Monday, March 07, 2005

Preachin’ From My Chair

Having a young daughter means that you have less time to prop up bars or sit in darkened auditoriums. But a hell of a lot more time to watch television. Hence, more pop cultural meanderings. This time, the rapidly multiplying number of hours devoted to C.S.I. in the television schedules.

I love C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation. It’s like Quincy, M.E., but with a whole bunch of cool tech and eye-popping computer trickery that shows the journey of a bullet as it tears someone’s insides into so much shredded meat. And there’s considerably less Jack Klugman, too.

C.S.I. is all glass and chrome and neon, where our heroic band of scientists-cum-cops piece together brutal slayings with the aid of rubber gloves, ultra-violet light thingies and nothing more than a bunch of fibre samples and an encyclopaedic knowledge of blood spatter patterns. It’s a hit show, intelligently written and slickly produced. So, of course, there has to be a bunch of spin-offs to milk the franchise, until nothing is left but the husk of an emaciated cash cow.

First up – C.S.I.: Miami. Now, to my mind, there’s your problem right there. Miami. The word conjures up images of retirement communities, holiday destinations, and Crockett and Tubbs in pastel vines, cruising around listening to an unhealthy amount of Phil Collins. It’s like the second cup of tea from the same tea bag. Pallid, watered-down and strangely tasteless.

Now, we have C.S.I.: New York. Because, of course, you can never have enough TV shows set in the much-neglected New York. We are disturbingly close to a C.S.I.: LA, I fear.

But, despite closely adhering to the blueprint set by the original C.S.I., both spin-offs fail miserably, even though all the elements are there.

All shows begin with a snippet of a song from The Who back catalogue. All the C.S.I. teams are headed up by a solid, name actor. All episodes come complete with implausible murders and flashy toys. All episodes come fully equipped with at least one stomach-roiling autopsy close-up. Each episode fills the mandatory requirement of making graphic references to blood and semen. All the shows stick to the template of minimal character development, with only the briefest of nods to sketching out a team of stoic professionals who don’t appear to need personal lives, or even sleep.

Here is why C.S.I. is the original and the best. Firstly, location. Las Vegas is perfect. It doesn’t suffer from the dull improbability of Miami or the ridiculously overused milieu of New York. Vegas is perfect. It’s a town where surface and artifice is everything. It’s a fake town built in the middle of a desert to provide sex, money and power in a clusterfuck of corruption, perversion and desperation. The shiny surface hides the rotting corpses. Enough to keep a weekly show ticking over without hammering our suspension of disbelief.

Secondly, the characters. Characterisation is kept to a minimum to keep the science and gore at the forefront. Fair enough. But C.S.I. successfully manages to create a team of believable characters with the most subtle and unobtrusive little snippets of personality thrown in. All the recurring cast are fully drawn creations, and what we don’t know about them probably isn’t worth knowing.

Unlike the spin-offs. A bunch of bland and interchangeable characters that I can never keep track of from one episode to the next. I don’t know who they are and, fatally for an ongoing serial, I really don’t care. This is not a casting issue but a writing one. David Caruso and Gary Sinise are fine actors, but are nothing more than ciphers babbling jargon through gritted teeth. Unlike the brilliantly quirky William Petersen who manages to fulfil all the requirements of leading man without compromising the essential nerdiness of the character.

As of this week, I have resolved to abandon the C.S.I. spin-offs permanently. I’m restricting myself to just one hour of the real, original, good stuff a week. And seeing as Quentin Tarantino is writing and directing the series finale, I think this run will end with a big, bloody bang.

No comments: