overthinking the idiot box

June 13, 2005

In the world of television, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the writers and producers of hour-long crime dramas, and the viewers, who watch said dramas. These are their stories.

Be Careful Out There
CSI Smackdown!

by Andreanna Ditton

Disclaimer: This particular episode of CSI Smackdown might suffer from the author's lack of of CSI: NY viewage. However, be advised that no wannabe movie stars were harmed in the making of this column and that no one is required to watch bad David Caruso flicks as penance, not even your intrepid narrator who has only watched four episodes of CSI:NY. Oh, shut up, it's on against my Law and Order: SVU repeats and I'm whipped after the LOST/Alias one-two punch and we don't have TiVo!

So we've reached the end of the 2004-2005 TV season, and with that have inducted a new CSI locale into the ranks, namely New York, because God knows we needed another TV show set in New York. There was a dearth. An absolute dearth! So far, the best part of it is that Melina Kanakaredes occasionally defies the girl cop pantsuit rules and wears distinctive clothing. The drawback being that her clothing is generally a little... odd. But, well, more power to the CSI:NY wardrobe crew. And maybe it was just that funky off-the-shoulder orange thing that was seriously odd. Whatever. While the original CSI seems to favor the tacky and weird and slightly pathos laden, and CSI:Miami favors garish color and a corner on the gross, CSI:NY seems mostly to favor the dour. Reflection of our post-9/11 attitudes of fear and mistrust? Stylistic camera choice? The other, better color palettes were already taken? It's a tossup.

However, with this newest CSI offspring comes the inevitable showdown between CSI head honchos. I will leave aside the quibble that in three different cities we couldn't have just one female lead officer, because well, I don't have an argument other than gender equity for that and the need to bellow that even Star Trek gave us a female captain and you'd think a major metropolitan police department would be able to offer viewers the same option because if I can believe that CSIs wear $1,000 Italian suits and never seem to get the ooey gooey grossness of bodily decomposition on their suits, than I can damn well expect some gender equity. But that is not my point.

My point is this. With three CSIs, all of them leading their timeslots to my knowledge, it's time for the Alpha dogs to battle for the top spot. So, who will win the ultimate fighting championship? Who will become the CSI master of his domain, or at least his CBS timeslot?

In this corner, we have Gil Grissom, the reigning champ. Dedicated, quippy, adorably pigeon-toed, bug fixated and in possession of a charming, mostly fixed disability. He's our longtime champ, the original go-to guy in the Crime Lab. In the opposing corner we have Ho -- pardon me, Horatio Caine. I'm trying to figure out what defines him aside from the smug and the sunglasses and the dead brother who is apparently not really dead and the having the hots for the dead/not dead brother's wife, but I'm failing. Is my contender bias showing? In the third corner (and, dude, CBS needs a fourth brother because triangles never end well. What about CSI: Madison? Or CSI: Buffalo? Or CSI: Colorado Springs, where the valiant crime scene investigator does battle with the Air Force Academy and the religious right?) Oh yeah, sorry, in the third corner we have upstart Mac Taylor, stone-faced, dour, widowed, always ready to crouch menacingly by the dead, glowering out at the prospective perps, looking remarkably like that legless Captain from Forrest Gump.

Let the smackdown begin.

Oh, oh, wait, wait, Grissom's moving in to smack him upside the head, knocking those sunglasses to the ground and Mac comes up to feign a punch, but gets distracted by the sunglasses, proclaims they could be evidence and dives to secure them.
The buzzer rings and it's Ho Caine out in front, prancing around, dancing on the balls of his feet, moving with his trademark wiry smarm. He goes right; he goes left; he pauses to pose with wily intent. Oh, oh, wait, wait, Grissom's moving in to smack him upside the head, knocking those sunglasses to the ground and Mac comes up to feign a punch, but gets distracted by the sunglasses, proclaims they could be evidence and dives to secure them. Grissom steps on his hand, accidentally, but doesn't bother to hide his smile and then knees Mac in the jaw when Mac tries for a sucker punch. While Caine seeks out an appropriate overstatement and threat of jailish damnation for the potential perp, Grissom kicks him in the knees and he goes down and it's Grissom! Grissom! Grissom! The one and only champion! You didn't really have any doubts as to the outcome did you?

Three CSIs is blatant excess. At least the Law and Order franchise offers up subtle differences in scope and aim. But so far, the big difference between the three CSIs seems literally to be palette and blood spatter. The original is bright, and well, just that. Original. William Patterson isn't trying to be a matinee idol, and while I find him appealing, charming and a little sexy in that geek guy sort of way, his appeal is his mind, his fixations, his focus. He isn't out there threatening criminals, driving around and standing in as the tall, skinny face of evidentiary justice, nor is he a representation of lost innocence. He's just a guy doing a job, and he along with the rest of the CSIs cruising through the Las Vegas crime lab are the reasons that enrollment in forensic science programs has more than doubled since CSI first aired. Yeah, the cases can be full of body parts and blood, can be as sensational as its counterparts, but there's an inherent warmth to the show, layers of science and teamwork, and good intentions that the other shows lack. Vegas itself isn't all that flashy, despite being Sin City, and the show helps to showcase the desert surrounding the vice capital, helps to show the ordinary people as well as the high rollers who get caught in the fallout of piss-poor decisions, greed and perversity. And Gil Grissom is at the head of the pack, making sure his fellow scientists are there to act as a voice for those who no longer have one.

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Return to Vol. 1, Episode 6.