Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger wants to work in Miami. Everyone from the janitors to the mayor is red hot. He still wants to live in Durham, though, so he doesn't get shot.
Our reviews of CSI: Miami: The Complete First Season (published September 13th, 2004), CSI: Miami: The Complete Second Season (published April 13th, 2005), CSI: Miami: The Complete Third Season (published November 16th, 2005), CSI: Miami: The Final Season (published December 16th, 2012), CSI: Miami: The Ninth Season (published October 13th, 2011), and CSI: Miami: The Seventh Season (published October 12th, 2009) are also available.
I'm Horatio Caine, and this much I know. At CSI Miami we never close.
Though I'm thinking very, very hard about bad television shows, nothing I've seen seems more bad than CSI: Miami. That '80s Show is on the same level of badness. Knight Rider is in many ways worse, but it has K.I.T.T. and a sense of humor to soften the blow (while CSI: Miami offers what? Horatio Caine's sunglasses?). Walker, Texas Ranger is certainly in the running, but isn't as consistently bad as CSI: Miami. Besides, Chuck Norris could kick David Caruso's sunglasses off with a clean roundhouse before Caruso could squint at the camera.
Just to be clear, I'm not calling CSI: Miami the worst show in television history—just the most consistently bad show.
Facts of the Case
Beautiful, rich people in Miami commit indescretions and someone gets whacked. Before you can say "Who, are you, who-who, who-who?" Horatio's (David Caruso, Jade) team is on the scene with much fanfare to collect the evidence. Some dilemma or another manifests just in time for Detective Frank Tripp (Rex Linn, JAG) to stare blankly at Horatio, who mutters a dire throwaway line to usher in the opening credits.
Calleigh Duquesne (Emily Procter), Dr. Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander), Ryan Wolfe (Jonathan Togo, because Eric Szmanda was already booked), Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez), and Maxine Valera (Boti Bliss) investigate the case. Meanwhile, Horatio mutters dark hints about his tortured past, confronts criminals face to face, and/or barges in to save distressed damsels (often while muttering dark hints about his tortured past).
Minutes before the closing credits, someone finds a piece of tape with a print or a speck of DNA in a carburetor that seals the perp's fate. Caine is there with a tortured squint and/or nonchalant shoulder shrug to bring justice to bear on the crime.
In the opening episode of Season Four, "From the Grave," a bunch of people are gunned down in a cemetary (while Caine is off muttering to a priest in a green-backlit cathedral about blood on his hands). An SUV pulls up and the CSI team hops out. They stride across a lawn, their steps punctuated by dramatic freeze frames that capture their perfect hair in mid-swoop. The camera is at a slight worm's eye view to magnify this heroic stride—nay, charge—from the SUV to the crime scene. Mind you, nothing is happening. There is no dramatic meaning to the walk across the parking lot, no hidden irony. No, they're just walking across some grass to process some blood splatters—but it takes 30 seconds and 25 cuts to achieve.
No event is too insignificant for CSI: Miami. Brushing your teeth, are you? How about a 360 degree camera swoop and some CGI plaque captured in slow-mo? Feel like straightening your jacket? Not without a dramatic bass note and some cool orange backlights! And heaven forbid, if something meaningful actually happens, then it is time for the crane shot, aerial footage, and six-angle salute.
See, CSI: Miami is high style. Technically the show is impressive, which explains its Emmy nods for Outstanding Cinematography and Sound Editing. But this sound and fury signifies nothing.
The main problem with CSI: Miami is that it doesn't know how to build characters. The directors think that long, brooding shots of research techs staring at bits of broken glass somehow develop the characters. The writers think that if one dark mutter about the past is a character hint, then a season's worth of dark mutters will turn Horatio into Hamlet. The producers think that a thousand glossy pictures are worth a thousand words. As the season wore on, I learned the many different ways Caruso can use sunglasses as a prop, and learned that Emily Procter looks good in many colors, and that Jonathan Togo has bushy, emotive eyebrows. I did not learn much about Horatio Caine, Calleigh Duquesne, or Ryan Wolfe. Dr. Alexx Woods? She has pet names for cadavers.
If the main characters (and I use "main" loosely, because this is the Horatio Caine and friends show) are this flimsy, there isn't much hope for the guest stars. It boils down to this: if you're an actress with big eyes and a pinched brow, you're a distressed damsel. If you're an actor with slick hair, you are an evil slimeball. Even Silk Stalkings had better supporting characters than this.
Though I hinted at this in Facts of the Case, let's be very clear: you should feel sorry for Rex Linn. He seems like a great guy with lots of charisma. In his capable hands, Detective Frank Tripp could be something fresh in the CSI universe. Instead, he plays second fiddle to Caruso in every scene (third fiddle if you count the sunglasses). Never has a detective seemed so superfluous and vacant. If he pulled out a fan and started cooling Caine's sweating brow, I'd scarcely be surprised.
You may be thinking "but CSI is about the cases, not so much the people." I'll grudgingly admit that they find clever ways to hide key evidence, so the episodes are like glorified Where's Waldo? pages. And that's about it. Hmm…which clever place will they hide the evidence this week, only to be discovered at the 38-minute mark by a brilliant deduction (or massive effort by the lab techs)? If "hide the evidence" gets old for you, then CSI: Miami will quickly wear thin. Technically, the writers spice up the linear stories with serial plot elements like a possible mole on the CSI team and various romantic intrigues. If I were invested in the characters, these attempts might be welcome, but I found them irritating sideshows that felt like…irritating sideshows.
The strange thing is that the parent show CSI shares the same formula and technical gloss, but compels me in ways that CSI: Miami does not. The Vegas team seems more like real people with identifiable personalities and depth. The stories are involving and don't feel as linear.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is Season Four. The previous seasons may have been better, and possibly established some massive character groundwork that is subtly alluded to in this season. If you saw and liked Seasons 1-3, then maybe you'll like Season Four as well.
Perhaps the stunning camerawork would be effective if the stories were better. The technical team deserves praise for ability, if not restraint.
Aside from the notable omission of the second half of the NY-Miami crossover episode "Felony Flight," the extras are pretty good. The featurettes are glossy affairs, but they have substance enough to count as featurettes. Six episode commentaries (predominantly featuring the writer and director of the chosen episodes) capably supplement the episodes. The on-set specifics and the writer's intentions for the episodes are often as interesting as the actual episodes themselves, and worth listening to. For example, the commentary on the keynote episode "Felony Flight" featuring writer Elizabeth Devine, director Scott Lautanen, and creator Anthony E. Zuiker informs us that they had to make up a way to bring the plane down so as not to teach budding terrorists.
As you might expect, but still worth prasing, the show looks and sounds great. The anamorphic transfer is dirt-free and brilliant, while the soundtrack pumps out techno-pop and the whip-crack of Caine's oft-fired gun.
Miami is a hot city with hot people and hot crimes. This is well-tread television territory. Yet CSI: Miami highlights the vacuous and mundane, wringing out every trace of humor or approachability. It then takes the wrinkled, wrung-out scrap and glams it up to look like a red-carpet gown. If empty gloss is your bag, then zip yourself in. Otherwise, step away.
Horatio Caine is found guilty of misusing government eyewear.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on six episodes
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