03 April, 2005

Rebuke: CSI NY missing evidence

Science has improved our understanding of many things. Chemicals can instantly show the presence of invisible blood stains. Gases and vapours can reveal fingerprints. DNA can conclusively place suspects at a crime scene. Nothing short of morbidity, and the spurious recall of otherwise useless high-school science, can explain our fascination with the CSI series.

As big fans of the original (Vegas) and the first spin-off CSI: Miami (except for David Caruso, pretty much playing the same humourless, self-righteous dud he's done in at least two other series), I was looking forward to CSI: NY when it made it's belated debut on British terrestrial TV. I must say that I was disappointed. There's something really lazy about this series.

Exhibit one: Theme Tune. Like the other CSI's they've picked a classic from the back catalog of the Who. But where both "Who Are You" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" both had lyrical hooks that made them both relevant and cool choices, imagination has failed here. "Baba O'Reilly"? Are they being ironic, showing the urban landscape of NY NY with "out here in the fields...." antheming out of Pete Townsend? Couldn't they think of another Who track? "See me, feel me" or even "Pinball Wizard"'s line about "plays by sense of smell" could have fit the subject better without sacrificing the classic rock coolness.

Exhibit two: Cast. Nothing against the actual cast, just the re-run of the types that make up the casts of the other CSI's. Just because you are repeating a formula, well, you don't have to be this blatantly formulaic. Two women, check. A black, check. A couple of local ethnic types, check. In fact, on ethnicity, they've gone into overdrive. Almost everyone's a two-fer, italian and hispanic actors play polish and irish characters. One of the female CSI's is half-greek half italian, and who knows, later on they can establish that her character is a dyslexic bisexual surrogate mother, so the quota humping can go really crazy. I don't begrudge them multiculturalism, certainly it reflects NY, with the exception that they all seem to like each other, like normal people. Real NY'ers are fiercely proud of their ethnicity and may like others 'despite' their differing backgrounds. This lot are so politically correctly bland, their ethnic identities are defined as thinly as those Barbie's of color, where just a slightly ethnic color of plastic is used. (Apparently "Superfly" Ken is still a highly sought rarity, but I digress)

Exhibit Three: The Twist. I had hoped that perhaps they'd try to spin a different twist on the formula, particularly I think it would be good to have a few cases that continue as story arcs through a series, reflecting the reality of CSI work that science takes time, the turnaround time that allows cases to be wrapped up neatly in each episode is the only real niggle against the original shows. Where the original shows make up for this with continuing story arcs and character development of the CSI teams, CSI NY seems to have added the twist of, well, subtracting the characters.

We're half way through the first series, and all we seem to know about the characters is that Mac, an ex-marine, the lead CSI, lost his wife in 9/11. A seriously exploitive ploy, and not even original, the FBI based series "Line of Fire" has an ex-marine, FBI trainee who signed up when she lost her husband in 9/11. Otherwise it is soooooo stylized, bland characters, impossibly clean and clinical lab rooms that look as if they've been designed as trendy SoHo lofts doubling as clean-rooms for Intel chip manufacturers.

On the production line, this makes incredible sense, a page out of the long running Law & Order formula. Every episode self contained, perfect for syndication, you could see them in any order, it wouldn't matter.

Even the Law & Order people decided to do something different in the excellent L&O Criminal Intent, which I think is wonderful almost entirely because it is a reincarnation of Columbo with a taller, less schleppy protagonist, and without the overly clever second rate star cameo criminals (Mrs. Columbo will be so impressed that I interrogated you, George Hamilton....). And, just one other thing.... isn't the original CSI just Quincy revamped (Gentlemen you are about to witness the most fascinating aspects of police work - the world of Forensic Medicine....)

The one hope that CSI NY may belatedly provide us with less than 95% cardboard characters occurred in the tenth episode, aired here last week. Two characters actually argue over whether to put down a police horse to get at evidence conveniently next to it's spinal column. This may not seem like much, but this far into a series of unremitting blandness punctuated by the usual cool science, cameos of New York scenic locations (it appears the victim was smothered by this fur cup from the MOMA, so what was he doing in the Expressionist wing?), and same formulaic, good cop/overwhelming forensic proof cop routine, we'll hang our case for continuing to watch on the slimmest of evidence.



Post a Comment

<< Home