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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The First Season

(2000) *** Unrated
1026 min. CBS. Director: Danny Cannon. Cast: William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger.

/content/films/3481/1.jpgOne of the greatest success stories in post-milennial television is CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Now incorporating two other series (CSI: Miami and CSI: NY), the franchise all started with the mothership launched in 2000 by powerful Hollywood executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer and creator Anthony E. Zuiker. Though a procedural somewhat in the vein of the Law & Order series, CSI punches up its storytelling with biologically invasive visual effects and a soapy interest in its characters' sexy private lives.

The series follows the exploits of the team of criminalists working the graveyard shift of the Las Vegas Crime Lab ("the number two crime lab in the country"): supervisor Dr. Gil "Gruesome" Grissom (William Petersen of Manhunter); assistant supervisor Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), a single mother troubleshooting her ex-husband (Timothy Carhart); a team of "CSI-3"s (Jorja Fox's Sara Sidle, George Eads' Nick Stokes, and Gary Dourdan's Warrick Brown); and DNA/trace technician Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda). (Robert David Hall also turns up frequently as Coroner Albert Robbins.) Calling the shots is the punnily named detective Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle).

The hook of the series is that crimes are solved on the basis of evidence, scientifically collected. Though these CSIs frequently overstep their bounds by doing witness interviews, it's basically all about the evidence, collected through high-tech toys and low-tech tricks as Grissom reminds his investigators to keep emotions and assumptions at bay. The series' appeal is largely its scientific angle, little explored by the time the series debuted (though some will recall the unfortunately short-lived UNSUB as having focused on crime scene investigation, employing similar style and substance). Danny Cannon, who directed the pilot and many subsequent episodes, established a much-copied slick style incorporating fantastic voyages into corpses.

The series' signature theme song--The Who's "Who Are You?"--plays on the search for perps, but also the show's interest in its characters, who Catherine describes as "not Crime Scene Investigators. We're just a bunch of kids that are getting paid to solve puzzles." Grissom resembles the remark. He's distinguished first and foremost by his forensic genius (with a special emphasis on entymology), but also by his penchant for cultural references and puzzles and his anemic social life: he lives for his work. Offering a potential respite from his loneliness is attractive forensic artist Teri Miller (Pamela Gidley of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me).

/content/films/3481/2.jpgMiller exemplifies Season One's interest in story arcs spread over a few episodes. Another, left unresolved in Season One, involves a serial killer toying with Grissom. Other CSIs toy with romance, such as Catherine's flirtation with a structural engineer played by Brad Johnson (Always), and Warrick struggles with a gambling addiction. TV fans will also note the presence of a number of familiar faces in guest star roles: Rainn Wilson (The Office), Gregg Henry (Payback), Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), Jarrad Paul (Monk), Mark Valley (Fringe), Gregory Itzin (24), John Beasley (Everwood), Sam Jones III (Smallville), Glenn Morshower (24), and Reginald VelJohnson (Die Hard), among them.

CSI is mainstream TV that's not deep or challenging or realistic, but its strong hook and snazzy style have served it well for nine seasons. Who woulda thunk a show about cops greeted as "the nerd squad" would becomes a smash hit, finishing every season in TV's Top 10?

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 5

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: CBS/Paramount

CSI: Crime Season Investigation - The First Season comes to Blu-ray with an unusual but generally satisfying image that's a definite upgrade. The nicely framed 1.78:1 image is a first for Season One, which was broadcast and reissued on DVD in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (it was presumably shot "protected" for either ratio, but looks great in widescreen). This change alone is cause for celebration, but the 1080i picture also offers significantly more detail than ever before. It can also look a bit noisy at times, in part due to intentional grain and in part due to digital sharpening, but this colorful transfer is probably as good as Season One is ever likely to appear. The picture is matched with an impressive DTS HD 7.1 surround soundtrack that delivers clear dialogue and robust musical cues.

Special features include the Unaired Director's Cut of the Pilot (with optional Director's Commentary by Danny Cannon); Deleted Scenes for the Pilot (in HD and also with optional commentary); Deleted Scenes for selected Season One episodes (in SD); and the original Network Launch, Series & Episodic Promos (in SD). Fans will especially appreciate the "Gag Reel" (3:53, SD) and over forty-five minutes of featurette material.

The 2002 featurette "CSI - People Lie...But the Evidence Never Does" (19:13, SD) gives an overview of the series at its outset, with executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer Carol Mendelsohn, creator Anthony E. Zuiker, William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Robert David Hall, Paul Guilfoyle, George Eads, technical advisor Elizabeth Devine, Jorja Fox, Gary Dourdan, director-producer Danny Cannon, and Eric Szmanda.

The 2009 retrospective featurette "CSI: Season One - Rediscovering the Evidence" (27:54, HD) gets some perspective on the series' inception and the special place the first season has in the hearts of cast and crew. Interviewees include Zuiker, Mendelsohn, Cannon, Petersen, director Kenneth Fink, Eads, Guilfoyle, director Richard J. Lewis, Hall, David Berman, and Szmanda.

Plus, BD-Live promises more exclusive content for players hooked up to the internet. Fans of CSI are encouraged to go Blu for this terrific set, which will no doubt also garner new followers for the popular series.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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