Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CCC says good-bye to 'CSI'

It's hard to believe "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" has been around for 15 years.

Watching Sunday's two-hour finale made me realize how much I've missed the original crew.

Most of my favorite characters were back, aside from George Eads' Nick Stokes (does anybody know what happened to him?) and Liz Vassey's Wendy Simms, simply the most adorable scientist on "CSI." (Let's face it, five seasons and 78 episodes weren't nearly long enough for such a thoroughly likable character!)

It was a treat seeing Marg Helgenberger return as Catherine Willows, who left Las Vegas to be a FBI agent. But as she admitted, being a CSI — and in Sin City — is in her blood.

And really, Catherine Willows was the heart and soul of "CSI" — much like Julianna Marguiles as nurse Anne Hathaway in "E.R." By the time Marguiles stepped down, other bigger-name actors had left "E.R." already and her departure, much like Willows', confirmed that each woman embodied what was great about each series.

There's no doubt "CSI" and "E.R." are quintessential examples of ensemble series, but it was only after their characters were gone did I realize how much they meant to show. Hathaway and Willows related well to the other cast members and their absence really brought that home. (And to be fair, my one-time impassioned interest in each show had waned significantly by the time Helgenberger and Marguiles left.)

Some fans may argue that "CSI" took just as huge of a hit when Gil Grissom (William Petersen) left. But but I'd say Laurence Fishburne's three-season tenure as Dr. Raymond Langston was a great time to continue following "CSI."

Langston is every bit as complicated as Grissom, but not nearly as quirky.

Being one of the original characters, Grissom was the leader from Day One, while Langston had to find a way to fit in and gain the respect of his co-workers as the lab director. The writers and producers did a great job handling that. Brilliantly, Fishburne played Langston as knowing he had the right skills, but was a fish out of water with plenty more to learn — and share with his fellow investigators.

Sure, I missed Grissom when he left, but his absence gave the opportunity for Stokes and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox, who also had a short but memorable run on "E.R.") to step up and shine in many great episodes. And in the transition from Grissom to Langston's leadership, Willows proved to be the glue that kept the team — and "CSI" itself — rolling.

The Cary's Comics Craze-'CSI' connection

Many of you may not know "CSI" played a big part in what Cary's Comics Craze is.

As Petersen's time as Grissom was winding down, my employer, the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper, had several staff writers penning TV-inspired blogs. (Honestly, my "Cary's Crime Craze" and news editor Matt Roche's detailed thoughts on "Dancing with the Stars" were the only blogs that kept going beyond the first handful of posts. They got the most reads and generated the most feedback with our online readers. Thanks to Tess Fisher for our many engaging, back-and-forth discussions on "CSI"!) 

After each "CSI" episode, I made sure I posted a review on the REFLECTOR website and even posted some thoughts on news and previews I caught online. Repeat episodes sometimes also inspired a post.

In late March 2010, I wrote a blog about the "CSI effect" when Huron County Assistant Prosecutor Richard Woodruff warned a local jury about it's not "a 'CSI' world" in his opening statement and closing arguments in a drug trial.
Those years were a great time to be a "CSI" fan.

Grissom and Sara were delving into their odd romantic relationship, another of my favorite CSI-ers, the late Warrrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), had a downward spiral (and sadly, eventually was murdered!) and the infamous Lady Heather became a major subplot. Top all that off with some CBS crossovers ("Two and Half Guys" was an instant classic!) and the Grissom-Lansgton transition and there were many great topics for blotter fodder.

When the infamous 2007-'08 writer's strike hit and during each summer, I found myself posting op-eds on non-"CSI" material.

Not surprisingly, those inspirations were live-actions films and animated projects from the cape-and-cowl crowd and of course, comic books and trade paperbacks. Out of that was born what would become the online version of my (now defunct) twice-monthly fanboy column, "Cary's Comics Craze."

When Fisburne's Lansgton left the series, I tried hard to stick it out.

But my heart wasn't into it and Ted Danson as D.B. Russell. He and one of my teenage crushes, Elisabeth Shue, just didn't capture my attention like Grissom and the gang had. (Although I'm glad to see Danson's character will be moving over to "CSI: Cyber," a series I have yet to watch.)

On top of that, being a cops-and-courts reporter, I couldn't handle the increasingly wild motives the characters had for killing others. I had (and still have!) more than my share of writing about people doing inappropriate things to others during my workday and had to admit I couldn't handle it anymore during my free time to watch "CSI."

So, this once diehard "CSI" fan was no longer watching one of his favorite shows. I had "broken up" with a series I once dared not miss — much as I had with "E.R." I made sure I watched Willow's final episode (a taste of my beloved classic "CSI"!). And I sure wasn't going to miss the very last episode.

"CSI" Crime Scene Investigation" grades: The Grissom era: A (mostly); the Langston era: B+; the Russell era: C-

My final 'CSI' review: 'Immortality' (Parts 1 and 2 aka the series finale):

Undoubtedly this was an excuse to bring Grissom and Willows back into the fold for their last hurrah. While everyone knew this would the case, this naturally pushed Russell and police Capt. James Brass into basically extended cameos. (Brass had next to nothing to do, aside from getting severely burned for no apparent reason.) It's unfortunate the creative team couldn't have found a way for Nick to also rejoin the team. (That is, unless he got killed after I stopped watching!) Aside from that, what a treat to see Willows' daughter earned her CSI badge and then learning how to dust for fingerprints from Grissom.

The writers smartly upped the tension between Grissom and Sara, who wasn't happy at all for the undersheriff to order her to track down her ex-husband to assist the bombing case in which Lady Heather was being implicated. Petersen and Fox did a great job of making their initial interactions as Grissom and Sara exceedingly awkward — just as if the estranged couple hadn't seen each other in a long time.

Making Lady Heather the suspect added to the tension since the S&M expert-turned therapist always manages to get under Sara's skin. And it's always been understood Sara was jealous of Grissom's connection with the always complicated, yet generally sympathetic Lady Heather.

Grissom doing his "Jacques Cousteau thing" doesn't jive with his passion for studying insects. The writers seemed to force the dominate-submissive component of his study of whales and sharks into the plot.

On the other hand, who else but Grissom would use painted bees as a way to track down where the bombing suspect actually lives? By far, the best performance of the finale was the way Grissom studied Sara as they waited for the different colored bees to return; he obviously ached to hold her hand, but just couldn't bring himself to do it. The awkward moment was full of expert writing, directing and acting — perfect for Grissom and Sara's awkward but strong love for each other. Grade: B

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