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Fall '04: "CSI: New York"

I do not hate cop-n-lawyer shows. As proof I offer the fact that I am up to my neck in the Law & Order franchise, loved Boomtown beyond all reason, missed The Job terribly until it was reincarnated as Rescue Me, absolutely loved the first season of NYPD Blue, and consider Miami Vice one of the great cultural pillars of the (otherwise unlamentably passed) 1980s. Hell, I grew up on ADAM-12. This is but a small sample of my vast personal experience with the cop-n-lawyer format on TV.

I do not hate franchises, either. I’m faithful to L&O in all its variations and even find myself looking forward to the upcoming L&O: Trial By Jury despite the fact that Jerry Orbach has seriously worn out his welcome and Dick Wolf is a hack.

Also, I love New York City. I really do. It took me a long time to realize that. For years I thought I hated the place, couldn’t wait to leave it and move to Toronto or something. Then I didn’t move to Toronto, and eventually I figured out why: Because I love New York City, plain and simple. It’s ugly, it smells like urine most of the time, and it’s always being run into the ground by high-minded politicians intent on cleaning up the interesting parts, but I love it just the same.

And I love Gary Sinise. I consider him one of the finest actors working today. The film around him may suck — in fact, his films usually do — but Sinise is always worth watching.

So when I heard that Gary Sinise would be starring in the latest CSI offering, CSI: NY, I rushed to my DirecTiVo and punched it in. Breathlessly I waited, and when it at last arrived, I sat the wife down and said, “Are you ready for this?”

She was. I wasn’t. I thought it would be good.

CSI: NY is, in fact, absolutely dreadful. It contains not one single second of worthwhile television. Even the blank space between raster lines should be embarrassed to be seen on the same screen. CSI: NY is very nearly reason enough to ban the English language from the planet, even if it means losing Shakespeare and Milton.

Take, for example, the opening scene of the first episode. A body is found near the waterfront. Gary Sinise, as Detective Mac Taylor, is called to the scene to investigate. He is, after all, the titular crime scene investigator. He looks over the body, asks some questions, takes some pictures, whatever, and then lifts up the dead woman’s left hand. The camera clearly shows the wedding ring on her finger; it glows because the scene is shot with some grainy, washed-out filter or digital effect or something, so anything yellow looks like Day-Glo. There is a pause — the kind of pause that hack writers always call pregnant — the kind of pause that signals that the TV show is waiting for the viewers to catch up — there is a long pause. Cut to Gary Sinise, his face creased as if he were trying to fart out a cantaloupe.

“Someone out there’s missing a wife,” he intones.

Which would be why they pay him the big bucks, wouldn’t it? If there is a single person who heard that line and did not at least think “No shit, Sherlock,” I’d like to meet them, because I enjoy throwing rocks at morons.

Sinise spends the rest of the episode trying his damnedest to get that cantaloupe out, but no luck. He is joined in this endeavor by Melina Kanakaredes as Detective Stella Bonasera, a character who floats so vacantly through the pilot that she left no impression other than my thinking that Kanakaredes had better get off the Atkins diet before her cheeks meet in the middle. Some other actors are also involved, but I’ll let you look them all up on the IMDb, because that’s what I’d have to do to tell you anything about them. They walk on, they say some stuff, they walk off.

The only other actor with any presence on the show is Grant Albrecht, playing Dr. Leonard Giles. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention either time I watched the pilot — I kept getting distracted by more engaging things in my vicinity, such as watching the philodendron grow — but who this guy is and what he’s doing didn’t seem to be explained. In fact, to find out the actor’s name I had to do a little Internet sleuthing, because I couldn’t even find his credit in the episode. Which is probably just as well for Albrecht’s career, such as it is.

The character of Giles plays a very important part in CSI:NY: He’s the Explainer. When the lead character can’t figure things out, he goes to the Explainer, who explains everything for him, and then the lead rushes out with dramatic conclusions thundering in his brain. Being the Explainer would be enough to get this character to stand out, since no one else seems capable of anything but the most terse, pointless dialogue. But Dr. Giles stands out even more, because his scenes are totally unrelated to anything else in the show and they take place in this cavernous, poorly-lit, dusty museum-like office. It’s the perfect set to show off Albrecht’s gravelly Expository Dialog Delivery System. “Argle bargle bargle arg,” he says, neatly wrapping up the episode’s mystery with some aimless medical jargon, and Gary Sinise rushes out to nab the bad guy while Dr. Giles is creakily raised back above stage in his machina.

CSI:NY as a whole is, above all else, insultingly stupid. Take the scene in which a camera is found near another dead body. The detectives decide to develop the film, and we find ourselves in a darkroom looking over the comely shoulder of Vanessa Ferlito as she slips photo paper into the developing solution. A picture begins to appear and she declares to the other guy in the room, “Wait, something’s coming.”

Anyone who has even the dimmest idea of how photos are developed probably knows that you make a print from a negative. And since you project the negative onto the paper to make a print, it should be pretty obvious that “something’s coming” quite a while before you put the paper into the developing solution. Because if the negative was blank, you wouldn’t try to develop a print from it.

Stupidity isn’t necessarily insulting. But when you make a show as serious, as deadpan, as downright depressing and oppressive as CSI: NY — when your clear intent is to craft a drama of weight and consequence, and you’re either too dumb to know what you’re doing or you think your audience is too dumb to care, that’s when stupidity becomes insulting. When you think your TV show is powerful and important enough that you can end your inaugural episode with a shot of Ground Zero, but you’ve surrounded that image with gaffes you shouldn’t make in your freshman year writing class — in high school — you’re not just insulting, you’re downright boorish.

That sums up CSI: NY. Boorish and bad. Rude and awful. Worthless and wasteful. The only positive thing which might come from it: If this spreads the CSI franchise talent pool so thinly it finally evaporates entirely, we might be rid of the whole blight in one season.

We can hope, if only for the good of cop-n-lawyer shows, franchises, New York City, and Gary Sinise. On second thought, Gary’s off the list.


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