Come on sing it with me now…”Who are you? Who-who, who-who?”
The best theme song on television belongs to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, that alone makes this an awesome show in my book. But oh, it’s so much more than a lead-in by Roger Daltrey and the gang. It’s not hard to believe CSI has been on the air for 11 seasons, because this is a program that consistently has great writing and engaging characters the public cares about. The parent series that spawned CSI: Miami and CSI: NY is by far the best of the CSI family, even having survived the departure of original cast member and producer William Peterson (Manhunter), who played the bug loving Gil Grissom for nine seasons. With the uber talented Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) filling those very large shoes, the crime drama didn’t miss a beat. CSI has weathered the storm of cast changes and a television climate that prefers the less expensive and inexplicably popular Reality TV format, to prove it’s in the upper echelon of television programs. And to this day, it remains one of my favorite shows of all time.
Season Eleven begins with a bang, literally, when an explosion at a funeral almost kills Agent Stokes (George Eads, Monte Walsh) in an episode that guest stars Justin Bieber as a malevolent anti-government teenager. The adventure continues with a killer sporting a full bodied latex suit;, the discovery of three bodies murdered via the electric chair, and a shocking episode where a hoarder’s home contains more than just trash and rat feces. These 22 episodes are full of surprises, loaded with twists and turns that have become a staple of the series. Prepare to be shocked and disgusted by a thoroughly enjoyable experience, where the depravity of man is on full display and a group of genius misfits try to put a dent in crime, one case at a time.
CSI is one of those shows where you look forward to the next episode as soon as the one you’re watching ends. I have been a fan since it premiered in October 2000, and this season only makes me want to see more. There is a lot going on in Season Eleven, so I’m going to limit this review to my three favorite episodes and my first annual “Rotten Egg” Award, for the biggest stinker of the season.
* “House of Hoarders” — If you’ve ever seen the A&E show Hoarders, you have some idea what a hoarder house looks like. If you haven’t, just imagine an indoor trash dump. In this disturbing yet entertaining tale, Marta Santiago (Bertila Damas, Noting But Trouble) is the mother of three adult children, two daughters and one son; uh, make that one daughter, because the eldest is dead, a victim of Marta’s hoarding. Her decomposing body is found in the home, mingling among the discarded clothes and piles of trash. Unbeknownst to Marta, her beloved child had been rotting for seven days before the smell brought law enforcement to her home. The fact that this is my favorite of the season may be a bit disturbing to you, but I find the whole hoarding issue to be fascinating and the writers gave us a sense of the irrationality that plagues this illness. Even a hoarder could see that Marta and her son Julian (Ramon De Ocampo,XXX: State of the Union) were hiding much more than a dead body and questionable housecleaning. While Sara (Jorja Fox, Memento) had empathy for the woman’s psychosis thanks to her own mother’s schizophrenia, Nick finds the whole thing baffling. I can relate, as it would be both sad and frustrating to watch anyone, even a stranger, struggle with this affliction. The Marta character looked so “normal,” which gave her condition an even greater impact, because you would think someone living in filth day in and day out would look the part. So, what were Marta and Julian hiding? You’ll have to watch and find out. But I will tell you this: the youngest Santiago girl hadn’t been seen by co-workers or neighbors for months.
* “Sqweegel” — Imagine being attacked in the middle of the night by a figure in a full body latex suit, wielding a straight razor and crawling around with the agility of a spider. This happens to Las Vegas philanthropist Margot Wilton (Ann-Margret, Viva Las Vegas), who manages to thwart her attacker and survive the assault. When the latex killer strikes a second time, the victim is Carrie Jones (Laurie Fortier, The In Crowd), a young mother attacked while sitting in her the car wash with her young daughter in the back seat. Why “Squeegel,” (the name given to the killer by the little girl), attacked these women is a mystery and there is no obvious connection between the two. However, as the team delves into these women’s lives, secrets come to the surface that may provide a clue. Creepy is the word that came to my mind while watching this episode. The terrifying image of this black shiny suit crawling about like a human arachnid, quietly sneaking up on his victims and killing them in such a hideous fashion nearly gave me nightmares. CSI manages to peer into some pretty dark places and it drags the viewer along for the ride. This can be a bit disconcerting at times, and one of the reasons I put this in my top three. Ann-Margret was wonderful as the wealthy Wilton whose story is the anchor for the episode. Pulled into a world that is completely foreign, we are riveted by what transpires, even if it leaves us shivering with fear under the covers.
