The hugely successful Crime Scene Investigation franchise started some six years ago when they took William Petersen (the underrated star of the best Hannibal Lector film, Manhunter), gave him a team of field agents and introduced audiences to the fairly new (at least in terms of TV shows) field of forensic investigation. Both Petersen's lead criminologist, Gil Grissom and the very show itself were quite unusual in the grand scheme of cop dramas, resulting in a series which had much more in common with classic Sherlock Holmes detective work (with a hi-tech edge) than with the likes of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. Six seasons later and, largely thanks to rejuvenation by series fan Quentin Tarantino himself, the show is still going strong. After just two seasons, however, it was found to be so popular that the producers (foremost of which is blockbuster-maker Jerry Bruckheimer) commissioned the first of two spin-off series, shifting the location from the neon nightlife of the land-locked Las Vegas locale to the sunny coastline and lush green Everglade swamps of Miami.
CSI: Miami uses much the same formula as its Vegas (and now New York) counterparts and to much the same successful effect, although it has largely dropped the more geeky, fetishist stories in favour of episodes with a balance of both detection (a prerequisite of a CSI show) and action. The justification for this was mainly because the producers wanted to do something slightly different with their spin-off creation and since Miami-Dade CSIs are all armed police officers first and foremost (whereas Vegas CSIs originally weren't) it was a natural progression to take the show in a more action-orientated direction. These guys don't just prove who did it, but they go out and bust down doors, foil crimes in progress and often have shootouts with suspects.
Who better to head up the team then than ex-NYPD Blue star David Caruso? His brief, largely uneventful foray into Hollywood movies did not prove too successful and resulted in him drifting off the radar for a few years, so it is great to see him back on top form. Here his lieutenant Horatio Caine is a very different animal indeed to Petersen's Grissom. Always prepared to stare down an opponent, stand up against injustice, defend the vulnerable (and often show a loving touch towards them) and, when required, draw his sidearm to take down the bad guys, he is almost the antithesis of Petersen's introverted CSI counterpart, Grissom. Despite all of Caine's striking charisma, bravado and stalwartness, however, the methodologies of these two men are actually pretty similar: they always let the evidence do the talking.
Caine's team includes ballistics expert Calleigh Duquesne (West Wing's Emily Procter), a Southern Belle with a cold, professional demeanour along with a disarming but fake smile. Tim Speedle (Rory Cochrane) appears to be the comic edge, with a deadpan wit and sarcasm about him that gives the show an extra added humour. Eric 'Delko' Delektorsky(Adam Rodriquez) is the slightly less smart one, who often gets given the task of strapping on diving gear and jumping into swamps and Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander) is the Chief Medical Examiner with too many x's in her name and a propensity for being over-affectionate with dead bodies, not least in the fact that she disconcertingly talks to them as if she knows them. In fact, looking back on it, the only reason that the show is so good (despite the often irritating main team characters) is Caruso's Caine. Fond of throwaway one-liners and donning and removing his sunglasses dramatically, he is still the man to call if your son is missing, if your bank has been robbed or if a plane has crashed. He can sympathise, empathise and analyse, then track, pursue and apprehend, all in the show's forty-two minute episode runtime.
Given the fact that Caine is so integral to both the stories within the show and the very success of the series itself, it is his character that has been developed most significantly over the course of the last two seasons (previous season spoilers follow). Firstly his brother, Ray, was an undercover cop, accused of being corrupt and purportedly killed in the line of duty, leaving behind a wife and also a junkie girlfriend and child who Caine had to help and home. This led to complications with the romantic side of his life, as his brother's widow, Miami Detective Yelina Salas (Sofia Milos), is clearly more than a little fond of him but confused by the fact that he spends time with another woman and child. Without wanting to dishonour his brother's memory, he refused to tell Yelina the truth about the affair or Ray's girlfriend and child, so she assumed the worst and stopped seeing Caine, instead choosing to date another police officer, an arrogant Internal Affairs agent, Rick Stetler. It took a whole season before they started dating and then another whole season for their relationship to turn sour (all due to a misunderstanding) and it is an ongoing story arc which also makes this slightly different to the original CSI (in which there is very little inter-character romance but, conversely, the lead investigator Grissom's own vulnerabilities are often explored).
This third season kicks off with a bang as a bridge collapses and the CSIs are called in to find out why. Cue missing kids, alligator and shark-infested swamps, hectic shootouts and more than one significant happening in relation to the lead characters. After that it appears to be business as usual, with the CSIs investigating speedboat drive-bys, hospital shootouts, corrupt judges, cop killers, swamp fires, modern-day piracy and plane crashes as if they were everyday occurrences in Miami. Recurring characters include John Heard's (from Pelican Brief and The Sopranos) police officer father to Calleigh, David Lee Smith as the IA investigator Rick Stetler (whose relationship with Yelina takes an aggressive turn), the other main Miami PD investigator, Frank Tripp (played by Rex Linn from Cliffhanger) and Horatio's new romantic interest, State Attorney Rebecca Nevins (Christina Chang). We also get some notable guest stars: Bokeem Woodbine (Ray), ex-model Joan Severance, Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day), Meredith Monroe and Kerr Smith (both from Dawson's Creek), Skateboarder Tony Hawk, Jennifer Sky (from Cleopatra 2525 and Xena), Dark Skies' Megan Ward, B-movie star Eric Roberts and ex-Neighbours' Holly Valance.
Standout episodes include the aforementioned Season Premiere (the impact of which resonates throughout the series), the feature-length excellent tidal wave bank robbery story, a shooting flashback episode, the plane crash story and a moving tale about human trafficking, but the real gems are the episodes which continue on the personal life of Horatio himself - including developments in his relationship with Yelina (particularly when trouble befalls her son), a fateful story involving his brother's (Ray), mistress and child and further revelations about Ray's death. These, of course, mainly involve the episodes leading up to the climactic finale, where Horatio and Yelina's relationship is resolved once and for all (although not in the way you would expect it) and where the truth about Horatio's brother finally comes out.
It is a superb third season, after a solid opening series and an excellent second entry, providing no end of twists and turns in the lives of the characters as well as all the usual CSI investigation scientific intricacies, with a hearty helping of action thrown into the mix. Where I like the Sherlock Holmes side of the original CSI and love the character of Grissom, I equally cherish David Caruso's unfaltering Horatio Caine and his own show, CSI's glossy, action-packed big brother, Miami. It is quality police-derivative TV viewing and I can't wait for the next season.
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