the shit right now. As I said in my review for last season
, this show has a formula that just won’t quit. But for its fifth season, the team is going to have to deal with some changes. There’s a new lab director in town, Conrad Ecklie (Marc Vann). Grissom (Petersen
) doesn’t respect Ecklie because he’s more about the politics than the science. Ecklie repays this lack of deference by splitting his team up. So Catherine Willows (Helgenberger) becomes the supervisor of Warrick Brown (Dourdan) and Nick Stokes (Eads) and Grissom keeps Sara Sidle (Fox) who is still dealing with her own demons, the very green Greg Sanders (Szmanda) and a new blonde on the team who causes a little sexual tension with perpetually unattainable Grissom. Speaking of sexual tension, there’s a little of that going on with Catherine and Warrick. While everyone’s social roles are being reexamined, there are still plenty of murders to solve. And when murder in committed in a town where men dress as babies, women drink urine to stay young and both can get married by aliens, the murders can be especially complex and strange. Even with these distractions, the men and women of CSI follow the evidence to find the truth.
When you get to the fourth or fifth season of a popular series, producers get concerned. They consider changing some elements to keep the show from getting stale, but they don’t want to mess up the formula that made the show a success in the first place. In this season of CSI, they seem to have achieved that balance between inventiveness and stability. For example, splitting up the team seems to be a big change. Catherine’s promotion to supervisor changes how she relates to her coworkers and vice versa. If you think about it, though, it really isn’t that much of a change. In most episodes, the team usually splits up, half of them solving the ‘A’ story, the other half solving the ‘B’ story. So the usual dynamics are maintained while still introducing new plot directions.
Another way the series adds variety without overshadowing the tried and true formula is through the supporting cast. In most crime dramas, the various coroners and police officers are just there to give exposition, never developing above one dimension. But this show gives their supporting characters more nuance so the various plot points and clues are more attention-grabbing and entertaining and not just a throwaway scene. The variety of character interaction is also increased and this helps the main characters from getting overused and gives the writers a bigger toy box to play with. It also helps to grow new characters organically and avoid jumping the shark. We see former DNA technician Greg Sanders finally get to work out in the field with the rest of the team and even Captain Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) gets an episode focused on him. It also helps to have available characters to come in if one of the actors leaves to focus on a movie career or happens to oversleep during contract negotiation time. This balancing act is indicative of the level of quality the series exhibits.
As in last season’s set, there are plenty of episode commentaries to listen to. However, we have several commentaries with some of the actors, an improvement from the last set. Not only do we get how writers, directors, and producers develop episodes from the initial story meeting to adding the computer graphics of a gunshot wound to the stomach, we also had Marg Helgenberger, George Eads, and Jorja Fox on hand to give their two cents. For the most part the discussions are informative, although they have a tendency to get involved in watching the show and not commenting on it. There is also a featurette detailing some of the changes and highlights of this season. They talk about some of the things I’ve already mentioned as well as some of the more special episodes where the show explores subculture outside of the everyday like transgenderism, the narcocorrido or “drug ballad,” and big beautiful women and the men who love them.
They devote an entire featurette on the season finale since it’s directed by Quentin Tarantino. The problem is it comes off more as a love fest than a real look at how a movie director handles filming a television episode. They’re also a couple of featurettes that talk about the actual forensics that is such an integral part of the show. They focus on how they try to keep as much accuracy as possible but show when they have to bend reality for the sake of entertainment. In my so-called real life, I’m a programmer. Trust me, no programmer has the time, money, or inclination to make a front end interface as good looking as you see on the show. We’re too busy getting rid of all the damn bugs to bother. Again, referring to my previous review, the previous seasons of CSI are in syndication. But if you don’t want to be bound by a TV schedule, don’t have a TiVo or equivalent, and are too impatient to hunt down and download the episodes, this fifth season set is worth a rental.