Paramount // 2004 // 996 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // January 19th, 2005
What does the evidence tell you?
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation quickly became a phenomenon when it debuted a handful of years ago. Instead of answering the "who," CSI concerns itself with the "how." Four years into its run, how does the show fare under the microscopic gaze of a cynical reviewer?
The Las Vegas Crime Scene Investigative Unit headed by Gil "Griz" Grissom (William Peterson Manhunter) doesn't kick down a suspect's door, doesn't plant evidence, and rarely sweats a confession out of felon through an intimidating interrogation. Instead, Grissom and company wage their war on crime in a lab. As Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox, ER) often protests, "We're scientists, not cops."
Thanks to CSI, all four Law & Order shows and NYPD Blue, crime shows have become the number one form of prime time drama. Hollywood, always racing to come in first by trying something second, is milking the police drama. How do Grissom and his lab stack up against the others -- including its own clones in Miami and New York?
Quite good, thanks.
Always trust the evidence. The nightshift of the LVPD is more likely to pull an electromagnetic spectrometer than a gun. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation -- The Complete Fourth Season feature the further exploits of America's favorite team of criminalists from Sin City. A solid premise and a strong cast give life to what otherwise could be a limp attempt at police drama.
Taking its cue from the Jack Klugman series Quincy, the show begins when someone's life ends. Every show begins with the depiction of accidental or intentional death, with just enough to give a glimpse of the outcome and little in the way of clues. Throughout each episode, the team pieces together clues after a series of twists and red herrings. Each show -- sometimes through all too expositional dialogue -- takes the viewer through how each scientific problem is overcome. Thanks to the magic of the musical montage, the CSI team breeze through their investigations with their minds and a boatful of gadgets.
While continuing its self-contained episodic nature, season four delves a bit deeper into the lives of its cast. The CSI team consists of (beware as spoilers follow):
Gil Grissom -- The head of the unit. Truly a man of science and a bug expert, Grissom makes personal strides this season. Concluding a thread from season three, Grissom underwent surgery to restore his hearing. Grissom must deal with his feelings toward fellow CSI Sarah Sidle -- especially when called into a homicide case with a victim that bears more than a passing resemblance to Sidle.
Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger, Species) -- Grissom's second in command. If Grissom is the team's logical side, Willows is its emotional anchor. The ex-showgirl/single mother deals with a new romance and with her father's criminal past. She also brings her knowledge of Las Vegas and its workings with her.
Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan, Alien 3) -- Often accused of being Grissom's favorite, Warrick gets the short end of the stick for season four. His gambling problem from previous seasons is completely dropped. Though he stars in a few episodes, Warrick doesn't get his due. It's a shame considering he's one of the more interesting characters, given his addictive personality.
Sara Sidle -- Someone say something about addictive personalities? Sidle's rivalry with Nick Stokes reaches it peak this season. We also learn that Sara has been sneaking the hooch.
Nick Stokes (George Eads) -- A frat boy with a magnifying glass. Despite appearances (and this reviewer's stereotyping of fraternity brothers), Stokes makes great professional strides this season. Sadly, little has been done to strengthen Stokes' characters since the first season.
Detective Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle Exiled: A Law & Order Movie) -- Former head of the CSI team, Homicide Detective Brass often finds himself on the same investigations as his former charges. Brass is the most charismatic of the bunch, next to Willows.
Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda, The Rules of Attraction) -- The rookie lab tech and comic relief. Sanders had a bit more to do, as he tries to move outside the lab and into the streets.
Al Robbins (Robert David Hall, Starship Troopers) -- The Medical Examiner, and one of the team's great minds.
The cast is comfortable enough in their roles to deliver more with body language and facial expression than with dialogue. William Peterson gives the right amount of smug intelligence to Gil Grissom. I truly believe the character as he spouts off technical jargon. And that, readers, is acting. Under any other actress, the Catherine Willows character would be rendered a stillborn mess. Under Helgenberger, Willows stands strong as Grissom's equal. Sex appeal aside, it's easy to see that Willows was once a stripper. Helgenberger uses an undercurrent of flirtatiousness when delivering her lines, often in a you-can-look-but-can't-touch manner. I hear a good deal of criticism from friends and associates about Jorja Fox's portrayal of Sara Sidle. In her defense, Sidle is supposed to be from Northern California. Many people from "NoCal" have that same stoner-like drone, with a tendency to stretch out the last syllable in any given sentence. George Eads does what he can with Nick Stokes. It isn't his fault there isn't much to do. Gary Dourdan brings his trail of coolness along with him. I get the feeling his Warrick Brown is smarter than all of them. Except for Catherine.
