CSI: Miami Season One

cast: David Caruso, Emily Procter, Adam Rodriguez, Khandi Alexander, and Rory Cochrane

creators: Anthony E. Zuiker, Ann Donahue, and Carol Mendelsohn

1045 minutes (15) 2002-3
widescreen ratio 1.77:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary

Unlike the scientific examiners and lab techs of the original C.S.I. – Crime Scene Investigation, the criminologists of this Miami centred TV spinoff (introduced in second season C.S.I. episode Cross-Jurisdictions) are all ‘proper’ cops. They have done standard police department training, and they usually carry guns. By itself, this lends the Miami show a much-needed sense of verisimilitude in the practical depiction of what its particular unit of crime-busting characters actually do. As law enforcers, rather than only scientists, the Miami squad are more convincing when they start interviewing witnesses or interrogating suspects – and especially making arrests – something which, in all fairness to series’ creator Zuiker, regular scripters, and the principal cast of C.S.I., was seldom believable in the original’s Las Vegas scenario. Apart from that, what further distinguishesCSI: Miami from its parent show, isn’t just the vastly differing locations (harsh desert and neon-lit casinos are traded for perilous swamps and sun-baked beaches), it’s mainly that the Miami criminologists work in daylight hours, therefore happily avoiding the purportedly humorous vampiric connotations that haunted the Las Vegas team’s night shift. Noon in the alligator-occupied Everglades is such a change of scenery from Vegas’ nocturnal gambling dens that it’s mildly disconcerting to view some obviously comparable storylines unfolding in this spinoff show. Wisely, the team of producers on CSI: Miami have changed just enough little details to ensure that a ‘franchise’ style connection to the original show is obvious (there’s a different theme song by British rockers The Who; but we get the same kind of CGI inserts to illustrate forensic explanations, and scripted quips from the lead actor before the title sequence plays), while permitting the Florida-based variant to assume a certain ‘uniqueness’ of its own.

As you’d expect, series opener Golden Parachute sets the tone for this addition to the franchise well enough, and in spectacular fashion, with a plane crash and the discovery efforts of the whole Miami-Dade county team – led by former homicide detective and onetime bomb disposal officer Lieutenant Horatio ‘H’ Caine (played by David Caruso, recently seen in underrated psychological thriller Session 9). As the leader, Caine’s special expertise with ‘explosive’ situations comes in handy for episodes like Losing Face. The Miami squad are: ballistics expert Calleigh ‘bullet girl’ Duquesne (Emily Procter), diver Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez), chief coroner Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander, probably the weakest player in the show) – who often talks to victims’ corpses, Timothy ‘Speed’ Speedle (Rory Cochrane) – whose specialty is analysis of ‘trace’ evidence, and the recently widowed Megan Donner (Kim Delaney) – who, we are told, is returning to CSI duty after a leave of absence following the death of her Miami police detective husband.

It’s worth mentioning here the blatantly obvious setup of a possible romance for the characters of Horatio and Megan that, perhaps unfortunately, was axed from plans for the series’ development when actress Delaney quit CSI: Miami after the first 10 episodes, her departure being ‘explained’ – without much comment – in a note passed to Horatio, when she is fails to appear following episode, A Horrible Mind. As Lieutenant Caine, redhead TV star Caruso plays his cop role in a similar fashion to his equally soft-spoken character, Detective John Kelly, in the popular and seminal TV drama series, NYPD Blue (1993-2004), which Caruso left in 1994 to pursue his ambition of a film career. By coincidence, Delaney joined the cast of NYPD Blue in 1995 as Detective Diane Russell, her character eventually marrying ill-fated detective, Bobby Simone (winningly portrayed by Caruso’s replacement on the show, Jimmy Smits). Caruso’s movie-star fame never quite happened, and he returned to TV work as the title character of short-lived legal drama, Michael Hayes (1997). Also by coincidence, Delaney’s own bid for TV stardom – as lawyer Kathleen Maguire, in similarly-short series, Philly (2001), failed to catch on with discerning viewers, and the makers of CSI: Miami might be forgiven for thinking that bringing these two former mainstays of NYPD Blue together for the first time on screen would offer some ‘guarantee’ of a ratings success. But this didn’t work, and Delaney left CSI: Miami in the wake of reports that many of her scenes with (allegedly egotistical) Caruso lacked the anticipated ‘chemistry’. Eventually, Swiss actress Sofia Milos joined the cast, in Simple Man, as Detective Yelina Salas, and yet – despite some admiring glances and lingering smiles – it doesn’t look like any sparks are flying between the potential new couple, either.

