CSI has been cutting up corpses and catching criminals in Las Vegas since the turn of the century. You'd think that, after nearly a dozen years on the job, there'd be just one last mystery to solve: Is there anyone left in the county to kill?
Why, of course there is—as long as ratings for CBS' landmark show hold up.
CSI is the template on which most of the network's prime-time lineup (including two CSI spin-offs) is built: A group of likeable but serious-minded law enforcement types solve a crime in 44 minutes, not counting commercial breaks. Want complex characters, nuanced writing or addictive, serialized storylines? Go buy Lost DVDs. You won't find that stuff here.
Sure, these characters have lives outside of work … but we see precious little of them onscreen. The star of CSI is its gory simplicity: Find body. Dissect body. Solve crime. Repeat. It is, in some respects, a throwback to older by-the-book cop shows such as Dragnet. And the premise has been so durable that the show survived the replacement of leading man William Petersen (who played Gil Grissom) with Laurence Fishburne (as Dr. Raymond Langston) in 2009.
CSI has become, for many Americans, the television equivalent of comfort food—a way to spend time thinking about other people's problems instead of their own. CSI gives viewers something they crave: solution and resolution to a prickly problem. The characters find a way to make sense of the problems they face—unlike most of us, who often grapple with questions that don't seem to have easily available answers. CSI scratches the same itch that Sherlock Holmes did a century and a half ago: It suggests that every question has an answer if you look hard enough to find it.
But if the show has a retro feel in some respects, it also illustrates how much the television landscape has changed.
Bloody crime scenes are filmed in almost loving detail. Flashbacks to the moment of murder are regular and visceral staples. Characters and, by extension, viewers spend lots of time watching autopsies. And while forensics-centric shows like Quincy, M.E. allowed the camera to avert its all-knowing eye from each incision, CSI's cameramen never turn away, not even to blink.
While many Americans are deeply troubled by the level of sex on TV, CSI's blood-and-gore quotient tickles R-rated territory—and rarely does anyone even raise an eyebrow.
After stripping off her clothes, a girl removes her bra to swim in a pond. (We see her bare back.) Soon afterwards, a touch from a floating corpse's hand makes her think her male companions are trying to grope her. While the murderer is eventually killed—run down by a passing truck while changing a tire—the CSI team believes a natural gas-drilling outfit may be the real culprit since, by extracting gas from shale through a process known as "fracking," the company is poisoning the town's water supply.
During an autopsy, a man's body lies on the table, the top of the head cut off (flaps of skin cover the face, and forensics specialist Dr. Robbins picks up the missing part of the skull), the abdomen split open and innards piled up in bowls. Robbins reaches into the corpse's neck and pulls out the larynx, then draws (via syringe) fluid lodged inside. Later, he examines a maggot-encrusted goat's head: He saws the top of the skull off to better examine the brain.
In flashback, we see men killed—one thunked on the head and left to drown, another shot twice. (We see blood fleck from the man's chest after the first shot and part of his skull lodge in the pavement with the second.) Dialogue features a handful of each of these swear words: "h‑‑‑," a‑‑." There's one use of "b‑‑tard."