It’s been a tumultuous couple of seasons for CSI with major cast changes leaving the line-up almost unrecognisable. I’m broadly in favour of that, new characters bring new life to the show which would otherwise surely be pretty stale by now. Unfortunately there’s also been some wild variation in the quality of the writing and storylines. While I praised season 10 and the introduction of Laurence Fishburne to the cast, I was critical of season 11 because the destroyed his character by giving him some kind of hammy arch-nemesis like a melodramatic comic book. So he’s out for season 12, Catherine is demoted and Ted Danson is brought in to lead the ship.
I found it interesting that Fishbourne despite being the top billed actor, and the oldest character he was a relatively junior CSI, but I’m not sure it really worked long term, too quickly the other more experienced characters deferred to him. Danson however can lead both the cast and the characters and just fits in more naturally to the structure. His quirkiness never overwhelmed his competence and he was a nice balance of new and commanding, while respectful and supporting. Being a laid back family guy made a really nice change to the mostly career obsessed, highly strung characters. I was dubious at first, but I actually liked him a lot and he felt like a better replacement for Grissom.
His character however didn’t leave much space for Catherine, and it wasn’t long before she started the drawn out process of leaving. I’ve never particularly warmed to Catherine as a character, I found her too quick with emotional reactions and too hypocritically critical of others. So I can’t say I was particularly fussed about her leaving, or really missed her after she was gone. Morgan on the other hand made a nice addition to the cast, bringing a bit of youthful enthusiasm back that has been missing since Greg became a boring grown up. Being the estranged daughter of Ecklie also brought that character more into the fold after a dozen seasons loitering on the periphery. She even managed to humanise the otherwise stunningly irritating Hodges a little bit. I’m still on the fence about the other new character – Finlay, thus far she’s just come across as a bit of a thoughtless loose cannon, but again, she at least brings some new energy to the series.
After the disastrous drawn out storyline of Nate Haskell from the last two seasons it was rather a relief that there was no ongoing storyline this year. With all the character changes that was enough to tie the season together. The cases were the usual collection of unremarkable murders interspersed with looks into unusual communities or lifestyles, nothing particularly remarkable, but generally entertaining.
I said about season 10 that it felt like everything was coming together, but then it all fell apart in season 11. That leaves me pretty nervous about saying that season 12 felt pretty good and seemed to be setting up the new generation of the series. Thanks to the cast changes the series doesn’t feel old at all (comparing for something like NCIS which has barely changed the main cast at all and so feels ancient and repetitive at ‘just’ 9 seasons). CSI continues to be a show that’s reliable entertainment, but is unlikely to ever clamber back to the top of either the ratings or anyone’s favourite shows list. Still, as NCIS proved by contrast, even just being ‘reliable entertainment’ is nothing to be sniffed at.