CSI - The end is nigh?
Channel 5 recently screened the final episode of season 11 of CSI in the UK. It’s unusual these days for a show to survive so long. In the US with ratings even more important than ever (given the size of audience and potential consumers of advertised products) a show needs remarkable numbers to be renewed and even more so (counter intuitively) once it manages to pass the 100 episode mark – the point at which a show can be syndicated and shown on all manner of networks ad nauseam forever (or so it seems – just check out I love Lucy!). In terms of CSI it’s even more remarkable given its enforced changes to the show’s dynamic and cast-list (specifically the loss of leader, main character and heart of CSI Gil Grissom, but noticeably others such as Warrick Brown) and the fact that in reality there are 3 seasons of CSI each year with the Miami and New York spin-off series notching 9 & 7 years’ each (27 seasons of CSI – 626 episodes. Each one hour long; 42 minutes plus adverts). That’s equivalent to 209 series of Red Dwarf or Coupling (assuming UK series are 6 episodes long as used to be the norm). It’s a staggering achievement. What perhaps amazes even more is that in the 3rd season after Grissom left the writers finally evolved Laurence Fishburne’s character, Dr Ray & the clearly anointed main man (despite Marg Helgenberger’s CSI leadership, long-standing involvement with the show and superb performances), into a truly outstanding central character around whom the stories revolved and ultimately twisted into a long-standing story arc denouement which may have resulted in the finest ever CSI episode, number 1 out of 626. At the 626th time of asking.
Gil Grissom was always the man. He was the ‘Bug-man’ with immense forensic abilities, great intuitive skills allowing him to solve crime and an innate ability to develop and lead others. CSI was the sciencey one, Miami the slightly out there psychological one and New York the action-focussed techie one. Gil stood head and shoulders above all others including Horatio Caine and Mac Taylor. Morpheus was never a good enough replacement. An academic expert in serial killers who joined CSI as a level 3, he never really sat well in the cast especially given his immediate central positioning at the head of the show and at the expense of Catherine Willows (new head of CSI), or Nicky the sorcerer’s (Gil’s) apprentice. The series was still decent but had none of the pizzazz it used to. This was translated into dropping ratings, and as of next year – although renewed – its moving timeslot in the US. Season 12 could well be its final year.
This is a great shame. As implied earlier season 11 really worked – the season’s arc (CSI like so many shows works best when it has an ongoing storyline, a big bad or some such) revolving around Nate Haskell’s trial, hold over Ray and ultimate resolution was outstanding dramatic television. It was played so well. We the audience learnt Haskell killed due to his ‘unique’ genetic disposition and thought he was about to get away with it all, just as Ray told us he too had the gene yet had never succumbed. It set things up beautifully. Haskell escaped and played on the fact Ray’s obsession would force him to chase once more. Of course, Haskell not only shared the gene with Ray but also an ability to understand and mould the psychology of others, in this case his prey – leading Ray to a very dark place where he finally did succumb to the expression of the gene passed to him by his violent father. Wow. Ray, a CSI and immensely principled character killed the killer. We all enjoyed it but also couldn’t believe it, yet in terms of narrative it sat fair and true.
Other factors which may lead to cancellation include the possibility of Ray leaving the show – whilst the series ended on a cliffhanger, news reports indicate Fishburne wants to move on. Marg Helgenberger was thinking of quitting earlier this year and may well take a reduced role next year. It’s hard to renew shows once ,let alone twice. Harder still when not in the position of being the number 1 show around (effectively) and you’re not the only show doing what you do. These days not only are there the alternative CSIs but also a vastly improved and possibly superior NCIS - remarkably similar show in terms of setup and dynamics but one that has retained its charismatic principle in Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and seems to be following the path laid out by CSI as it also has a spin-off sibling.
CSI is a wonderful show that has maintained its standards over many years on the whole and in its most recent example delivered the outstanding episode of its lifetime. Whilst the end is coming, the memories of series past and impact on television now and in the future will ensure the fire still burns.