Just when police shows are going for bigger and bolder action, moviemaker Jerry Bruckheimer, master of the big bang theory, decides to get small. We’re talking hair follicles and fingerprints; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” is a painstaking detailed and sometimes stomach-turning look at the minutiae of evidence that the crack squad of the Las Vegas Criminalistics Department uses to track down bad guys. Buoyed by a talented cast, “CSI” may not have much competition from ABC’s Friday night duo of “Norm” and “Madigan Men,” but “Dateline NBC” and Fox’s “Police Videos” might seem like a viable alternative to watching people crawl around a toilet bowl in search of toenail clippings.
Just four years ago, series creator Anthony Zuiker was driving a tourist tram for the Mirage Hotel when he came up with the idea for “CSI,” based on his experiences interviewing the town’s criminalistics dept.
It’s a compelling idea — watching the pros pick up where the police detectives leave off. But sometimes too much information is well, just too much information.
Director Danny Cannon does his best to translate the mounds of zip-lock baggies and anal swabs into compelling television, and utilizes some interesting biologically detailed camera work not unlike that of David O. Russell’s style in “Three Kings” to keep viewers up to speed with the scientists.
But more often than not “CSI” isn’t sure if it’s trying to be intellectual or just sensational. The temporary track’s heavy-handed music, inversely proportional to the events onscreen, doesn’t help. Subsequent episodes would do better to pull back on attention-grabbing stunts in favor of the mystery and drama that lies at the core of this premise.
Dubbed “the nerd squad” by local law enforcement, the dedicated and clearly obsessive/compulsive team of investigators is led by Gil Grissom (William Petersen), a seasoned pro with an office full of gruesome trophies. Although Petersen attempts to instill a sense of professionalism in the role, he tends to comes off as creepy and even lecherous, especially in scenes with female coworkers.
Marg Helgenberger, a gem of an actress, appears to work independently of the rest of the ensemble as Catherine Willows, a single mom who’s dedicated, but torn by personal demands. Her role so far is the most complex, and is the highlight of the show.
Supporting players include Gary Dourdan as gambling man Warrick Brown, George Eads as the toothy and eager Nick Stokes and Jorja Fox as rookie Sara Sidle, fresh from the academy and clearly unaccustomed to autopsies. Rounding out the team is Captain Jim Brass, an unlikable grouch played by Paul Guilfoyle as what seems to be a caricature of the barking police chief of the old ’70s cop shows.