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CSI - The Complete First Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 March 2003

CSI: The Complete First Season

Paramount Home Video
MPAA rating: NR
starring: William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Gary Dourdan, George Eads, Jorja Fox, Paul Guilfoyle
release year: 2000-2001
film rating: Five Stars
sound/picture: Five Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

Whodunit? The word catches the imagination of armchair detectives everywhere. The search for physical clues leading to the solutions of crimes really caught public attention back in 1888 with the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary creation was the first to use observation and little-known facts to solve cases. The writer patterned his detective hero on a teacher he had while at university.

In 2000, Jerry Bruckheimer Television introduced the first crime scene investigation show, aptly titled “CSI,” and caught the attention of the world. The hour-long show features hard-driving music, the glitter of Las Vegas nightlife, and forensic facts that made the world realize they hadn’t seen everything with the orchestrated trial of O. J. Simpson.

Gil Grissom (William Petersen) heads up the graveyard shift of Las Vegas’ Crime Scene Investigation department. He’s cool and analytical, a scientist who specializes in insects, which —as the audiences learn in the course of one episode — are the primary indicators of how long a corpse has been dead.

The rest of the CSI team consists of Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), a dedicated criminologist and single mom who has a surprising past, including a stint as an exotic dancer, Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), a driven guy whom likes pushing his life to the edge and who has a gambling addiction, Nick Stokes (George Eads), a techie with a penchant for videogames and who has a real feel for people, and Sara Sidel (Jorja Fox), who is the newbie on the team and is a “nothing but the facts, ma’am” kind of operator who was trained by Grissom.

Some of the friction between the street cops and the plainclothes detectives shows in the episodes of the first year of the series. Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) is the unofficial sixth member of the CSI team. Some of the first year’s story arcs include tension over Brass’ demotion back into homicide and working as a liaison for the CSI team. Brass at one time ran the CSI unit and now finds himself sometimes at odds with Grissom’s science-driven methodology to case-solving.

Character arcs play a part in the overall scheme of the series, providing some inside moments of what it must be like to work a high-stress job like this under the conditions the CSIs deal with on a daily basis. But the basis of a CSI episode is the crime and the solution, powered by cool science, heart-stopping images of murder and mayhem, and the chart-topping background music.

Crime has long been a fascination for the public. The attention turns first to who did it, then to why was it done, and finally to how was it done. A CSI episode covers all three of those bases, but mixes up the order. Sometimes the solution even comes at the start of an episode or in the middle, and the story revolves around how the CSI unit is going to make the case.

Fingerprinting and DNA are well-publicized types of forensics. Fibers and ballistics are two other components that most armchair detectives know about. But a CSI episode puts the viewer right up into that technology. In the series’ later years, the CGI (computer graphics imagery) technology even puts viewers into the body of the deceased. Audio forensics, entomology, model building re-enactment, computer forensics, neural linguistics, programming human behavior science (Episode 20 “Justice Is Served”) and psychological forensics are also introduced in the series.

Everyone who watches the series probably has images imprinted on his or her mind from one episode or another. Episode 1, the pilot, sets the tone with the jars containing a preserved pig fetus, a snake poised to strike, and a frog floating in mid-jump. Later, Grissom takes a pint of blood from a new CSI recruit, claiming that the donation is something everyone makes. Scenes later, the viewer sees what Grissom is using the recruit’s blood in order to experiment with splatter patterns by smashing a golf club into a dummy’s head. The character is called Gruesome Grissom by some who know him, and he’s earned the nickname.

In Episode 3, “Cool Change,” the stark image of the infrared view of a woman lying trapped in a wine crate underground seizes our attention. Later in the episode, Grissom’s attempts to find out if a victim was pushed, jumped, or slipped from a rooftop borders on something out of the Three Stooges. Nick propels dummy after dummy from the rooftop to the amusement of a crowd that has gathered to watch the spectacle. The crowd claps appreciatively and scores each dummy’s fall to the pavement.

The theme music for the series is “Who Are You?” performed by The Who. Episode 6 carries the song title as its own title. The hair-raising sight of skeletal fingers protruding from the foundation of a house opens the drama as a plumber looking for a leak makes the discovery. Again, some of the trademark black humor puts in an appearance in the opening of this episode as the CSI unit tries to uncover the identity of the person buried beneath the house. This episode also touches on Catherine’s past as an exotic dancer and her ongoing relationship with her ex-husband, Eddie. He puts pressure on Catherine, asking her if she would rather their daughter visit him in prison or at the mall. The honest emotion Nick shows after being held at gunpoint is terrific.

Most of the episodes revolve around two or three crimes. The CSI unit usually splits up into teams to cover the investigations. The teams are not always the same, giving the constant viewer the chance to see how the different individuals work with each other and under different kinds of stress. However, in Episode 22, “Strip Strangler,” the episode revolves around one case only, which is the investigation of a serial killer who poses his victims.

The extra materials contained on the DVD are slight. The featurette, “CSI — People Lie…But The Evidence Never Does”, is a nice background piece on the characters, the developers, and the focus of the series, but doesn’t really go in-depth. If the shows weren’t so good, the rating for this DVD collection might not be what it is. But the shows, the tech, and the characters are amazing.

“CSI: The Complete First Season” is an excellent purchase, whether the viewer has previously seen the episodes or not. The show is highly watchable, even in re-runs. Fans of mysteries and armchair detectives will enjoy the DVDs. The shows may be enjoyed even by couples, because the murders and the pursuit of the solutions will entertain both sexes, if they both have an interest in crime programs. With 23 episodes in this first-season collection, viewers could consider the DVDs as date nights in a box. And the challenge remains whether viewers can outguess the CSI teams.

more details
sound format:
Character Profiles; “Who Are You?” CSI Music Video; Featurette: “CSI—People Lie…But The Evidence Never Does”; English Closed-Captioning
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Dolby Digital Stereo
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba

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