“Drop it! I said “Drop it!”” — Every CSI agent
New York Crime Scene Investigator Jo Danville (Sela Ward, Once And Again) interviews witness Devon Hargrove (Cassidy Freeman, Smallville):
Danville: “It’s fitting that on a day like today the image of an innocent man dying for no good reason will be etched in your mind for the rest of your life.”
Hargrove: “What do you mean? What’s today?”
It’s September 11, 2011, and the memory of what happened in New York City ten years earlier weighs heavily on the minds of the investigative team for the length of “Indelible,” the brilliant premiere episode of CSI: NY: The Eighth Season.
Following such an opening act is nearly impossible. Not surprisingly, the remaining 17 episodes careen wildly in terms of credibility and originality, from top-notch (“Officer Involved,” “Unwrapped”) to trite and gimmicky. Enough already with the brazenly well-heeled serial killers, and frat boy hijinks turning deadly!
Of course, the CSI empire is nothing if not a manic confluence of sights, sounds, and speeds, the sheer onslaught of which make even the most shopworn storylines eminently watchable and — dare I say — entertaining? Personally, I can do without the strap-on-your-wetsuit-and-follow-the-bullet-trajectory-through-the-vital-organs jaunts, and the lusty extreme closeups employed whenever a forensics tech peels back a layer of some poor victim’s skull. But you say Po-tah-toe…
The strangest experience of Season Eight is found in the finale (“Near Death”), where the divergent elements of creative genius and cliché seamlessly mesh. Lead detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump) battles for survival on an operating table, after catching a bullet in the back during a robbery attempt. As the surgical team frantically tends to his body, Taylor’s mind (or perhaps his soul?) begins a sojourn through a purgatorial netherworld, where he’s visited, consoled, cajoled, and advised by important people in his life (most of whom he works with on a daily basis). This concept seemed revolutionary when I saw it on St. Elsewhere in 1986, and it worked pretty well on The Sopranos twenty years later. But really? Isn’t this an example of going to the well once too often?!
Remarkably, no! Against all odds, the episode works better than it has any right to; its hackneyed framework perfectly balanced with a series of sharply-written scenes from co-executive producers Pam Veasey and Zachary Reiter, providing each of the series regulars a chance to shine. Let’s face it, strength of ensemble is what makes CSI: NY tower above the two shows it was spun off from, surpassing mere niche programming.
With no slight intended towards the casts of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and the recently departed CSI: Miami, Gary Sinise and Sela Ward are performers of rare skill, operating well above their artistic pay grade. Ditto for Canadian-born Rhodes scholar Robert Joy (Ragtime), a scene-stealing secret weapon on stage and screen for twenty five years before landing the role of quirky Dr. Sid Hammerback. And where’s the Emmy love for Eddie Cahill as Detective Don Flack?
With only eighteen episodes, CSI: NY: The Eighth Season is the series’ shortest yet, but Paramount has packed the set with oodles of extras, including deleted scenes, a gag reel, a seasonal overview (“The Magic 8”), a salute to 911 first responders (“Honoring Our Heroes,”), and a pair of featurettes (“A New York Halloween,” “Flash To The Past”) that pull back the curtains and go behind the scenes. The Dolby 5.1 Surround audio and 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen visual presentations are flawless. While this season arguably represents a decline in the show’s creative fortunes, this handsomely packaged set is worth its price for “Indelible” alone.
The rest is gravy, and there’s a heaping helping of it!