* “Hitting for the Cycle” — Every season, CSI gives us an episode that manages to mesh a little humor with the day-to-day death the team encounters, and it does so without ever crossing the line into the inappropriate. Such was the case with this episode where the baseball metaphor translates to working a homicide, suicide, accident, and natural death all before the end of one shift. Having already completed three of the four and only needing the “natural” to complete the cycle, a friendly wager develops between Nick and Greg (Eric Szmanda, The Rules of Attraction) whose pot eventually grows to $4,000. I had fun with this one, which may sound weird considering all the death that came into the morgue. While Greg and Nick salivated over all that cold hard cash, Sara and Catherine (Marg Helgenberger, Mr. Brooks) kept reeling the guys in, so they wouldn’t rush from one crime to next. When we finally get our winner, it happens in a very unlikely way resulting in a very unlikely winner, as if often the case with CSI. The writers are clever, walking a fine line between keeping us amused without turning death into some kind of punch line.
Considering CSI: The Eleventh Season contains 22 episodes and only one real stinker says a lot about the quality of this program. Most seasons don’t even have one really bad episode to speak of, but every series suffers a clunker now and again. I therefore present the not too highly coveted “Rotten Egg Award” to…
* “Fracked” — Hydraulic Fracturing is a process used to obtain natural gas from shale rock, a technique being used right now in parts of the United States. When farmer Walter Burns’ body is found floating in a sulfur spring, it’s discovered he was a journalist’s source for a story about Conservo, an evil energy company doing deadly fracturing in Nevada. Of course, the company is run by a nameless faceless group of men who must be associated with The Old White Man Cabal (an organization dutifully tracked by DVD Verdict’s “Objection!” podcast). Let’s face it, this story was embarrassingly bad, with it’s over-the-top message about corporations so evil they refuse to follow safety procedures and knowingly infect the area’s drinking water. CSI’s usually strong writing was tossed aside for the usual company=bad / journalist=good tripe we see too often from Hollywood. I just hate when the typical straw men are propped up so they can be easily knocked down. It’s easy to beat up faceless companies making them look heartless, while applying a sympathetic face to their victims. From there, all you have to do is tug at the heartstrings of the viewer and watch the sympathy roll on in. “Fracked” had an agenda, and it’s difficult to write a compelling story when you’re trying to send a message.
CSI: The Eleventh Season is presented in 1.78:1 standard definition anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Surround. The transfer is crisp and clean, making it easy to see the most unpleasant scenes of autopsies and dead bodies at various crime scenes, although not quite a crisp as you may have experienced in the show’s HD broadcasts. Just a friendly warning: the order of the episodes here (presumably production-based) differs somewhat from the original CBS broadcast order.
Bonus features include several featurettes showing behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, a burlesque performance by dancer/actress Dita Von Teese, as well as interviews with cast, crew, and guest stars. These features are interesting but a bit long and spread out. It would’ve been more convenient, if they were all located on one disc, but it’s not a deal breaker.
After watching CSI: The Eleventh Season I can honestly say this is still a great show, though maybe not the ratings behemoth it once was. From the season long battle between Ray (Larry Fishburne, Apocalypse Now) and serial killer Nick Haskell (Bill Irwin, Sesame Street’s Mr. Noodle) — a sadist with a man-crush on the good doctor — to the final frame of the year, the cast and crew kept this long running drama feeling fresh with stories that shocked and amazed. Ray bid the show adieu at the start Season 12 and we may soon be saying goodbye to Catherine, but if the writing and acting remains top notch, CSI will continue to entertain for years to come.
The evidence says, Not Guilty.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Eleventh Season (DVD)
2010, Paramount, 962minutes, NR (2010)
VIDEO: 1.78:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish) SUBTITLES: English (SDH)
EXTRAS: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Interviews ACCOMPLICES: IMDB