With apologies to Dick Wolf, Jerry Bruckheimer arguably has the hottest franchise around. CBS’ “CSI: Miami” not only proves that his pulp phenomenon can carry over to another night, but it also serves as a comeback for David Caruso after 1997’s short-lived “Michael Hayes.” Taut and tense, show boasts the twists, turns, gadgets and gimmicks made famous by its Las Vegas-set progenitor. It could, however, use a dash of personality — everybody is relentlessly dour. Regardless, this is the fall season’s best freshman bet for a breakout hit.
To the question of whether “Miami” is better than its predecessor, the answer is an easy no; the elements are all there, but it’s just a wee off. And it’s almost too familiar: Paired with Caruso is Kim Delaney, a fellow “NYPD Blue” vet who brings name recognition. As a business move, there’s the obvious built-in value of which most programming dreams, but the thesps’ presence has produced lofty expectations that no project should be saddled with at the outset.
Horatio Caine (Caruso) is an ex-homicide cop who now leads a group of Miami investigators. He’s often at odds with Megan Donner (Delaney), a DNA specialist and the former head of the unit who left after her husband’s death but has returned and constantly challenges Horatio’s gut instinct with her trust in science.
Their team is rounded out by Calleigh Dusquene (Emily Procter), a bilingual blond ballistics whiz; streetwise Tim Speedle (Rory Cochrane); underwater recovery expert Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez); and creepy coroner Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander).
Debut seg, helmed by Joe Chappelle and written by Steven Maeda, involves a passenger plane that crashes in the Everglades. While searching for bodies, they discover a female victim thrown a few miles from the accident site and one survivor, whose story seems wobbly after evidentiary analysis is complete. While Horatio goes by his hunches — he explores everything from revenge to suicide — Megan follows a by-the-book examination to mixed results.
Like Bruckheimer’s other new entry, “Without a Trace,” the “CSI” double bill is perfect formula television: Commission, exploration and resolution are neatly packaged until an outcome is reached, and nothing is carried over to later episodes. That makes for a title that could theoretically branch out endlessly; versions could probably take on New Orleans and San Francisco to the same narrative and Nielsen results.
To those who have longed for another vehicle that fits Caruso’s intensity and brooding, the wait is over. With the same quiet burning he brought to Steven Bochco’s show for one year back in 1993, the redhead flashes his attitude until it becomes his badge of honor. There are even a few flickers of calm sensitivity — a trademark of his “Blue” tour of duty that makes his character here more sensitive than William Petersen’s “Crime Scene Investigation” character.
The fact that Caruso carries “Miami” isn’t necessarily good news for Delaney, who, at least in the pilot, is scattered and thin as a fifth wheel. Her back-in-action plotline feels at times like a late addition to a series that chugs along fine based solely on hardcore detective work. Supporting cast is solid — there’s the right mix of lusty lookers and brainiacs — and attention has been paid to minority thesps.
Tech credits are across-the-board sound, of course, with the murkiness of Florida’s swamp country and the glitz of the city’s urban centers ideal settings. Lenser Walt Lloyd and editor Mark Baldwin create a unique atmosphere, so as not to elicit comparisons to the flashier “Miami Vice.”