While Jerry Bruckheimer has gained fame after producing several major-budget film hits ("Armageddon", "Pirates of the Caribbean"), the producer has also extended his reach into television, providing viewers with shows that bare the same intense pace and visual spark that his films have become known for. Although "Amazing Race" (which is thankfully now on DVD) and "Without a Trace" have been small-screen hits for Bruckheimer, none of the shows that he has been involved with have hit with as much impact as "CSI", a crime series that has spawned two spinoffs and even a video game.
Based in Las Vegas, "CSI" focuses on a team of investigators who are called in each week to solve a murder. They include Gil Grissom (William Petersen), Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), Nick Stokes (George Eads), Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox). Although the repetitive structure of the series can sometimes get a little monotonous, each episode is presented as a tightly structured and well-scripted mystery, with information sparsely parcelled out. Interviews are conducted, clues are tracked down and we spend time in the lab, where we're presented with all manner of gross props. Piece-by-piece, we learn about the hows and whys of the crime.
Given the ratings of CSI, the show can afford to utilize unusually high production values. Special effects are often used to give viewers an idea of the forensic science that's being discussed, while the show's look - both in production design and cinematography - rivals that of many feature film productions. Is it too glossy? Well, it's Las Vegas.
The show's scripts often delve into technical terms and scientific explanations, but I do credit the writers for making the explanations easy to understand without making it seem as if the show has just stopped to spell things out for the audience. Multiple plot threads are also interwoven with skill and assurance.
"CSI"'s talented cast certainly also stands out. Helgenberger's icy charm is wonderfully compelling, as she delivers her lines with great timing and confidence. William Peterson is also superb as the lead. The show's supporting cast is terrific and actors taken in for episode-specific roles are also exceptionally well-chosen.
Season 7 of the series was a particularly standout year for the show, with excellent storylines and strong performances. The season starts with "Built to Kill", a 2-parter that begins a thread that will last throughout the season. In the episode, the CSIs are confronted with the work of the "miniature killer", a suspect who creates incredibly detailed miniatures of the crime scenes, left for investigators to decipher. Catherine's daughter is abducted and she learns that she may be a target.
Season 8 of the series follows the well-regarded seventh season, whose storyline about the "miniature killer" was thought by many to be well-written. However, the show did lose a recurring character in Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) early in the 8th season, reportedly due in part to a contract dispute. The first episode of the season sees the CSI's in search for Sidle, who was taken by the miniature killer at the end of the prior season. In the seventh episode, "Goodbye and Good Luck", the character was given a moving sendoff. The series will face a bigger challenge soon, as it has been announced that series lead William Petersen has made clear his intention to leave the series in the 9th season and will return for guest star appearances.
While there are some solid episodes this time around, the series is, overall, moderately more uneven this season (a shortened season due to the writer's strike). In terms of the negatives, of particular note is "Two and a Half Deaths", which is written by "Two and a Half Men" co-creators Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn. Lorre has created some magnificently funny projects over the years, but this cross-over to "CSI" was a mistake - the "CSI" cast doesn't exactly seem comfortable doing comedy, but on the other hand, I don't blame them in this case - the screenplay isn't very funny, as the jokes are hokey and the plot is dull. Again, I can appreciate the talent involved in both shows, but the choice to have "Two and a Half Men" and CSI" involved together in an episode didn't sound like a good idea and the results are mediocre at best.
Some of the highlights of the season include: "A La Cart" (A pair of cases - one involving a go-cart racer and the other at a hip restaurant), "Goodbye and Good Luck" (Sara leaves the CSI team after a particularly difficult case involving a suspect from the past), "Cockroaches" (directed by William Friedkin; the team investigates an underground mob) and "Grissom's Divine Comedy" (an episode which sees the team investigating key witnesses in a case against a dangerous gang.)
166. 8- 1 27 Sep 07 Dead Doll (2)
167. 8- 2 4 Oct 07 A La Cart
168. 8- 3 11 Oct 07 Go to Hell
169. 8- 4 18 Oct 07 The Case of the Cross-Dressing Carp
170. 8- 5 1 Nov 07 The Chick Chop Flick Shop
171. 8- 6 8 Nov 07 Who & What
172. 8- 7 15 Nov 07 Goodbye and Good Luck
173. 8- 8 22 Nov 07 You Kill Me
174. 8- 9 6 Dec 07 Cockroaches
175. 8-10 13 Dec 07 Lying Down with Dogs
176. 8-11 10 Jan 08 Bull
177. 8-12 3 Apr 08 Grissom's Divine Comedy
178. 8-13 10 Apr 08 A Thousand Days on Earth
179. 8-14 24 Apr 08 Drops Out
180. 8-15 1 May 08 The Theory of Everything
181. 8-16 8 May 08 Two and a Half Deaths
182. 8-17 15 May 08 For Gedda (1)
VIDEO: "CSI" is presented by Paramount in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is the show's original aspect ratio. The presenation is of the highest quality, with very few concerns. Despite the show's length, the episodes have been spaced out very reasonably across 6 dual-layered DVDs. Sharpness and detail remained totally first-rate, with excellent sharpness and detail consistently present throughout the episodes, even in low-light situations.
I did notice what appeared to be slight grain and a couple of instances of minor shimmering, but I did not spot any instances of compression artifacts or other faults. I was also surprised at how well the presentations handled the Las Vegas color palette, with colors appearing bright, well-saturated and not smeary or otherwise flawed in any way.
SOUND: "CSI" is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. These tracks are not the all-out assault that the sound mixes associated with Jerry Bruckheimer productions usually are, but they do provide a very enjoyable and often rather impressive listening experience. Surrounds, while not constantly employed, are often called into use to provide light ambience, some musical reinforcement and even some more noticable discrete sound effects. Aside from the satisfying amount of activity and detail, I was also impressed at the dynamic range, smoothness and clarity of these soundtracks, as many TV-on-DVD shows that offer 5.1 soundtracks don't have this level of audio quality.
Commentaries are included on "You Kill Me" (Naren Shankar, Wallace Langham, Liz Vassey, Archie Koo, Sheeri Rappaport and David Berman), "Cockroaches" (William Friedkin, William Petersen and David Berman). I was particularly interested in Friedkin's commentary for the "Cockroaches" episode in order to see how the director approached this for-TV effort (his first.) The Friedkin commentary does heap on the praise at times, but in-between small talk and compliments, we do get some good production insights and some discussion of the friendship that Friedkin and Petersen had prior to working on this episode, as the two have worked together on multiple occasions in the past.
Also included on the last disc are a series of featurettes, including: "So Long, Sara Sidle" (some of the history of the character and an exploration of how the cast and crew came to the decision of how to have the character to leave the show - as well as ), "What Happened in Vegas" (a closer look at a couple of the season's storylines, as well as some discussion of the writer's strike), "Shot in the Dark" (the look of the series and how it has changed/evolved at times over the years), "TOD: A Bug's Life" (one of the show's advisers discusses the science of forensic entomology), "William Friedkin: A Different Take" and "When the Cast's Away, The Rats Will Play".
Also included are a deleted scene and a crossover episode of "Without A Trace" ("Where and Why")
Final Thoughts: "CSI"'s eighth season offers fine performances from the cast, but the show proves to be more uneven after a solid prior season. Additionally, the departure of Fox this season and reports of further cast departures this season does make one wonder how the series will proceed in the coming seasons. The DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video quality, as well as the usual solid set of extra features. Recommended.