I admire the success of the CSI franchise on TV. When the original CSI first aired, it blew the doors off the competition. It introduced viewers to the idea of Crime Scene Investigation, many for the first time seeing it as a profession within a profession. Ignore the requisite suspension of disbelief, it was just “new”. Somewhat original. A whole series about crime scenes and forensics, not on the margins of the investigation but driving it. And like Law & Order, it spawned new generations.
CSI: Miami went the opposite way to the original CSI in Las Vegas. Where Gil Grissom was quiet, unassuming, laid back, the consummate geek in charge, Lt. Horatio Caine played by David Caruso was just the opposite. Vegas moonlight gave way to Miami sunlight. And those cheesy, over the top, groan inducing squints into the camera at the start of every episode, followed by a quip and putting the sun glasses back on. If science wasn’t cool enough, then their leader would be.
CSI: New York staked out a third claim — the cynical homicide detective who focuses on the “evidence”, with military bearing and background, and with Gary Sinise to give the strong character of Mac Taylor just the right amount of New York attitude.
I watched CSI in the beginning, and it was decent. And it’s permeated our culture — there are law and criminology courses now on the so-called “CSI” effect…viewers began to believe that science can deliver the exciting smoking gun in 44 minutes or less, and in regular citizen sound bites, and when those viewers see real-life CSI, they are underwhelmed. So much so that prosecutors in the real world sometimes lose cases because the science didn’t deliver the CSI slam-dunk.
CSI: Miami had a different feel. I liked the Medical Examiner, and more importantly, there was Emily Procter as Calleigh Duquesne. She was awesome on West Wing, and I watched CSI: Miami at the beginning just for her. I liked the greater emphasis on police work outside the CSI lab (vs. the original CSI show), but Caruso is an acquired taste. Excuse the cheese, and the show was watchable. Kind of Hawaii Five-O watchable. Not great, not awesome, but watchable.
When CSI: New York started, I almost swooned. The grit of Vegas, the charismatic leader of CSI: Miami, and the attitude of New York. With an even greater focus on police work. And who doesn’t love Gary Sinise in just about everything except Reindeer Games? But he had strong backup — Anna Belknap as the cute and cuddly girl next door, Lindsey Monroe; Eddie Cahill as the homicide detective; Melina Kanakaredes as Mac’s work partner Stella Bonasera, with just enough fire for people to think “will they or won’t they”; and Hill Harper as young ME Sheldon Hawkes. All solid performances. But Gary was the lead and even his wry cynical attitude wore people down over time. The show was kind of a downer.
While CSI is still going with new actors at the helm, the other two are long dead. But the new kid on the block is CSI: Cyber — if the crime involves electronic devices of any sort, it’s the purview of the Cyber Threat Operations Centre headquartered in Washington. Last year, the show Hard Target showed us the global Cyber Command for the national security types, and this is supposedly the FBI version for domestic crimes.
I’m going to start off by clearly stating I wanted to like this show. CSI — already a fan. Cyber — always a fan initially, willing to see what they bring that is new. Weekly procedural — high on my must-see style of show. And the first episode out of the gate had some winning elements.
First up, the plot for the week — somebody is hacking national baby cams and using it to spy on babies, find cute ones, and then kidnapping them for delivery while auction them off to the highest bidder. Interesting. Good take on invasion of privacy, strong east coast flavour (not just D.C.), combines some interesting elements. Nice.
Second, the writing. You’d think because the initial plot was solid, the writing delivered. It didn’t. There are four giant plot holes that nobody questions. First, the kidnapper sells a child to someone spontaneously, and the person has $75K to hand over. On short notice. In cash. Sure, the guy’s a working stiff, but no problem. Second, the kidnapper steals a SD card from one of the cams. And while time is hard to follow in the show, some 36-48 hours later, she still has the card in her pocket. And in a protective outer case (which she didn’t steal btw). That is one convenient find. Third, an electronic message is “delivered” to the FBI via the neighbour’s kid video game console. That’s black hat level of hacking, similar to the original hacking of the cams, but we’re supposed to believe that was the way they would communicate (oh and the guy running the gang is a thug — no cyber techie in sight). No email. No txt. No video on internet. No hacking cyber HQ. Nothing. Oh, let’s hack the kid’s X-box next door to get our message across, that will work. Really? Finally, and this is a large spoiler, at the end, they have to rescue a baby from a sinking car. Which they do (well, a doll anyway, incredibly evident for about three successive scenes before it being a child again). But the rescuer leaves the two people who are transporting the baby (with no explanation of why that child is still in the market) still trapped in the car. No one in the water. No one trying to save them. No evidence that they survive. Just save the baby, the rest are allowed to die. Not sure if it was “they deserve it” or “they were in the front seat and are injured which must mean they died on impact” but just left hanging. Don’t get me started on the dialogue. It isn’t a lot worse than other CSI’s, but it’s also not any better. And out of the gate, with as much time as they had for the pilot, that doesn’t bode well.
