Whooooo are you? Do-do-do-do.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
UK TV Channel: Channel 5
Episodes: 337

Cast: William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Gary Dourdan, George Eades, Paul Guilfoyle, Laurence Fishburne, Elizabeth Shue, Ted Danson

The lowdown:
The mystery-of-the-week concept for long-running crime shows is long-established, but when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation came along at the start of the new century a new kind of mystery-of-the-week was born.

From the Jerry Bruckheimer hit factory, CSI joined Dick Wolfe’s Law & Order as Mega Franchise TV. It was unashamedly flashy, pacy, full of cutting-edge forensic technology and a team of smart, urbane team of crime-scene investigators, employed by the Las Vegas Police Department, as they use physical evidence to solve murders.

Each episode followed a well-honed structure: a seemingly impossible-to-solve crime, investigation, the now-famous musical montage where lots of science stuff happened, and then the denouement and reveal. It was simple, it worked a treat and helped it to become a global phenomenon.

Real-life forensic and police officers hated it because, they argued, it led to the ‘CSI effect’ – an oversimplification of the science and an unrealistic expectation placed on police to solve crimes so seamlessly and slickly.

But, for us, it was a thrill ride.

Aside from all the technological bells and whistles, there were the characters, too.


The team was originally led by Gil Grissom (William Petersen), a socially awkward forensic entomologist and career criminalist who is promoted to CSI supervisor following the death of a trainee investigator. Grissom’s second-in-command, Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), was a single mother with a cop’s instinct. It was these two, especially the relationship between two, that underpinned the show.

In later years Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne) and D.B. Russell (Ted Danson), became the series’ preferred paternal team lead.

Why we loved it:
CSI felt familiar and yet fresh at the same time.

For years we had been fed long-running series that followed a mystery-of-the-week scenario, and CSI gave us nothing particularly different: there was a crime, an investigation and a handy wrap-up where the bad guys were caught.

But aside from the hi-tech crime-solving wizardry, there were the crimes themselves. And it felt as if the crimes were more like puzzles, more so than we’ve ever seen before.

Take this one: A family of four is allegedly murdered, but CSI Nick is the only one that thinks the 10-year-old girl in the family is still alive. Three pools of blood were at the scene.

And then this one: Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) was shot and killed outside a Vegas diner and the team is left to pick up the pieces. Little did the team know that the killer was one of its own.

And even this one: the infamous Quentin Tarantino-directed episode.

You never knew quite what you were going to get.

The fact this strange paradox of rigid structure, strict character paradigms and creativity meant that this show could run and run. And it really did run – for 15 years and over 300 episodes. Lest we forget it also spawned CSI: Miami, CSI: NY and CSI: Cyber.

For most of the first decade of the 21st century, the brand of CSI was ever-present.

Did you know?
The usage of The Who’s Who Are You as show theme tune led to the band’s Roger Daltrey making a special appearance in the episode Living Legend, which also contained many musical references such as the words “who’s next” on a dry-erase board in the episode’s opening sequence.

What they said:
“There is good juice behind CSI despite its early predilection toward shock value. Whether gratuitous or not, it could well detract from the show’s sharper, more notable attributes. But the real key to success figures to be the series’ ability to sell audiences on the idea that cop types who poke around dead bodies can be cool. It may be a taller order than making pop icons out of people who eat rats,” Ray Richmond, The Hollywood Reporter



One Comment Add yours

  1. Andy D says:

    Or if you REALLY like it cheesy, try NCIS. It’s a crime…only if it’s naval. I have to say the original CSI was a great watch as formulaic as it was…the spin offs not so much, especially Miami which felt like a parody. Got a lot of time for William Petersen purely from his performance in Manhunter, great actor.


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