Bright Lights, Big Cases.
Let’s go back to 2011. CSI: NY struggled in the ratings right alongside fellow CSI: Crime Scene Investigation spinoff CSI: Miami. Well, struggled by CBS standards. In truth, both spinoffs had viewership in the millions; loyal devotees waited for the 2012 fall schedule announcement with trepidation. Fans of CSI: NY breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced the show would come back for the 2012-2013 season. Still, with an order of only seventeen episodes, it was clearly a bubble show. That bubble burst when the 2013 upfronts rolled around, and the show was axed. Now comes CSI: NY: The Final Season in a quickie release. Does this set demonstrate why it’s cancelled, or does it make fans call out “Nooooooo!” a la Vader?
CSI: NY: The Final Season picks up six months after the events of the Season Eight finale. Detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump) is on the road to recovery after being shot, although not without some hurdles. His is the story we follow most closely. Speaking of stories, in a welcome change from the norm, almost every single character gets their own standout episode, patterned after the idea of seeing the CSIs on their day off, whatever that entails.
The throughline for this season of CSI: NY is Mac’s recovery. As the show opens, girlfriend Christine (Megan Dodds, Detroit 1-8-7) is by his side, and we think the season opener will be all we see of Mac’s recovery, aside from some well wishes and offhanded “how ya doin'” peppered throughout the season. In a departure from the expected, Mac learns he has a form of aphasia, and he struggles with it the entire season. He’s short-tempered and more clipped and brusque than normal. For the most part his team writes it off as his continuing healing process. It’s not until the episodes which feature their version of Mac’s day off do we really see how his behavior changes.
That’s because Mac’s day off is a two-part episode, one of which is a crossover with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Crossovers are a long tradition within the franchise and this season’s effort is one of the more successful ones. Faced with an unexpected mystery which involves his girlfriend Christine, Mac does what we’ve seen other characters do countless times before on other shows — basically freak out and discount the rules. Because Sinise has played Taylor so consistently and believably, seeing him break from that characterization is jarring and helps elevate the two-part episode above what it could have been.
Mac isn’t the only one to get his own moment in the sun. Jo Danville (Sela Ward, Sisters) meets a mysterious stranger with an unexpected tie to her past, plus she and Mac travel to San Francisco to solve a crime together alongside maybe love interest FBI Agent Cade Conover (Peter Horton, thirtysomething). Adam Ross (A.J. Buckley, Talent: The Casting Call) volunteers at a nursing home in hopes of getting a long-overdue apology. Lindsay Messer (Anna Belknap, Medical Investigation) returns to Montana, closing the final chapter on her previous storyline wherein as a young teenager she witnesses the brutal murder of three of her closest friends. Don Flack (Eddie Cahill, Lords of Dogtown) receives a box of his late father’s possessions and decides whether to carry out his final wishes. Dr. Sid Hammerback (Robert Joy, Superhero Movie) spends his day off bringing joy to people before revealing his motive for doing so.
It’s a bold move to include six character episodes in a seventeen-episode run but it works. The reason it works is at this point, if you’re watching CSI: NY, it’s because you love the characters, not because the crimes are all-encompassing and keep bringing you back. So while each story contains some element which can be classified as “mystery” (however loosely), the focus for each episode is a deeper understanding of who these people are. That’s the type of thing fans love to watch.
Overall I really enjoy CSI: NY: The Final Season. Sinise is given a lot to work with and his past consistency gives his character metamorphosis impact. The rest of the veteran cast brings their A-game as well. The risk the writers take by injecting so many standalone episodes into the season works because they are character-based and give the highlighted actors a chance to stretch their roles a bit. The downside is the lack of everyone’s inclusion. Hill Harper and Carmine Giovinazzo weren’t given their own episodes and their exclusion makes me wish the season was a bit longer so they wouldn’t have been left out. The abbreviated season means a fast pace. While the crimes are not the reason I watch, there are enough cool gadgets and varying locations to keep viewers entertained. I am surprised at how the deeper look into the characters makes me genuinely regret the lack of future seasons.
In terms of how it looks CSI: NY utilizes a blue-gray palette overall in order to separate it from “the mothership” CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and never is that more apparent than during the crossover episode. To see Gary Sinise lit for the Vegas set, specifically during the hallway scene where he encounters Hodges (Wallace Langham, The Larry Sanders Show) is to understand just what different palettes the two shows use. It honestly takes a moment to adjust to Sinise’s skin looking as if it’s actually seen the sun in the past decade. Usually on CSI: NY, there is the lingering sense of a muted palette, of the rather bleak nature of the crimes being reflected throughout everything, even the way the sun shines (or doesn’t). There is really only one complaint I have and that is the blown-out white levels. Especially in the opening scene of the season, the idea the sun shines that brightly in New York is counter to the rest of the time the city is lit. The only time the changes in palette work are the crossover episode and “Late Admissions,” during which Lindsay returns home to Montana. On the plus side, the soft palette lends itself well to night shots, and the black levels hold especially well even during night shots such as Flack and Lovato’s (Natalie Martinez, Under the Dome) night on the rooftop. Stretching across a standard 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the city that never sleeps looks about as good as it can, white level issue notwithstanding.
One of the things which the CSI franchise is known for is musical montages during which the revelation of some piece of evidence is seen. Usually with a piece of high-tech equipment serving almost as another character, these bits of story business are accompanied by upbeat, sometimes even techno music. Since they are so prevalent, it’s important to have the audio stream to back it up, and CSI: NY: The Final Season does. Offering a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 in both English and Spanish, those streams serve the average listener well, one who doesn’t care about the musical cues taking center stage at times. For those who especially enjoy the montages, there’s the choice to bump up the sound to Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, which really announces its presence through the musical cues and Foley. The dialogue is mixed well enough any stream will serve your purpose, but the music chosen is specifically there to make sure you don’t find your attention waning so I’d stick with the 5.1 stream.
The special features have really been hit-or-miss over the course of the series’ run. While there are some here, it’s not enough — not nearly enough for a show which hauls in tens of millions of viewers, and lasted just shy of 200 episodes. We get a gag reel, some behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a few deleted scenes. Where are the commentary tracks? Where’s the retrospective? If the Can’t Be Saved network wants to squeeze money out of fans, they should do better on this front.
I’m not deluding myself any season of CSI: NY is going to get a Blu-ray treatment anytime soon. It passed the magic 100 episode mark a few seasons ago so catching these episodes via reruns is commonplace. Even though I really enjoy this final season and feel more connected to the characters, at just about $50 for the set I don’t think it’s worth the money, not when there aren’t outstanding special features highlighting the show’s almost decade-long run. Just wait for this season to be shown again on TV.