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C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation Review

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by Casimir Harlow Feb 24, 2010

    Having recently reviewed one of the earliest entries in William 'CSI' Petersen's twists-and-turns acting career, the highly underrated crime thriller genre gem To Live and Die in LA, it was only fitting to take a look at the tail end of this underappreciated actor's resume - his final season in the massively successful Las Vegas-set forensic detective TV show Crime Scene Investigation. Things have come a long way since the introduction of Petersen's quirky character, Gil Grissom - originally and ostensibly just an expansion of Petersen's Manhunter forensic psychologist character. A few seasons in and he had become one of the strangest and most enduring of detective personas in TV history. And the fans were shocked when the rumours spread about his departure. Nine seasons in and Petersen was talking about quitting TV and film acting altogether and returning to the stage, where he said that his heart lay. Even the fact that Laurence 'Morpheus' Fishburne was going to be stepping in to replace him did not quell the uprising, nor stem the fear that this show was simply not going to survive without Petersen's Gil Grissom. So, how was Petersen's last inning on the show? What was the transition like between the two leads? And how does Fishburne's new guy stand up in the shadow of Grissom?

    Tipped as the most eventful season of CSI, the ninth entry follows on from the eighth's departure of series regular Sara Sidle and dark cliffhanger finale featuring the murder of the much-loved regular Warrick Brown, with the departure of the backbone of the drama, Gil Grissom, and his necessary but unwarranted replacement. We kick straight into the aftermath of Warrick's horrific murder, Grissom, on his knees, soaked in blood, devastated by the loss of his colleague, student and friend. The episode shows such great promise, and allows Grissom to do what he does best - display the amazing attention to detail that made him such a great detective character in the first place. Unfortunately things just don't change very much. After a disappointingly high-tech and unsatisfactory conclusion, it becomes clear that the big shocks used over both this and the writers-strike-abbreviated eighth season were only there to shake things up, and were not actually destined to be used to reinvigorate the flagging procedural crime drama.

    As the season continues, and Grissom slowly runs out of episodes, you realise that we are actually never going to see the kind of spark and substance that made his character so great over the first few seasons again. This is the end of Grissom, and he's going to go out with a whimper and not a fight. Perhaps his character was not the fighting type, but we could have had some hint of his former glory, or some development of all the darkness we have seen in him over the last couple of seasons: whatever happened to his Manhunter-esque confrontation with the miniature killer who kidnapped Sara, the woman Grissom loves? They just never followed those great moments through to fruition, instead merely slipping back into commonly-trodden familiar ground of quirky crimes and twist conclusions.

    This is not to say that the season is not without its highlights. The Warrick murder story, even if slightly anticlimactic, offers up a compelling episode nonetheless, and similarly the return to the fate of the Miniature Killer is handled well. But when it comes down to it, this really isn't what fans wanted from Grissom's departure. He didn't have to go out with a bang, but they could have at least made the crossover episode with his replacement vaguely engaging. The reality is that all that two-parter goes to show is how ineffective the guy would be at replacing Grissom.

    Which brings me to Lawrence Fishburne's Dr. Robert Langston. I really had high hopes for Fishburne, being a big fan of his Big Screen work. But they just gave his character too many obstructions in his way to replacing Grissom. Firstly, he's a professor, with little forensic knowledge, just a supposed insight into the criminal psyche - so when he starts, he starts as CSI level 1, lower than all of the others, and consequently with much to prove. Secondly, this famed insight is never actually on display, not even in the opening crossover, where his random bouts of anger seem totally at odds with the character. What on earth does Grissom see in him? He isn't much of a leader (and, for all intents and purposes, cannot be since that annoying Catherine Willows is of a much senior grade), isn't young enough to be a fresh, maverick newbie, and isn't insightful enough to startle the team with his intellect. He really has nothing to bring to the table. And I have no idea where they can go with the character? Surely he can only work if he's in charge (or joint charge) of the team? And, as a level 1, that's just going to take another 10 seasons to happen!