Third in the list of features is the editing. It is choppy in places, a couple of scenes look like they’re missing and are filled in by exposition later. But, more importantly, the main leader is not a techie — she’s a social psychologist. Bad experience with a hacker in her past, it “drives” her to try to limit cyber abusers to save others. A cliche motive, sure. But I’m talking editing here, not character development. What’s wrong? The problem is that the viewer doesn’t know any of this. There are cryptic refs through the episode that her team don’t like her leading the team cuz, well, we aren’t told why. Nada. Oh, but when we get to the end of the episode, we need to give the main character a monologue and we get exposition to explain several things we should have learned as the episode unfolded. Nope. Just at the end, with bad editing throughout.
So a good plot will forgive a lot, mediocre writing, and bad editing. What could possibly save it? Acting of course. If you watch any episodes in the future, let me know if any acting shows up. I sure won’t be watching.
Now, I’m being incredibly unfair to three actors in the series. James Van Der Beek is their FBI lead investigator, Elijah Mundo, and does a solid job. Not a lot for him to work with, but he’s solid in the character. If he was the main character, I’d give him a chance. He’s only listed in IMDB for 2 episodes though, so maybe we shouldn’t get too attached. Mundo is supported in the team by Charley Koontz as white hat hacker Daniel Krumitz, also a solid performance, and by Hayley Kiyoko as Raven Ramirez (no back story yet). If you’re a Nickolodeon fan, or just a fan of Wizards of Waverly Place, you might recognize her…she had a limited role in the show, but did okay.
Unfortunately, the remaining three cast members leave a LOT to be desired. Starting at the smallest role, Peter MacNicol is in as Simon Sifter, the team’s big boss. I liked MacNicol on Numb3rs, and even on Ally McBeal. But he doesn’t exactly have command presence. Anyone could replace him in the role and nobody would notice. Or eliminate it all together, save the casting dollars. But hopefully they didn’t spend much on Shad Moss aka rapper Lil Bow Wow. He plays a former black hat hacker who joins the group, putting his skills to better use, but he starts the episode as the punk who “has to be there”, is a key member of the team by middle, and is in awe at the end. Really??? If you’re going to give me character growth, can you perhaps think about SHOWING IT ON SCREEN????
Yet, for all of the above, I can’t help feeling like it wasn’t the real problem with the show. The real problem is the lead Patricia Arquette. I know, I know, she won a supporting actress Oscar for Boyhood. She thinks she’s an actress. She thinks she can act. Most of her family think they can act.
They each have a very tiny limited range, and outside of that, it’s ridiculous. I’d love to know how many takes they gave her for Boyhood. It had to be a lot more than they can afford on a TV show. Where to start. Her opening quip? Delivered monotone and almost angry, which didn’t fit the content. Her delivery with grieving parents? She’s supposed to be an empathetic counsellor, she’s basically comforting them in a voice like she’s berating them. Her dramatic lines before commercial? Dead. Wooden. Non-emotive. Like her tranquilizers kicked in just when they said, “Action!”. But the worst has to be the final scene.
The black-hat hacker comes to her at the end of the episode. She’s a trained psychologist, and his boss. He’s looking for guidance. Trying to see the bigger picture. See how he might fit in. Her big moment to inspire him. Her approach? To act tired, subdued, almost “oh, i had a patient who was killed, and now I scour the world trying to find the hacker who hacked me.” While she continues to pack her briefcase, ignore him, generally take a “woe is me” attitude, no inspiration, no real acknowledgement of him at all. She had a chance to actually connect with him (and by him, I mean the audience) for us to do anything to care about her character and she is subdued and, well, childish. Most of the episode seems more like her acting like a petulant teen made to work with people who don’t like her.
I hate to say this, because it’s pretty damning. About 10 minutes in, I would have killed for David Caruso to take over. But what the heck. She got an Oscar from someone, and Medium ran for 130 episodes. I have no idea how, but it did. With her as the lead.
I hope the show does well, but I won’t be watching. The only crime involving electronics that I can see is continuing to make this show.