The writing on the show is adequate, occasionally employing humor to varying degrees of success. I doubt anyone watching this is expecting The Wire or Homicide: Life on the Street. Most people watching the show are looking to be dazzled by the scientific jargon, the fancy tools and Marg Helgenberger. Maybe that's just me. If I had more women like her in my science classes, my life would have turned out drastically different.
Sometimes it's easy to spot the twist leading into the third act. I feel like I've accomplished something if I can guess what Grissom will quip at the end of each episode's opening. Still, despite the show's lack of strong drama, I'm hooked on CSI. Helgenberger aside (and I loves me my Marg), the show delivers.
Standout episodes of the season include (some spoilers follow):
*"Fur and Loathing"
See this episode for its exploration of the "Furry" lifestyle. I won't spoil the party for you here, but I will divulge that seeing a gathering of people dressed up like animals and their activities is not to be missed.
Grissom has a go at frontier forensics. The plot gets a little weak and is nothing you won't see coming, but it's a great solo Grissom outing. Additionally, the episode guest stars Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) -- and you can't go wrong with Jeffrey Combs.
Watch a great, creepy performance by Kyle Secor (Homicide: Life on the Street) as he plays a murder suspect. The twist? The victim looks a lot like Sidle, making Grissom feel a little uncomfortable.
*"Turn of the Screws"
Watch Willows at her strongest as she investigates the death of a young girl. Mixing her maternal instincts and her strong scientific knowledge, Willows saves the day.
Visually, the show grabs the viewer's attention and won't let go -- just like Las Vegas. Fast camera pans, colorful filtering and brilliant cinematography contribute to CSI's distinct look. The directors and cinematographers continually outdo themselves. It makes perfect sense that the show is a flashy display of color and darkness given its setting. Everything looks a bit artificial and manufactured -- just like Las Vegas. Thanks to letterboxing, the show looks even more cinematic viewed in its 1.78:1 widescreen ratio.
I love the sound of CSI. Employing 5.1 Surround Sound, I like what I'm hearing. I noticed no muffling or audio problems. Any series using an opening them by The Who absolutely must see to it that the song is done justice. The sound is phenomenal. The musical montages would suffer greatly without this superb sound job.
Included in the DVD set are several episode commentaries by cast and crew. Sometimes bordering on self-lauding, the commentators have a lot to be proud of. They remained as honest as can be expected from a series currently in production. Those looking for gossipy tidbits or exposés ought look elsewhere. They deliver quite a bit of production trivia and background behind the scenes information.
The Special Features section features a series of featurettes following the making of a show from beginning to end. Fans of the show will find the featurettes informative and intriguing. While short, it's interesting to see how a show is manufactured.
If you've seen one CSI, you've seen them all. The show uses a formula and doesn't ever deviate from it. Those seeking long character arcs and Shakespearean drama will be disappointed. While characters do have their own arcs, they are rarely the focus of the show.
The season is not without its misfires. How many little kids know there's a silent "t" in "bitch?" Apparently, the child in the episode "Bad Words" is a genius. Occasionally, I found myself waiting for the show to catch up, as in "XX." At times, the show's a bit too pedestrian for its own good. Thankfully, these are rare exceptions. A few bad shows out of twenty-three isn't bad at all.
For those wanting science to come out on top in the war on crime, stick to CSI. Ignore the far inferior clones from Miami and New York. Grissom and company are miles ahead of David Caruso and his stilted-acting cadre of Calvin Klein models (except the delightful Emily Procter) and the morose and mopey Gary Sinise New York series. What passes for character on those shows sickens me.
I love science and I love police dramas. How hard could it be not to love this thinking detective show, looking and sounding as good as it does? CBS and Paramount caught lightening in a bottle with this bunch. Buy it or rent it, this DVD set is filled to the Gils (pun intended) with hours of entertainment. I wouldn't watch this to pass a police exam, but it's mighty fine viewing nonetheless.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete Fourth Season is free to go on all charges. Apparently, some scientist somewhere found some evidence that cleared them. Go figure.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Gutierrez; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 996 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio commentaries on seven episodes
* "The Evolution of An Episode From Concept to Completion" series of featurettes
* DVD Verdict Review for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete Third Season
* DVD Verdict Review of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete First Season