From the Archives: Matt Roush's Original 'CSI' Review
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation first premiered 15 years ago on October 6, 2000. Since then, the show has jump-started three spin-offs (CSI: Miami, CSI: NY and CSI: Cyber), though only the more recent Cyber still exists on air, and seen many cast changes. Of the original CSI cast, only Fox (who also took a short break before returning) and Eric Szmanda are still around, in addition to Robert David Hall as coroner Dr. Al Robbins.
Premise: It’s the evidence, stupid. This slick crime drama focuses on “crime scene investigation,” the specialty of the forensic team in the Las Vegas police department’s Criminalistics Bureau. By relentlessly analyzing every detail at the scene of the crime, no matter how seemingly irrelevant or grotesque in nature, these sleuths have science and experience on their side to solve the case.
They Say: “It’s not so much who did it, but how was it done,” says series creator Anthony Zuiker, who describes CSI as “Quincy on drugs.” As exec producer Carol Mendelsohn puts it, “They’re scientists with guns.” Jerry Bruckheimer, better known for action film spectaculars (Armageddon), says the show “takes you inside a world I’ve never see before”—literally inside, as when the camera zooms into a cadaver’s chest or intensely magnifies a hair fiber. Zuiker calls these shots “CSI close-ups, something new and fresh.”
We Say: If only the characters were as animated as the evidence. The detective work is often gripping, but the detectives are mired in cliché, including the always terrific Marg Helgenberger (China Beach) as a conflicted single mom. Wasting actors like her and Petersen would be a crime. (Jorja Fox, last seen protecting the first daughter on The West Wing, joins CSI in the second episode.)
As the show got its footing a year later, though, our critic included it in his "Best of the Year 2001" list in the Dramas category. He wrote, "You don't need a highfalutin high-tech microscope to discover why CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation reigns above all other detective or law melodramas. (Besides, how stale are Law & Order and The Practice these days?) The evidence is in the evidence and in the wild methods this team of dogged criminologists (led by the sly William Petersen and the sexy Marg Helgenberger) use to untangle the most bizarre and grisly crimes in gaudy old Las Vegas."