I’ve been on a CSI bender for the past year or so… starting with the first few seasons of the original series, heading through Miami and then onto New York. The thing that has always puzzled me about CSI is that I loved the original and kind of hated Miami. The bits I’d seen of New York had also left me going meh. (CSI Cyber just sounds daft, so I haven’t tried it.)
Of course, with a franchise it’s sometimes the love you feel for the original that clouds your enjoyment of the spin-offs. (Though not so for me with Law and Order where I loved them all at least for a few seasons.) So, I decided I’d go back and watch them and see how I felt about them now.
Nothing has changed, I still hate the spin-offs, but now I understand why.
What I love about the original is, firstly, the cast of characters and, secondly, the crimes. Neither of these was done well in the spin-offs.
Right from season one of Las Vegas, all the characters are given real personality and not just the leads; there are a bunch of regularly appearing characters that get the same respect. Without falling into soap-opera, like a lot of procedurals do, the characters are vibrant in themselves. They’re people I can imagine having a chat with.
The original also doesn’t suffer from “super-cop” syndrome. You know, where there’s a distinct lead who almost always solves the crime while his (too often still his) grateful colleagues look on? Everyone finds their own answers in the original with the senior CSIs providing advice or insight as you’d expect from their greater experience.
Then you get to Miami. Suddenly you have “super-cop” in spades and a much smaller cast, missing those great ancillary characters. In fact all the characters are shallow. They did develop them over the seasons of Miami, but they remain fairly standard cop-type characters. The small cast thing got worse in New York, though the “super-cop” isn’t as bad, but the characters are interchangeable in that one and it does then go soap-opera.
The other change with the spin-offs is that, in the original, they peppered Las Vegas appropriate stories throughout, utilising the desert, the weddings, the conventions and the gambling that go with the location. They did that in Miami to an extent, (drug running, the water, the super-rich and cuban refugees etc) but they went sensational with it really early.
New York was just a bit boring crime-wise because, for all the wonders of New York, it’s basically just a big city. Also, everyone in New York’s cast seemed in need of cheering up… such a humourless series compared to the original.
Anyway, it’s not like I’m planning a career as a screen-writer, but it was interesting to see what the original series did so very right (at the beginning) and that it didn’t carry through into the spin-offs.