CSI: NY Review

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by Casimir Harlow Oct 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    First there was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which is into its sixth season now. Starring William Petersen (Manhunter, To Live and Die in LA), it is arguably the best of this genre of crime dramas. CSI: Miami soon followed - a spin-off series that was much more bright and sunny (given its setting) and was headed up by David Caruso (NYPD Blue, Michael Hayes). Although the script was not as good as the first offering - particularly since it was riddled with clichés -it largely made up for its disadvantages with much more action-packed episodes. Now we get CSI: New York, the third in the ever-increasing CSI franchise.

    “You murdered a man tonight... There's one speck of dust out there that will prove it. I will find it and you will answer for what you did.”

    Heading up the team in this series is ex-Marine Mac Taylor, a veteran New York Detective compelled by the same sense of justice as his other CSI counterparts and similarly driven by a belief that the answers always lie in the evidence, but this time sporting a huge burden that weighs on him during his every waking moment. Haunted by the death of his wife during 9-11, Mac is a focussed but deadly serious protagonist who seldom smiles, let alone laughs. Always ready to either lead or assist his fellow CSI companions, he is a strong character to have at the centre of the show. Under him we have the lead female investigator, Stella, who spends most of the series with a serious chip on her shoulder (again, she is not one for smiles), the younger woman Aiden, who is consistently eager to process evidence, third year CSI Danny, who is bucking for promotion (and also talks like a character out of the Sopranos) and the medical examiner Sheldon (who thankfully ditches his silly Joe 90 glasses more often than wears them). They are frequently joined by their link to the Homicide unit, Detective Flack, who is often a little too flash and headstrong for his own good. Despite their shortcomings, this unit works well together and, although it is a shame that we do not get a little more character development, this is what you have to come to expect from the CSI shows and it is probably more than we had in the first of either CSI or Miami.

    “You shot a New York City police officer. He wasn't just a cop, he was somebody's son. He made somebody proud at home. When you shot him through the back you shot those people through the heart. From where I stand, you're the one that should be put to death. No trial, no jury. Eye for an eye.”

    This first season of New York sees the team investigate many different cases and - as with the other CSI shows - the first few episodes are basically about establishing the different team members and their levels of expertise. Each of the main characters gets an episode that basically focuses on them more than the others - Mac first, where he airs his demons and defining his authority, Stella getting a little too personal in a solid 'rape in Central Park' episode, Danny vying for promotion to second grade and Aiden proving that she can stand alone in the field. They deal with mine explosions, terrorism, a sniper (in an episode reminiscent of CSI: Miami's similarly themed), fetishists, a circus, cop-shootings, bombers and lots of gang-related stuff.

    CSI: New York basically combines the case concepts of Miami (because the original CSI had far too many weird murders) with the team behaviour of CSI (because Miami is largely driven by Caruso's Horatio, more often than not with his weapon drawn). This has its advantages and disadvantages: on the plus side, it provides a reasonable amount of fast-paced 'action' along with a reasonable amount of scientific analysis, but on the other hand it does suffer from being not quite as stylish as Miami (some might read that as not as clichéd) and also not as clever as the original CSI. Some see this as the best of both worlds, others miss the action of Miami and the eccentricity of Vegas. However the biggest negative side that has been raised about this new CSI production is the dark, grim picture of New York City that it tries to paint. Shot in near black and white, the series is so lacking in colour that everything just seems bleak after a while - every crime day is dreary, the sky is always grey and sunlight is seldom seen. In fact, not only is the outside world almost constantly monochrome but even in the CSI building everything has been reduced down to one of two predominant colours - the tech room is full of black computers and permanently bathed in shadow and even the CSIs wear black suits when inside it, whereas the lab room is almost entirely white and in it the CSIs wear bright white lab coats. Anyway, I can see what followers of CSI are pointing out here but don't be put off, they do vary and brighten up the show from time to time - particularly more so as the series goes on - so you just have to get through the first ten or so relentlessly grim episodes before things turn around (at least nominally).

    “You're not a doctor, you're a killer with a medical degree.”

    As far as acting talent is concerned, the lead role was originally due to go to the great Andy Garcia, one of the most underrated, underused stars in Hollywood today. Second choice was Ray Liotta, another great actor who, after his fantastic turn in Goodfellas did not really make it back up to the top until recently with Narc. Both of them turned the role down and it eventually went to Gary Sinise who, despite not being first choice, is still possibly the most famous of the lead actors in the franchise. Fans of his performances in myriad movies like Ransom, Apollo 13 and Mission to Mars will be both pleased and disappointed to see him take on this new role: pleased because he is a high calibre actor to get for a TV series, disappointed because it will probably mean we won't see him much on the Big Screen anymore. He is a good choice as the team leader, Mac, despite the fact that he has neither the geeky coolness and wry wit of CSI's Gil Grissom (Petersen), nor the flash action moves and easy empathy with the vulnerable that Miami's Horatio Caine (Caruso) exhibits.

    “You're never gonna' get any sleep in this lifetime, are you Mac?”

    “Not when there are so many questions keeping me up at night.”

    Ably backing Sinise up we get Melina Kanakaredes (who briefly starred in Due South before moving on to the successful US series, Providence). Her role as Stella does not give her much room for joy, but it does allow for a few more confrontational moments between lead characters - namely between her and Sinise's Mac. Given Grissom's mellow temperament and Horatio's lack of sparring partner (other than his romantic counterparts), this interaction is quite unusual for CSI and marks a refreshing development. The lesser CSI roles go to Vanessa Ferlito (from 24 Season 3) as Aiden, a feisty Latino and the youngest member of the team, Carmine Giovinazzo as the Brooklyn-born 'wise-guy' Danny and Hill Harper as Sheldon, the Medical Examiner who is a little strange (although at least he does not talk to dead bodies like that irritating woman from Miami). All in all they are a good group and, as already mentioned, they form a nice unit that is easily more comparable to the original CSI in terms of composition than with Miami.

    “Apart from the fact of it not being attached to a person, there's nothing wrong with this finger.”

    When it boils down to it, CSI: New York is for fans who like to see these crime dramas from the forensic point of view. Fans of police dramas will either have to adapt to this new viewpoint or stay clear because in this world, the CSI unit do everything - solving every crime, however big or small, with seemingly no help of the police. They follow leads, break down doors, draw their guns and shoot people. If this were NYPD Blue, the forensics would barely get mentioned, other than when the police are interrogating a suspect. Here you have to just go with it and accept the way they tell this particular story. There are plenty of holes (I would suspect that nobody out there believes you can zoom in on CCTV footage to identify the reflected image in somebody's cornea) but that is just par for the course with dramas like this and you have to suspend belief. Personally, I love the CSI franchise and so I simply cannot get enough of this kind of drama and it does not detract from my love for more police-oriented dramas or the like, it merely adds to my viewing schedule. CSI: New York just represents more of a good thing and comes strongly recommended to those who like the shows that have come before it.

    “No one sleeps in New York City until this killer is caught.”

    The Rundown

    OUT OF
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