RogerBW's Blog

CSI season 15 02 April 2015

2014-2015: the crew of the Las Vegas Crime Lab continue to use forensic science to solve crimes.

Well, mostly; as has always been the tendency in this show, they also interview suspects, go on raids, arrest people, and generally turn up in dangerous situations. And consistently with the last few seasons, there's much less tech talk than there used to be. So this is now in effect a cop show that spends more than the usual ration of time in the lab.

The technology abandoned reality a long time ago: sure, there are fingerprint and DNA searches, but there's also software that can recover comprehensible voices from a video recording of vibrating leaves in a greenhouse. It's not quite Star Trek-style "insert tech here", but it's certainly not pretending to be the informative show that it sometimes was in the beginning.

The primary subtext has become increasingly clear over the years: if you are a non-celibate woman in anything other than a monogamous, heterosexual, and entirely vanilla relationship, you are either a killer or a victim. I suspect this is not so much a deliberate policy decision as a side effect of wanting to show pretty women in danger in order to get the viewers emotionally involved, but that in itself is a fairly unfortunate choice.

Ted Danson was the surprising salvation of CSI for me: after the excessively grim seasons 9-11 with Laurence Fishburne, his D.B. Russell turned the show round by being a note of real life and normality even when the scripts were still dark. (Neither of them is as good as William Petersen's Gil Grissom, mind.) Elisabeth Shue as Julie Finlay is underused, as female characters often are; scripts focus too much on her slightly dubious past, and tend to give her sudden un-foreshadowed knowledge (such as a love for vintage cars that's never been mentioned until it's convenient to do so in an episode that deals with them). The oldest hands, George Eads as Nick Stokes and Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle, can do this in their sleep by now, and often seem to be. Eric Szmanda as Greg Sanders has plenty of history on the show and, having made the transition from background character, does a decent job of staying on top of things; Elisabeth Harnois as Morgan Brody is more just there.

As with any long-running series that sticks to the same subject matter, I find myself watching for the characters and their interplay more than for yet another gory murder. The secondary characters (the "lab techs" whose jobs are actually much more like those of real CSIs) have always been among the show's strengths, coming over less as exposition-delivery devices and more as some approximation of actual people, and that continues here.

There's a running plot this season, the "Gig Harbor Killer", whose gimmick is to leave his crime scenes staged as if a forensic examination had already been carried out. Episodes are either killer-of-the-week or progress in the major case; they're not well-blended, but the stories aren't wildly different in style anyway.

This is not a hard show to begin to watch; it's television for the mass market, and any season or even episode is as good a place as any other if you're not going from the beginning (as I did). The Grissom years (seasons 1-9) were definitely better, though.

This may have been the final season; it's not clear at the time of writing, but the lack of renewal announcement by late March suggests the show may be on the way out. Even if it isn't, all the original primary characters have now left the show (Sara Sidle wasn't in the pilot, and had two seasons mostly away). There's no real cliffhanger, and it's as good an ending point as it could be without explicitly being a final episode.

(Update: there will be a "two-hour" TV movie in September in place of a final season, featuring the return of some of the original cast.)

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:28pm on 03 April 2015

    I gave up on CSI after Grissom left, the show wasn't as good for me.

    I loved the first season of CSI New York, or CSI Gotham as some people nicknamed it. Alas they changed all that for season 2 and I gave up on that.

    And CSI Miami always annoyed me, far too many smarmy "I know everything" characters. I dipped in a couple of times but never watched entire episodes.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:18pm on 03 April 2015

    I watched more but I generally agree with your opinions here. I think the Fishburne CSI was trying to bring in some of the dark feel of New York season 1, but for my money it really didn't work; Danson turned it round in a way I hadn't thought likely, but he's still not Petersen.

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