Thursday, April 21, 2005

CSI -A Tale Of Three Series: New York

In the next to last episode of the second season of CSI: Miami a murder in Miami led Horatio Caine north from the Florida sun to the grey urban canyons of New York. There he met Detective First Grade Mac Taylor, the head of a New York CSI unit. That's how viewers were introduced to the third series in the CSI franchise, CSI: New York.

There had been a lot of speculation among fans when it was announced that CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer were bringing a third CSI series to television. The speculation centred around what city it should be set in and who should star. The feeling expressed by a lot of fans was that the series should follow its predecessors and be set in an "exotic" American city; New Orleans was a fan favourite. Avery Brooks (who had previously appeared as Hawk in Spenser For Hire and Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) was suggested as the lead actor. Thus there was some hostility when it was announced that the new series would focus on crime in New York - New York had been done to the point where it was thought to be overexposed. There was some surprise that the producers were able to lure an actor of the caliber of Gary Sinise to play the lead role in a TV series.

When series finally debuted it was not initially well-regarded, which in all honesty is a bit surprising. In form it is a lot closer to the original CSI than CSI: Miami is. Although Sinise is clearly the lead in the series, the focus of the show is far less on him than is the case with David Caruso in CSI: Miami. They have surrounded Sinise with a strong supporting cast led by Melina Kanakeredes (previously the star of Providence although for fans of Due South she will forever by Victoria - or "Vile Vicki" - from the episode Victoria's Secret) as the principal supporting character, with Vanessa Ferlito and Carmine Giovinazzo as the younger investigators in his squad, and Hill Harper (from the ill-fated series The Handler) as the chief coroner. In addition producers clearly listened to the fans who were critical of the extensive character development for the character of Horatio Caine on the "Miami" series. What we know about Mac Taylor is that he lost his wife on September 11, 2001 (a development that many viewers felt was highly manipulative) and that as a result he has changed significantly - he doesn't sleep much. Kanakeredes character is single and was raised in an orphanage, and that's all we know about her. The producers seem willing to let any character development stretch out over time far more than was the case on CSI: Miami or even the original CSI.

As with all of the CSI shows, the look and feel of CSI: New York is expressed through set design and the way it's shot. While the offices in the Las Vegas and Miami series are modern and (particularly in the Miami series) pretty dark, the labs in CSI: New York are well lit and seem older. This is particularly true in the morgue. While Doc Robbins operates in a room full of stainless steel and carefully located lights, and Alexx works in a dark autopsy room with a viewers gallery a story above her, Hill Harper's Dr. Sheldon Hawkes resides in a white tiled room in the bowels of a building that was probably built at the turn of the 20th century, complete with Gothic style arches. It effectively creates the impression that New York is much older than either Las Vegas or Miami, but in its own way just as exotic. In terms of shooting exteriors, while Las Vegas is a city best seen at night, and yellow filters are used to create the feeling of heat in Miami, the impression created for the New York series is one of cold. This is done by using a blue filter for daytime exteriors which not only creates the sense of cold but also of gloom.

The unfortunate fact is that CSI: New York is not performing as well as either the original or CSI: Miami and it's difficult to understand why. Certainly it's not the cast. Sinise is probably the best actor of the three leads, something proven not only by his Oscar nomination for Forrest Gump but also as one of the founders of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company (one actor who worked with the company was William Petersen, now the star of CSI). Several of his fellow cast members are also first rate actors. Part of the problem is that CSI: New York opposite the original Law & Order. Another problem seems to be that the subject matter has in some cases been too "down market" and gloomy. Indeed CBS is reported to have told the producers to "lighten" the show up; to show the more glamourous side of New York. The biggest thing seems to be that a lot of viewers - or at least a lot of fans - are being hypercritical of the show, and in my opinion unfairly so. Interestingly, while some people expect CSI: New York to be cancelled an analysis of ratings indicates that on most nights the show finishes second in overall ratings and, when there's a new episode it usually finishes first in the 18-49 age group ahead of Law & Order. (There was a major ratings dip last week apparently based on the high ratings that NBC's show Revelations received and apparently staying on to watch Law & Order. I'm not one of them, and I'm afraid you won't be seeing a review of Revelations in this blog.)

I don't pretend to be the voice of the audience, but I like CSI: New York. In terms of format it tends to be much closer to the original CSI, and corrects the things that critics of CSI: Miami say are wrong with that series. In fact I think that the biggest problem the New York show faces - besides being opposite Law & Order of course - is that some people are either unwilling to accept anything but the original CSI or are unwilling to give CSI: New York the time to develop that they gave CSI: Miami and indeed the original CSI. If the show is cancelled - which I don't expect to happen - because of this it will be a pity.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I really don't watch the other CSI's. I stick with the original. It's the same with the L.and O.'s. One is just really all you need.