September 28, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”


The original, Las Vegas-set CSI didn’t just spawn a mini-industry of its own spin-offs, but it can fairly lay claim to being one of the most influential shows of its generation, more or less inventing the subgenre of high-tech procedural that’s populated every network over the years since it began.  The series rose from low beginnings–15 years ago, when it premiered, CBS’s big fall show was supposed to be the rebooted The Fugitive–to bring in billions for its network, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and studio (infamously, ABC Studios bowed out of what would have been a fabulously lucrative share of the profits when the show went to CBS), and it was still earning decent ratings when it finally succumbed last spring to the high costs that accompany an aging show.  CBS presented fans with a parting gift in the form of tonight’s 2-hour series finale.

The finale, in fact, was virtually fan fiction, with a script by series creator Anthony E. Zuiker that both was and wasn’t in keeping with the show’s typical tone.  (Louis Shaw Milito, a veteran of the series, directed.)  Although current cast members like Ted Danson (who’s moving on to the surviving CSI: Cyber), Elisabeth Harnois, Wallace Langham and Robert David Hall had their parts in the story, and Paul Guilfoyle rather briefly made a return, the focus was on the original core characters Gil Grissom (William Petersen), Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) and Grissom’s now ex-wife Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox).  Even more, the night’s mystery turned on one of the show’s favorite recurring characters, S&M “therapist” Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke), who was being framed as ordering a series of suicide bombings.

The result had plenty of the show’s trademark gadgets, plus a reprise of Grissom’s love for insects (and also its not-atypical anticlimactic revelation of who the villain was and his motive for hatching such a convoluted plan), but spent more time on sentiment than CSI almost ever did.  In fact, there may have been more about the Grissom/Sara romance in these two hours (not to mention the strange attraction between Grissom and Lady Heather) than the show spent on these relationships when they were active, culminating in a rom-com final scene where Sara left her new job as Lab Director (presumably to be replaced by Willows, who also wanted the job) to sail off into the sunset with her true love.  It was satisfying, but also a bit out of key.

On the other hand, the finale was a reminder of just how much CSI lost when Petersen left.  His quirky mix of brilliance, philosophizing and deadpan humor is something the series never quite managed to replace, first when it stumbled by putting Laurence Fishburne into the lead, then when it brought in the much more successful Danson but had him play a relatively straightforward character.  The off-kilter spirit of Grissom, and Petersen, were what set CSI apart from the other procedurals on the air, both within the franchise and outside it.

CSI as an institution is far from dead–as noted, jumior spin-off CSI: Cyber will return next week, and any number of further versions (US and international) and reboots may well be coming.  You couldn’t, in the end, call it a beloved show–you wouldn’t think of shedding tears over its passing–but for 15 years it did a damn good job of finding new stories to tell and effectively telling them, pleasing millions year in and year out.  No one can ask for more of a working TV series than that.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."