I'd wager that most of you who have jobs find much of your work tedious, interrupted regularly by stupid annoyances: the guy at the next desk who talks too loudly on the phone, the middle manager who bugs you about missing staplers. Now, fantasize that you are surrounded by sincere professionals, and that your work makes a difference in other people's lives. Bingo: That's the milieu of the ''CSI''s. You come home from your ol' 9-to-5, kick back, and watch people who often pull grueling 12-hour shifts and never kick back -- what could make you feel better about your own lot in life?
Certainly the workaholics of the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation never seem to rest. With skin the same translucent blue as the nighttime neon of the Las Vegas they inhabit, the CSI team bustles down dimly lit lab hallways with DNA swabs or shoots guns into empty canisters to reproduce the trajectory of a fatal bullet. When the coroner has a severed skull delivered to the crime lab, William Petersen, as boss man Gil Grissom, delivers a pre-credits groaner like ''I heard you got some head,'' and no one dares to groan. Then he unobtrusively taps his toe to his own personal theme song, the Who's ''Who Are You.'' Is this a great job, or what?
The big news on ''CSI'' this season is that Petersen has grown a beard. No, really -- this qualifies as news in the ''CSI'' universe, where personal details are best kept quiet. Thank goodness that last season's boo-hoo suspense sapper -- poor stoic Gil had a hearing problem -- was conveniently cured by surgery over the summer (i.e., the producers cleaned out their own ears and listened to viewer and critic complaints).
The writers also quickly shed Gil's blink-and-you-missed-it flirtation with Jorja Fox's Sara Sidle because, well, given their age difference, it was creepier than any murder. The only cast member who can pull off personal-life hooey is Marg Helgenberger, and that's because her Catherine Willows has a past so seamy, it's kinda decadent-cool: The former stripper has learned that the old casino-owner coot who used to be a father figure to her was really her father -- and that Daddy has committed a murder.
Recently, though, we've been treated to what we like best about ''CSI,'' which is lots of novel deaths: a body found buried up to its neck in a small Nevada town (Not original, you say? How 'bout the fact that its head was chopped off?), and, my favorite so far, a dead raccoon squished in the middle of the road proves to be...a man in a raccoon suit!