows and an all too obvious discomfort around Grissom. Series Four, which has just begun showing in the US, is appearing to take greater advantage of Szmanda and brings Greg Sanders into the main CSI group both to develop the number of characters in the show a little as well as offering more screen time to a funny and quirky character.
Each episode included on the DVD set has been included in the list below with a brief description of the plot. Where possible, I have avoided spoilers completely so anyone new to the series will find the brief descriptions useful in knowing what episodes have been included here:
Burked (42m13s): After the death of Tony Braun, a Las Vegas high roller and drug addict, the CSI team are called in to investigate the nature of his death - it looks like a suicide, with the boxes of pills that surround his body and the evidence of heroin usage but Grissom is not so sure. The team's investigation reveals that Braun's body had been restrained with duct tape and there are a number of strange marks on his upper chest, both of which fascinate Grissom but with Braun's past in the business of running casinos, Catherine calls on some old friends to find out more about the victim.
Chaos Theory (41m54s): When a young university student disappears from her dormitory room, Grissom calls in the entire team to investigate. Every piece of evidence they uncover reveals more about the student's life as well as a new suspect with good motive but each one hits a dead end. Under pressure from the student's family, Grissom becomes ever more frustrated with his inability to close the investigation until he comes up with the use of Chaos Theory to describe what may have happened.
Overload (42m03s): Following a suicide at a construction site in Las Vegas, Grissom investigates it as a possible homicide despite the Sheriff telling him to drop the case, under pressure from the owners of the high-profile site. Nick and Catherine, meanwhile, investigate the death of a young boy whilst in therapy with a psychologist, using nothing but the connection between her angora sweater and threads of the same found on his underwear to suggest a problem.
Bully for You (41m08s): When a student at a high school is found murdered in a bathroom on the campus, Grissom calls most of the CSI team in to investigate. When they find that the student, despite being portrayed as the class clown, was also the class bully, Grissom feels that they are looking for a victim of the bullying who was simply pushed too far and took measures to end the ordeal through which they were put through. Otherwise, Nick and Sara are called out to the desert to investigate the discovery of a decomposed body in a bag, who turns out to be an Army veteran.
Scuba Doobie-Doo (40m35s): Nick and Catherine are told by Grissom to investigate the site of a large fire and during their search for forensic evidence, they find a dead scuba diver high up in a tree situated near Lake Mead. Their first thought is of the urban legend whereby a plane configured to drop water on forest fires, picked up a payload from the lake that, unknown to the pilot, included a scuba diver but neither CSI officer is convinced the case can be solved that easily. Grissom, meanwhile, takes Sara and Warrick to check out an apartment in which the walls are covered in blood-spatters. Their suspicions are aroused when the girlfriend of the former tenant is found to be missing, having never shown up at her parents despite him saying that's where she was going.
Alter Boys (42m42s): Grissom, Nick and Sara take on the investigation of a murder suspect caught burying one of their victims but Grissom questions the seemingly foregone conclusion despite pressure from the homicide department in the Las Vegas PD, particularly when he finds the suspect is the brother of a convicted criminal. Elsewhere, Grissom assigns Catherine and Warrick to look at the discovery of a dead woman in a hotel spa, where they have to uncover if she was murdered or if it was simply an accidental death.
Caged (42m25s): Grissom asks Nick to assist him in the investigation of the death of a book restorer found locked inside a temperature-controlled room. Despite appearing to be a case of murder, Grissom is not entirely sure, particularly when their investigation leads to an autistic employee giving Grissom cause to believe in a theory of accidental death. After a train crash involving a 4x4, Catherine and Sara are assigned to investigate the site to discover if this was the outcome of a deliberate collision between two vehicles or was simply an accident.
Slaves of Las Vegas (42m35s): When a young woman is found dead with whip marks over her body, Grissom leads the CSI team in an investigation into her death, thinking that it was as a result of violence but their work brings them into contact with the underground S&M fetish scene in Las Vegas and, in particular, to a club run by Lady Heather. Meanwhile, Sara and Warrick are assigned to check out a robbery that resulted in a shooting.
And Then There Were None (38m54s): Grissom calls on Nick and Warrick to assist him when the CSI team are called in to investigate a robbery at a casino in which several innocent bystanders were shot. Grissom also assigns Catherine and Sara to a murder scene in an isolated part of the desert. Whilst they appear to be completely unrelated as the investigations begin, the evidence points to a connection but, whilst it remains tenuous, Grissom knows it's up to his CSI team to prove it.
Ellie (41m00s): With Grissom out of town, Warrick is given the chance to manage the CSI team but his first case turns out to bring him into conflict with Brass once again. Warrick leads the team in an investigation into the death of a con artist who was murdered soon after stealing cash from a group of tourists. Problems arise when the chief suspect is Brass' daughter and, whilst he removes himself from the investigation, Brass is still personally involved, which is particularly difficult for Warrick. As the CSI team's work continues, Sara is led into investigating a counterfeit charge associated with the murder.
Organ Grinder (39m52s): When a famous property developer and agent is found dead in a lift in a downtown Las Vegas hotel, Grissom leads the CSI team into an investigation that reveals that not only had the evidence at the crime scene been tampered with but that the body had been redressed. Despite this setback to the investigation, the team find that the murder was committed through the use of a poison but the work of the team is further hampered by the discovery that the victim's internal organs had already been removed, making the case much more difficult.
