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In the ratings-driven world of US television, a show does well to get a second season. For a show to make it to eleven series despite the loss of its main character is some achievement. That show is Crime Scene Investigation, a hugely successful weekly programme which is still going strong and has also spawned two spin-offs set in Miami and New York.
For those yet to see the show – the original (and in my view, best) CSI follows a team of crime scene investigators in Las Vegas. Most episodes follow a similar pattern – a dead body is discovered, sometimes after a few seconds showing the victim’s last moments. The CSI team turn up, and the credits kick in – to the rocking sound of The Who classic “Who Are You?” Then it’s on with the show as the team piece together the evidence to find out the story behind the death, and find the killer – all within the hour (or 45 minutes once you take out the adverts!)
If you’re expecting a sober, realistic account of how CSI teams work, then you’ll be surprised. As expected from famed action movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, this is flashy, high-octane entertainment. Unlike in real life, the team apprehend and interview suspects, solving the murders themselves. They’re involved in shoot-outs and car chases while the lab analysis scenes are often cut to a soundtrack of pounding electronic music. The show looks great – from the aerial shots of the famous town to the stunning computer generated reconstructions of how that week’s victim died. We’re taken inside the human body to see the effects of gunshots, stab wounds, poisons, etc. You’ll learn a lot about your own body by watching this show! The forensic science is fascinating.
It's not something to watch while having your supper though - as you can imagine, there can be a fair bit of gore, plus the autopsy scenes can be a bit gruesome. The realism of it will be too much for younger viewers (although it goes out at 9pm on Channel 5, the repeats on other channels can start as early as noon)
The beauty of the show is that the majority of episodes are self-contained – the story is complete and is wrapped up in that episode. This explains its continued success and the constant repeats of earlier episodes on the digital channels. You can tune in and watch an episode from any series without prior knowledge of the show. A few episodes are two-parters, while occasionally a story arc will run through a series (a search for a serial killer) but these do not really affect repeat viewings.
So who’s in the show? Well it’s probably more famous for someone who’s not in it anymore – William Petersen who played the team’s original supervisor Gil Grissom. He left a few years ago but has made a one-off appearance since. Despite Petersen’s departure the show continues to draw the audiences, by introducing some new faces alongside the established stars. To explain too much about each character would be to spoil the show’s many twists and surprises but here’s a snapshot of the current team:
Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) The team supervisor following Grissom’s departure, Catherine is an experienced and laid-back leader. Her father once owned a casino on the strip.
Nick Stokes (George Eads) Catherine’s deputy – a friendly, wisecracking Texan who has been buried alive and almost blown up in the past few years!
Dr. Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne) The newest addition to the team – a former doctor who has quickly adapted to his new career, shows a keen interest in the autopsies given his medical background.
Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda) Used to work in the lab but was promoted to the field team. Has a great knowledge of Las Vegas history, which often comes in handy.
Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) Married to Grissom, Sara is a feisty character who often struggles to keep her cool in crime scenes, particularly any violence towards women.
Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) Police captain who works alongside the regular CSI team. A no-nonsense, old school veteran of the force.
Dr Al Robbins (Robert David Hall) and David Phillips (David Berman) The Chief Medical examiner and his assistant make a great double act with their dry sense of humour.
David Hodges (Wallace Langham) A lab technician who dreams of joining the team out in the field. Always ready with a funny quip or pun.
CSI doesn’t always attract the high-profile guest stars that CSI New York does (although teen pop star Justin Bieber appeared recently) however it can boast a high-profile director – Quentin Tarantino directed the two parter ‘Grave Danger’ a few years ago, a nerve-jangling episode which saw plenty of the trademark Tarantino blend of violence and black humour.
What is remarkable about CSI is how it continues to seem fresh despite having run for years – full credit to the writers for coming up with new and original storylines. Just when you thought you’d seen every possible type of murder, they’ll shock you with a new one. Some stories are very serious, some outlandish and funny, but they’re always compelling.
The current series is nearing its end on Channel 5, but is usually repeated in his entirety later in the year. Earlier series are always been shown on Five USA, Sky Atlantic and Sky Living amongst other channels. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s well worth checking out and before long you’ll be hooked. It’s one of the most entertaining shows on TV, and long may it continue.