Paramount // 2008 // 732 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 3rd, 2008
Sin Never Sleeps
For my money, the second through fourth seasons of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation were the best thing on television. Interesting mysteries, compelling characters, and an unashamedly intellectual bent to the material put it head and shoulder above the competition. However, I feel like the show started to slip in Season Five, only fitfully reaching its previous heights. After that season's amazing two-part season finale, the show seemed to lose steam, with no clear direction on how to develop the show or the characters. This led to some annoyingly inconsistent characterizations (like Nick's random PTSD symptoms and Warrick's sudden marriage), and more experimentation. One of those experiments was to give a greater number of episodes over to the Miniature Killer. While I appreciated the attempt to change the formula, the story got tired after a while. Then, CSI gave us a season finale where we learn the identity of the Miniature Killer, but only after Sara becomes a victim, trapped under a car in the desert. Although truncated by the writer's strike, this eighth season of CSI continues in the vein of the last few seasons, offering a greater peek into the lives of the CSIs, as well as some interesting murders.
CSI is the story of a group of forensic scientists working in the Las Vegas Crime Lab.
At the end of last season, Sara (Jorja Fox, Memento) was trapped under a car in the desert. We learn her fate in the first episode, and the next few episodes deal with the aftermath of this experience. Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan, Black August) also gets the spotlight for this season, as he deals with the disintegration of his marriage and a vendetta with a local gangster.
All 17 of the season's episodes (plus the Without a Trace crossover) are spread out over five discs, with the extras on discs Three and Five:
* "Dead Doll"
* "A La Cart"
* "Go To Hell"
* "The Case of the Cross-Dressing Carp"
* "The Chick Chop Flick Shop"
* "Who & What"
* "Where & Why" (Without a Trace)
* "Goodbye & Good Luck"
* "You Kill Me"
* "Lying Down with Dogs"
* "Grissom's Divine Comedy"
* "A Thousand Days On Earth"
* "Drops' Out"
* "The Theory of Everything"
* "Two and a Half Deaths"
* "For Gedda"
There are some spoilers below, but probably nothing new to anyone who follows entertainment news. Also, if you're looking to stay spoiler-free, don't even glance at the back of the box because there are spoilers in the summary and the special features.
One of the problems with enjoying a show as popular as CSI is avoiding spoilers. Before I sat down to watch Season Eight, I knew that both Jorja Fox and Gary Dourdan had decided to leave the show, so the only question was how. I can say that both exits are handled very effectively, although Dourdan's has a bit more impact.
Although Sara survives her encounter with the Miniature Killer, it obviously affects her deeply. However, I don't feel like the writers did enough to convey what was going on in Sara's mind. Jorja Fox does an amazing job giving her character a slightly more cynical, dark edge, but the writers don't give her enough material to adequately convey what she's thinking and feeling. Because of this, her exit from the show feels rushed and forced. I'm sure part of that was dictated by necessity, but I'm left with the feeling that there could have been more done to ease her transition off the show. Also, Sara's departure doesn't seem to have much effect on the rest of the team. Grissom looks like a puppy dog for a few episodes, but the rest of the team seems sad for an episode and then moves on. It just didn't feel genuine.
In contrast, we get to see a lot of what's going on in Warrick's head this season. His marriage is falling apart, and he gets involved in a case against infamous Vegas wiseguy Lou Gedda. When they can't secure a conviction, Warrick takes it personally. He begins to spiral out of control as drugs play a larger role in his life, and he's accused of multiple homicides throughout the season. In contrast to Sara's departure, Warrick's feels more natural, and it's obviously going to have huge repercussions for the next season at least.
It's a good thing that the season spends so much time on Sara and Warrick. However, the rest of the team gets pretty short shrift this time out, leaving the show with lots of gimmicky episodes. There's one that takes place at a horror movie studio that plays out like a horror film in the end. There's also an all-lab rats episode where Hodges engages the other techs in a "thought experiment," and there's even an episode by the writers of Two and a Half Men. This season also relies a lot more heavily on comedy, with even more than the usual quotient of puns. I do have to give kudos to Paramount for securing the rights to the biggest "gimmick" episode of the season, a crossover with Without a Trace. Not only do we get the CSI episode, but the episode from Without a Trace. I wasn't terribly impressed with the episodes, mainly because I don't like the cast of Without a Trace, but it was interesting to see an abduction case.
Although I wasn't always impressed with the stories this season, I can't fault the acting. Obviously Jorja Fox and Gary Dourdan are at the forefront this season, and they do remarkably well. The rest of the team is reliably good, including the techs (who seem to be getting larger roles on the show). The special guests for each episode are also top-notch, including Harold Perrineau and Juliette Goglia (reprising her role as the brilliant young Machiavelli from Season Six). However, my favorite new actor this season was Method Man as club owner Drops. He's a hilarious combination of smooth and tough that makes me hope his character comes back at some point.
Another thing I can't fault CSI for is the high production values. All the shows look pretty darn good, with strong black levels and sharp details. The shows are also well-mixed, with a nice balance between dialogue and effects. The extras aren't quite as extensive as with the last season release, but we get two commentaries, one by William Friedkin and William Peterson, and the other by the techs featured in the "You Kill Me" episode. There are also the usual featurettes, including ones that focus on the lab tech episode and the Friedkin-directed episodes. There's also a look at Sara Sidle, a whole-season overview, and a look at the show's cinematography. Finally, the last featurette is an informative piece on the use of insects in forensics. Paramount has also provided a lone deleted scene that sheds some light on Catherine and Grissom.
Paramount charges a pretty penny for these CSI sets, sometimes twenty dollars more than similar shows cost. The content might warrant this kind of price, but the presentation does not. For an $80 MSRP, I expect subtitles and intelligent disc design. For the eighth season of CSI, we get neither. There are no subtitles, and there is no play-all function to watch all the episodes on a disc. Even worse, there's no option to use the chapter-forward button to go from the end of one episode to the beginning of another; you have to go back to the menu to watch a new episode. This is an appalling design decision, and not something I would expect given the asking price of this set.
I don't think CSI rules the airwaves anymore, but it's still a quality show with a huge following. With the departure of two of the stars, fans are certainly going to want to own this DVD set to get their final moments of Sara and Warrick. The technical aspects of the set are first rate, with excellent audio and video, and the extras are similarly worthwhile. My complaints about the subtitles and DVD navigation aren't deal breakers, so this set is recommended to any fans of the show.
Despite the mounting evidence against it, CSI is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; 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 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 732 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "While the Cast's Away, the Rats Will Play"
* "William Friedkin: A Different Take"
* "So Long, Sara Sidle"
* "What Happened in Vegas..."
* "Shot in the Dark"
* "TOD: A Bug's Life"
* Deleted Scene
* Audio Commentary on "Cockroaches" and "You Kill Me"