Brits get their first taste of CSI on Blu-ray, but what a time to punch up the pixels! Season nine sees the biggest cast upheaval in the history of the show; with the loss of three major characters and the introduction of two new faces.
An improved HD sound and picture also suits the show’s trademark mix of fast-paced chart music and CGI close-up forensics. Blood samples fly about the screen in fantastically rendered splashes, while murder weapons and internal organs collide in queasily realistic ways. Unfortunately, however, the hi-def upgrade is not so forgiving on some of the stars – especially Marg Helgenberger, who is shot in such soft focus that it looks like the cameraman is smearing half a tub of Vaseline on the lens.
The HD set also offers a decent collection of extras, including a mawkish and sentimental goodbye to Grissom, as well as a feature on the disappointing 200th episode, ‘Mascaras’, which was guest-directed by The Exorcist’s William Friedkin. CSI Mode provides various pop-up facts for ‘Grave Shift’, which sees Laurence Fishburne’s college professor join the team as an entry-level CSI. However, all of the facts here and on one other episode are crime-related rather than being about the show or characters, so the whole thing starts to feel like a ‘How To’ manual for serial killers. Taylor Swift gamely joins George Eads (Nick Stokes) and writer Tom Mularz for commentary on her episode, but the singer’s initial enthusiasm is soon drowned out by the dry and technical commentary from the guys.
As for those staff changes... Fishburne fills some very big shoes when lead CSI Gil Grissom (William Petersen) takes his final bow 10 episodes into the season. His character’s academic background is a great tool to introduce us to some of the more ridiculous scientific and procedural elements of the franchise. Less welcome is the introduction of CSI Riley Adams (Lauren Lee Smith), who’s no replacement for the departing Warrick Brown or Sarah Sidle.
Despite the major upheavals, though, season nine is, largely, a triumph. The show works best when it isn’t afraid to take chances with narrative and presentation, proved again here by ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ where Swift plays a dead girl whose life is seen through CSI visits to her house, and ‘A Space Oddity’, where lab geek Hodges explores the death of a sci-fi TV show producer. Hardcore fans may lament the lack of Gil, Sarah and Warrick, but this is still one of CSI’s better seasons.
Rather than kill it off, Grissom’s departure may just have given CSI Vegas a new lease of life.