Leaving Las Vegas

Show: CSI

Premiered: October 2000

Why Was It Made? Super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, known primarily to that point for blammo summer movies like The Rock and Con Air, teamed with screenwriter Anthony Zuiker to pitch the forensic-procedural concept as a weekly show. Everybody passed but CBS, who tucked it in on Fridays behind the Fugitive remake (remember that? hee) to let it grow. And it did. Like Mr. Stay-Puft.

Why Did I Stop Watching? At some point during Laurence Fishburne's first season replacing William Petersen's Gil Grissom in the authoritative-department-head pole position, I noticed just how much exposition experienced CSIs like Nick Stokes (George Eads) and Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) would dump on each other -- co-workers at that point for nearly a decade in show time, responsible for training newer techs -- about the most basic procedures. Not wanting a layperson audience to get lost in a thicket of specialized argot is one thing, but one CSI explaining to another one that everyone has unique fingerprints is another thing, and that thing took me out of the episodes enough times that I quit.

CSI also turned in two or three extremely strong, fraught episodes around the death of Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), and after that, the show had a hard time transitioning back to workaday cases emotionally.

Why Give It Another Shot? Ted Danson's D.B. Russell seemed slightly bitchy in the promos I saw for the show, like he'd bring a zing of tart humor the show desperately needs at this point in its run. Plus, I did enjoy learning about the Subculture of the Week back in the day; maybe my mistake back then was in sitting down to watch CSI with my full attention, instead of having it on while I fixed dinner or got ready to go out. Or to the prom. Or on a playdate. Just kidding, but it seriously has been on a really long time.

What Aspects Of The Latest Episode Would Seem To Invite Further Viewing? Danson is great (and possibly the only actor in the show's history who actually benefits from that sub-zero aquarium lighting they use on the lab set). Elisabeth Shue is on the show now as CSI Julie Finlay, and while her hair is not quite as amazing as Marg Helgenberger's in its heyday, it's quite pretty indeed. Most of the rest of the cast is apparently unchanged, and I always enjoyed Dr. Robbins (Robert David Hall) and Hodges (Wallace Langham) et al. the most anyway. Jorja Fox's Sara Sidle was not present in the season finale, either, which is fine by me, as the character is historically tough to take.

What Aspects Of The Latest Episode Discourage Further Viewing? The gimmicky inclusion of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath in the finale didn't work, and I appreciated the attempt to disguise the still-silly exposition by embedding a reporter (James "Baltar" Callis) with the team, but it's not like that's a permanent solution. I couldn't quite get used to Shue, given the other associations she has with Las Vegas in the culture.

The main issue, though: the writers have run out of ideas, despite no longer having two other CSIs to generate baroque plots for. The finale's serial killer (played by Tim Matheson…or is it?!) is a classic TV too-much construction that ignores the fact that your average serial murderer can't be enough of a psycho to kill a string of women and organized enough to present with more signatures than the Declaration of Independence. Boyfriend is a Dante's Inferno freak who's posing prostitutes with a Bible, that contains a puzzle box, and that contains vials of blood that in turn contain zip drives, or he puts heart charm-bracelet charms into his victims' hearts, and spells out Bible verses on their backs using bruises. Also, bugs! A deftly subtle reference to Grissom's entomology expertise doesn't erase the fact that there just aren't enough hours in the day for any one nutbar to get this creative with his murders.

And Eric Roberts is his storefront-preacher procurer, obviously. Oh, and Jim Brass's (Paul Guilfoyle) trainwreck daughter Ellie is back and pulling focus from the entire rest of the city, again, and it's so dire this time that the ex-Mrs. Brass (Annabella Sciorra) has come to town to help with the investigation…but she can't avert the cliffhanger involving Brass's daughter and Sheriff Ecklie's (Marc Vann) daughter, Morgan (Elisabeth Harnois), who's now a cop and went undercover as a hooker to…I mean, I don't need to continue, do I? Because I could, for another page. It is a lot.

Final Verdict: It might make a good time-shift show, actually; last night's episode isn't necessarily indicative, because it's a finale, and even the almost desperate churning of plot points and kook probably wouldn't bother me if I were half-listening while chopping lettuce. No season pass, but I'm not mad at it either.

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