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Fall '02: CSI Among the Gators

In the interest of fairness, I should admit something: I recap CSI for Television Without Pity, and I will be recapping CSI: Miami as well. I suppose this could constitute a conflict of interest in somebody's imagination; so far as I am concerned, it's not a conflict until I go on the Bruckheimer Productions payroll. And now, on to the review.

The problem with reviewing a spin-off show is that it's nearly impossible to judge the show on its own merits, and entirely too easy to compare it to its progenitor. The problem with CSI: Miami is that it does very little to dissuade anyone from mentally drawing a compare-and-contrast table while watching the show.

The two senior members of the CSI bunch are an emotionally wary science type and a cynical investigator who trusts her instincts; the two senior members of the CSI: Miami crew are an emotionally wounded science type and a cynical investigator who trusts his instincts. The supporting players on CSI include a callow but well-meaning type, a cool investigator type, and an intense female workaholic; the supporting players on CSI: Miami include a callow but well-meaning type, a cool investigator type, and an intense female workaholic. There is a lab tech on CSI who occasionally unnerves his coworkers with his nonconformist behavior; there is a coroner on CSI: Miami who occasionally unnerves the viewers by holding lively conversations with the subjects of her autopsies. Everyone on CSI is capable of deducing circumstance from evidence; scarcely a conversation goes by in the premiere episode of CSI: Miami where someone's not displaying a flair for logical deduction during a crime scene's reconstruction.

And so on, et cetera, and so forth. It's not hard to imagine someone reducing CSI to a formula and reassembling the constituent parts in a new location. Unfortunately, this replication was less than successful. While CSI admits to having a sense of humor, everyone on CSI: Miami takes everything way too seriously. Titular CSI leads William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger manage to give the impression that they regard themselves as part of an ensemble, both on-screen and off, whereas too much of CSI: Miami's emphasis is on the supposed A-list combination of David Caruso and Kim Delaney, reducing everyone else to little more than background and diluting the sense of collaboration, which is one of CSI's strongest story elements. Another of CSI's winning elements -- the up-close-and-personal looks at tell-tale evidence -- is diminished in CSI: Miami. Finally, CSI: Miami spends far more time on overt character development than its parent. This might be a response to critics who complain that the original doesn't do enough to flesh out Gil Grissom and company, but it could be a tactical weakness -- people didn't tune into the original to watch Warrick Brown kick his gambling compulsion, but to see what the crime of the week was. For some viewers, the real fun is in taking the few character details and doing a little deductive work of their own, and having CSI: Miami serve up everyone's psyches on a platter is boring by comparison.

To be fair, a lot of what makes CSI a solid and entertaining show evolved slowly over the course of a season; comparing a single episode of a spin-off to two years of its progenitor is fundamentally imbalanced. However, the whole point to a spin-off is to capitalize on the goodwill viewers have for the original, and to reproduce the elements that made it so successful. CSI: Miami may certainly do the former, but whether it can repeat the winning formula remains to be seen.


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