You've Got Male (42m16s): Nick and Catherine are assigned to what looks like a hunting accident but they begin to have doubts that the body is located in the same place as where the murder was committed. Grissom, on the other hand, calls on Sara to assist him when two bodies are found hidden within piping in the middle of a construction site. When the two victims are identified, Grissom finds out that they were sisters and that one of them was having a relationship with a convicted criminal who was present on the construction site around the time of the crime.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been presented in the aspect ration in which it was meant to be shown and that Five showed it in the UK - 1.78:1 via an anamorphic transfer. As a result, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation looks fantastic and Momentum have done an absolutely wonderful job in transferring it onto DVD. Regarding the show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a heavily stylised series that offsets the blazing sunshine and city and desert landscapes of the daylight scenes and the bright neon of the casinos and the strip at night with the grimy, musty atmosphere inside hotel rooms, houses or indeed anywhere a corpse is found. A good example of this is in Burked, where Catherine comes in from a beautiful sunlit garden to a dusty house with the television on and a dead body lying on the floor. The challenge for Momentum would have been to ensure the colour, brightness and contrast was handled correctly and to their credit, they have done a marvellous job.
Each episode is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and if the picture is good, the sound is a revelation. Five broadcast the series in NICAM Stereo, which provides a good soundtrack that is immediate and crisp but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track included here makes excellent use of the rear speakers with the sound being well directed as necessary and the extra punch provided by the subwoofer ensures the action scenes have greater impact, although in all fairness, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is not the most action-packed of television shows, a fact that is discussed on the audio commentary for Ellie, in which Anthony Zuiker discusses how to shoot a car chase on a limited budget. Once again, Momentum are to be congratulated on the soundtrack provided here.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been presented with a good spread of extras but does not, unfortunately, include an audio commentary on each episode:
The Who "Who Are You?" Music Video (2m33s, 1.33 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Pete Townshend wrote this song about an evening in the late-seventies after he saw The Sex Pistols play in a club and went on a drinking binge thinking that there was no way The Who could compete. Sometime the next morning, he was discovered sleeping in a doorway by a policeman who recognised the guitarist and the meeting inspired Who Are You?, which has found a new life as the theme tune to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The music video shown here has live footage from a recent tour by The Who intercut with clips from the series. Sadly, the song is not one of Townshend's better songs but is a fair enough extra when presented here.
Cast & Crew Feature (37m33s, 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is an interesting feature in which the cast, as well as creator Anthony Zuiker, director Danny Cannon and writer Anne Donahue, discuss the characters in the series and their favourite moments with extended sections on Slaves Of Las Vegas, Burked and Scuba Doobie-Doo amongst others. Whilst there is little real insight into the production of the series, there is enough information here to be of value to fans of the series.
Set Walk-through (7m51s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features ex-CSI supervisor and Criminologist Elizabeth Devine, who is now the technical advisor on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, walking the viewer through the crime lab and explaining what all the equipment in the lab does.
Audio Commentary - Burked: Featuring director/executive producer Danny Cannon, creator Anthony Zuiker and writer/executive producer Carol Mendelsohn, this is a good commentary enlivened by the contributions form Mendelsohn and Zuiker. Unfortunately, Cannon is reticent to say a great deal during the commentary but Zuiker is a talkative host and provides more information on the show than the director.
Audio Commentary - Alter Boys: This commentary features director/executive producer Danny Cannon and writer Anne Donahue and whilst there are a number of gaps in the commentary, it is evident that the reason for this is that neither has seen the episode for some time and are enjoying just watching it. Cannon provides a rather dry commentary but Donahue's excitement at seeing her work onscreen is evident and she makes an interesting host.
Audio Commentary - Ellie: Featuring actor Gary Dourdan and creator Anthony Zuiker, this is a lively commentary over an episode that is notable for the absence of both William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, whose characters were out of town. As Grissom asked Warrick to supervise the team in his absence, the choice of Dourdan, who played Warrick, and Zuiker, who wrote the episode, to provide the commentary is a good one and it's a good extra with few gaps.
Behind The Scenes At CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (9m55s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a brief feature on the activities behind the scenes on the show that includes the make-up and visual effects departments as well as an interview with the composer on the series who illustrates the difference between a scene that has been scored to one that is not.
Series Trailer (1m47s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a very short trailer highlighting the international markets into which CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been sold.
Computer Game Trailer (1m03s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): A computer game version of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has just been released in the UK in which the player can work alongside Grissom and the rest of the cast on solving a crime and this trailer illustrates the basic gameplay, graphics and voice acting, provided by the original cast.
As much as CSI: Miami is now gaining a few headlines, albeit for all the wrong reasons, most of which involve the casting of David Caruso, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a marvellous television show. I'm not going to pretend for a second that it's in any way a deep, meaningful or will provide a life-changing experience but it's a supremely well made piece of entertainment that puts the BBC's similar Waking The Dead to shame. That it plays on Five, getting audiences of a few million as opposed to taking the number one slot in the US from ER demonstrates that despite auto-tuning, the spread of digital television and remote controls, there are a fair few fools who find it impossible to move away from BBC1 and ITV.
The only problem with this release is in the way Momentum have broken the series into two box sets of three discs each and it would have been interesting to compare the revenue generated by two sets of 3xDiscs to one set of 6xDiscs, in the manner that Fox and Paramount release The X-Files, Buffy, Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation amongst others. I can certainly see Momentum's point in that a cheap box set is more palatable to consumers but it's still strange to see one season of a show come out a few months apart.
Regardless of that one issue, this is a very good release - looks great, sounds fantastic with a good number of extras. With a great cast and production values that belie the fact that this is a television production, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is highly recommended indeed.