CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Season 7
A venerable genre for a television series is the murder mystery. It is also one of the most flexible formats ever conceived. After all you can go old school with a Sherlock Holmes type investigative genius or take a more film noir approach with a man who solves crime with guts, a gun and a sense of danger. Since we are now in the twenty first century it was only natural to rely on a more scientific approach to crime solving. This was done before in 1976 with the classic series ‘Quincy M.E.’ but now we have far greater gizmos, gadgets and chemicals to help the intrepid detective. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation became so popular that it has begotten two city oriented spin offs. While each one stands on its own the original is still arguably the best of the pack. All of the shows in the CSI franchise are some what misclassified as crime shows. They are really a science fiction series set about ten years in our future. The ultra fast and accurate analysis of the most miniscule piece of evidence is just beyond the cutting edge of current technology. For example DNA results can take weeks; they are not available after the second commercial break. A law enforcement agency would have to have the budget of a medium size country in order to afford the multitude of expensive scientific test that are routinely ordered on these shows. There is actually an affect on real trials as juries have question why DNA and fingerprints were not gathered at a crime scene. Now this is not intended as a negative comment, quite the opposite, it is great praise. The show uses its form of science fiction not as a genre but as a setting for the real drama and mystery. Like other members of the CSI franchise this season takes a longer look at the themes and the character development. In season seven the writers were able to combine a crime of the week with a season long investigation and take some of the interpersonal relationships off in a new direction.
Set in Las Vegas CSI follows two teams of crime scene investigators. Taking the lead for the first team is Dr. Gil Grissom, PhD (William Petersen). He is a world renowned expert in his field of forensic entomology. He tends to take a more philosophical approach to life and the crime at hand, sort of Zen and the art of crime detection. He is brilliant and well like. The only reason he remains a shift supervisor instead of running the entire lab is his distain for politics and bureaucracy. In this season Grissom takes a four week sabbatical to teach. The other supervisor is Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger). Primarily she specializes in blood splatter but has a keen eye for detail and the ability to read people. She often has to play the part of den mother for the team members. She is a native of Las Vegas working as a show girl in her younger years. Nick Stokes (George Eads) is a former college athlete who can read a story from any hair or fiber left at the scene. He has a great capacity to put himself into the position of the victim makes him a keen investigator but often makes resolving the crime too personal. Another life long resident of Las Vegas is Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan). He is a recovering gambler and newly divorced who is an expert with all things related to audio and video. Then there is Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) a young woman with a major attitude that frequently gets her in trouble with her superiors. Sara has a lot of difficulty remaining objective when the case involves domestic abuse or rape. The youngest on the team is Greg" Sanders (Eric Szmanda) who is incredibly bright, worships Grissom and listens to heavy metal.
As the seventh season begins Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) receives the Medal of Honor for the gunshot that made up the sixth season cliffhanger. This is also the beginning of what will become a running case through the season, the ‘Miniature Killer’. This serial murderer confounds everyone in the lab by leaving an amazingly detailed miniature of the crime scene complete with little versions of the weapon, victim and even clues. There seems to be nothing to tie the victims together. The first victim is an aging rock star, Izzy Delancy (Danny Bonaduce), another is an old woman and a third is a younger, upscale woman. Conrad Ecklie (Marc Vann) the politically motivated head of the CSI department wants to release information about the miniatures to the press but Grissom pushes against it. The case also becomes an obsession with lab technician David Hodges ((Wallace Langham) who is always trying to impress Grissom. When Grissom takes his sabbatical his temporary replacement is Mike Keppler (Liev Schreiber) a transplant from New Jersey. He was hiding a dark past that would eventually catch up with him. He was not well liked by the team especially after his unorthodox methods nearly backfired on him. In one case he suggests to the Under Sheriff, Catherine and Ecklie to fake a crime scene with ‘reverse forensics’ to smoke out a killer. This entailed planting evidence of a phony crime. Unfortunately for Keppler the CSI team is too bright and able to see past the deception. Another story line that gets more involved in this season is the romance between Grisson and Sara. While hinted at in the previous season it is openly revealed to the audience and later the whole team.
While many television dramas now combine episodic stories with season or even series long threads this is one of the best examples of how to do it. Of the three CSI shows currently on the tube this one is by far the best. The character development is excellent; the audience gets to really know and subsequently care about them. The writers also let the romantic relationship between Sara and Grissom stay more in the background. Too many dramas have been weighed down by trying to turn the series into a romance novel. Here it is treated carefully never interfering with the focus of the show. To their credit the producers let William Peterson take a few weeks off to pursue a stage opportunity. By writing in the temporary character of Keppler they made a great short story arc. One of the best features in this season is the Miniature Killer story line. The way this was handled was the epitome of professionalism in writing. It is there in the background except for the episodes with the actual murders. Each time it surfaces more is discovered, the reveal at the end of the season is excellent drama and satisfying for the audience.
Besides the writing and production values this show features one of the best casts possible for a television series. William Peterson makes being a nerd attractive. He is a man who can quietly command any situation without the usual alpha male posturing. He relies on his intellect but never comes off as a know it all. Marg Helgenberger makes her character of Catherine into a realistic human begin. She is a single mother of a teenage girl who worked her way up from a stripper to the supervisor of the lab. She has an affinity to the working class people that make Las Vegas the playground for the rich. Every good crime drama on TV needs a good old fashion tortured soul. For this series we have Gary Dourdan as Warren. He is beset by personal problems and always strives to keep it from interfering with the job at hand. Jorja Fox plays her role extremely well. As Sara she is a strong albeit haunted individual who knows her job but can’t hide her feelings.
Paramount never disappoints the audience with their DVD season box sets. Since this is recent material the technical specifications are cutting edge. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is reference quality and the Dolby 5.1 audio brings you into the action. What really shines in these television sets are the extras. Seven key episodes contain cast and crew commentary tracks that go into the details of bringing the story to television. There is a behind the scenes look at the double episode ‘Built to Kill’ which not only introduces the Miniature Killer but features the famous ‘Cirque du Soleil’. There is a special featurette focusing on the Miniature thread and how the little replicas where produced. Another featurette looks at how the series has become a television legend. There is a look at the real Las Vegas crime lab and another on how the stories and themes for season seven where expanded. Last there is a look at what it takes to direct a weekly series of this quality. Even if you don’t have the other seasons on DVD this should be a purchase for you.