    So, when Grissom eventually fades into the background (at least offering fans a nice resolution of the will-they-won't-they drama of his relationship with fellow ex-CSI, Sara Sidle) they don't even bother to really fill his shoes, instead bringing in the new guy to make mistakes, bumble his way around, be mocked by his colleagues who are somehow inexplicably threatened by his presence (which makes no sense considering he is of such a low grade) and fail to drive a single episode across the rest of the season - right through the lacklustre 200th episode (a supposed milestone event that was directed by William 'To Live and Die in LA' Friedkin no less) - to the disappointingly mundane finale. I mean it has got to be a bad sign when the now trademark geek episode - A Space Oddity - a pseudo-fantasy affair involving sci-fi conventions and weird day-dreams, is more interesting than the supposedly tense No Way Out, a hostage episode where the two new characters are held at gunpoint.

    I really think it was a big mistake hampering Langston's character so much, giving him so many newbie traits, rather than introducing him as more of an experienced, seasoned veteran who can take up the Grissom mantle as lead detective. Not only does it make him a wishy-washy character who appears to have nowhere to go in the development stakes, but it also limits Fishburne's proven acting ability. Sure, he is supposed to be shy and reserved (a la Grissom, and with little more enthusiasm in using firearms) but with no positive side to his abilities as a CSI detective he really does not have anything interesting to put into the role.

    The less said the better about Lauren Lee Smith, the other newbie. She is Warrick's sort-of replacement, and whilst I love the actress (she played in the controversial Lie to Me and was a regular in Mutant X), her arrogant character here was just irritating. (We also get a few guest appearances from E.R. regular Alex Kingston, but her I-know-what-you're-feeling psychiatrist is just as annoying). Lauren Lee Smith's newcomer obviously did not fit into the series as she mysteriously disappears at the start of the next seasons, leaving only a farewell note. All the other series regulars are accounted for, and are getting a bit tiresome too. In my opinion, only Warrick (and perhaps Nick Stokes) were characters that had the potential to stand the test of time, behind a good leader of course. Marg Helgenberg's Catherine Willows is looking tired as ever - she's one of these actresses who refuses to age gracefully and instead goes for the regular facial work (and ridiculously inappropriate attire) in an attempt to retain her sex appeal. This lady should take a leaf out of Michelle Pfeiffer's book. Willows always grated with me in any event, and you can immediately see the difference in acting quality between ex-Species star Helgenberg's reaction to Warrick's death and that of William Petersen. And with her as boss now (and off to a terrible start, asserting her power with trademark arrogance) I just don't see how the team dynamic will survive.

    Back in the fifth season, CSI started to go a little off the rails, the main team split and lead detective Gil Grissom's position as star of the show was in jeopardy. Long-time fan of the show, Quentin Tarantino, came on board to give us Grave Danger, an amazing two-part season finale that went some way to returning the show to its former glory, putting William Petersen's Grissom back on top as the lead character, and bringing the team back together. And whilst the show flourished for a while with this new lease of life, it ultimately ended up back in the same messy pit of repetitiveness and lack of direction. Even the twists of the Grissom/Sara relationship, the ongoing threat of the Miniature Killer, and Sara's subsequent departure could not do anything other than keep the show afloat as it trundled through three fairly repetitive seasons. Come the ninth entry, and things have gotten quite dark, with the much loved Warrick Brown now dead. But rather than cash in on the chance to reinvent the show (especially with the re-jigging of the cast), the producers have once again missed the boat, and instead given one of the most disappointing and, frankly, average seasons in the procedural crime drama thus far.

    Episode List:

    1. For Warrick

    2. The Happy Place

    3. Art Imitates Life

    4. Let it Bleed

    5. Leave Out All the Rest

    6. Say Uncle

    7. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

    8. Young Man with a Horn

    9. 19 Down... Part. 1

    10. ...One to Go Part. 2

    11. The Grave Shift

    12. Disarmed and Dangerous

    13. Deep Fried & Minty Fresh

    14. Miscarriage of Justice

    15. Kill Me if You Can

    16. Turn, Turn, Turn

    17. No Way Out

    18. Mascara

    19. The Descent of Man

    20. A Space Oddity

    21. If I Had A Hammer

    22. The Gone Dead Train

    23. Hog Heaven

    24. All In