As with the original C.S.I. show, what marks CSI: Miami out from all other police procedurals and TV detective dramas is the makers’ focus on crime stories to the exclusion of nearly everything else; including mainstream-drama style character development. Scenes of the CSI teams off duty are few and far between. We learn very little about their home lives, and what details emerge are purposely eked out across several episodes, so when odd little bits of info about the main characters’ backgrounds is revealed piecemeal, the keen interest of attentive regular viewers is assured. Instead of the bathos of sequences typically found in soap operas, the writers of CSI: Miami avoid domestic melodrama (except for some victims!) and only show us what the CSI squad do, not (at first, anyway) who these people are. Action speaks louder than words every time, of course.

Third episode, Wet Foot/Dry Foot, boasts a classic CSI pre-credits sequence, as a shark fisherman gutting his latest catch is surprised when human body parts spill out of the fish. A complex tragedy unfolds, involving a boatload of Cuban political refugees, a pitiless cocaine smuggler, and the crime lab team’s piecing together of forensic clues to confirm their own worst suspicions. This episode also spotlights the first appearance of Detective Adell Sevilla (Hispanic actress Wanda De Jesus) – who quickly becomes one of the series’ best, charismatic, supporting characters.

The crimes depicted in CSI: Miami are just as varied and fascinatingly horrifying as those of the original Las Vegas-based series. There’s the disturbing ‘evil’ of paedophilia resident in Broken, which sees a little girl murdered by sexual predator, Stewart Otis (William O’Leary), a nasty piece of work who returns to menace yet another poor kid in later episode, Body Count, season one’s finale. Of particular interest to horror fans is the unnervingly grotesque murder scene of Slaughterhouse, in which an entire suburban family is wiped out leaving a blood-soaked toddler as the only survivor. Prescient and controversial, Kill Zone (so expertly directed by Daniel Attias), concerns a conscienceless sniper picking off random victims and turning Miami streets into a death trap. Camp Fear (directed by Deran Sarafian) guest stars Tony Todd and Blair Brown, but they’re not the only notable actors to appear in this worthwhile series. Adam Baldwin and John Getz show up in Dead Woman Walking (directed by Jeannot Szwarc), which delivers a clever twist on the idea behind classic noir mystery D.O.A. (1950); Elizabeth Peņa and Stephen Tobolowsky grace the get-away-with-murder plot of Simple Man; John Heard’s appearance as CSI officer Calleigh Duquesne’s alcoholic father brings a welcome depth to his rather stereotypical character – in episode Double Cap; Christopher Penn invests his character of a reformed ex-con, in Grave Young Men (directed by Peter Markle), with an admirable gravitas; Tinder Box, about lethal arson at a nightclub, features Ben Browder (star of Farscape) and a cameo appearance by Robert Beltran (from Star Trek Voyager); Debrah Farentino is the ‘femme fatale’ of Freaks And Tweaks; while the season finale Body Count features Stacy Haiduk and D.B. Sweeney.

Arguably the finest episode of the initial season (two further seasons have already aired in the USA) is Dispo Day, in which a convoy transporting material evidence (a truck load of illegal drugs, in particular), to be disposed of by incineration, gets attacked and hijacked. Internal Affairs detectives suspect a leak within the police department provided the raiders with details of the transport vehicle’s route, and so the crime lab team find themselves under investigation, revealing much about the main characters that we didn’t know…

As with the C.S.I. boxsets, the CSI: Miami – season one DVD release comes in two parts that have three discs featuring 12 episodes, plus modest extras. Season one, part one (CSI: Miami 1.1) is available now, with part two (CSI: Miami 1.2) due out on 21st February 2005. There’s a complete season one package available on Region 1 DVD, but some reports suggest the US boxset has a couple of episodes missing. It looks as if fans will have to wait until September 2005 to get season two on DVD.