TV Article

Forensic Humor

On this week's ''CSI'' episodes, we learned that female crime scene investigators always let their hair down, an all-natural drink can keep you flushed with youth, and O.J. Simpson is innocent

David Caruso, CSI: Miami | PIGMENT OF HIS IMAGINATION Horatio solved the great paint-ball murder
Image credit: David Caruso: Robert Voets
PIGMENT OF HIS IMAGINATION Horatio solved the great paint-ball murder

What we learned on ''CSI'' this week

CSI: Rerun: Those Vampire Girls vs. The Clue of the Samurai Sword

Wednesday's previously scheduled original episode of CSI: New York was bumped for game 7 of the American League playoffs; an old Vegas episode was substituted for those of us who hate baseball worse than reruns. (Here, readers may feel free to insert a joke about how there was more bloodshed during the game than during any CSI episode.) Rather than write it off as a cold case, let's harvest this rerun for donor organs — I mean, for a few generic ''teaching points'' that all good CSI episodes have in common:

1. Crime scene investigators tend to work with two cases per hour: One is usually an ultra-disgusting case filled with rotting bodies and perversity. If possible, these story lines scare parents about what their kids are up to. (''Blood clubs'' where everyone's a vampire!) The other has more of a Murder, She Wrote feel, for the old-timers. (A priceless samurai sword is stolen from under everyone's nose!)

2. Since they have Seen It All, crime scene investigators remain deadpan when confronted with the foulest dead body rotting in a bathtub filled with diarrhea. And yet, simultaneously, they appear shocked by trends that even I, a Connecticut matron, have read about in Newsweek. The ''goth scene'' (as hipsters like myself put it) has been around for more than a decade, and vampirism has always been one of its subsets. These CSIs live in one of the country's fastest-growing cities and deal with some of the scariest people on earth, but they're flummoxed when they meet teenage girls who wear black lipstick and clip-on fangs.

3. No chitchat on the job for CSIs! They like to ignore their common humanity, pretending they have nothing in common with their fellow CSIs outside the sterile blue lighting in which they're photographed. Don't these investigative teams have a cafeteria or somewhere to hang out and bitch about their jobs? You never see them asking one another, ''Hey, what kinds of cases do you have these days?'' When I become a CSI, I'll always tell my coworkers if I find a dead vampire. I don't care how uncool it makes me seem.

4. To prove that they're genuine, CSIs must use the word probative at least once an hour. Or I guess I should say the fact that they use the word probative once an hour is probative of their authenticity. For added verisimilitude, T.O.D. makes a nice substitute for time of death, though it takes exactly as long to say.

(And speaking of lingo, this episode and the new one on Thursday used the same line in the last scene! In each case, a perp whom the team had tracked down snarled that they still couldn't prove he was guilty: ''Otherwise, we'd be having this conversation downtown.'' Of course, all of Las Vegas is ''downtown,'' but what the crooks meant was, ''Nyah, nyah, I can tell you're not going to charge me with anything because you're letting me stay in my office instead of dragging me away.'')

5. If you are a female CSI, you must never tie back your hair. These women are much too sexy for a ponytail. I've given up hoping they'll ever dress sensibly for their jobs, despite the high probability that maggots will fall into their cleavage, but doesn't it creep them out to have their split ends brush over corpses all the time? More to the point, doesn't it contaminate the evidence? I like to imagine Gil saying, ''Hel-lo, here's a hair in the brain cavity! No, it's one of Catherine's again. Dammit, Catherine, can't you wear a hairnet?''

CSI: The Urine Drinkers vs. Where's Bob?

Ebola! What could be better? It's Thursday's regular episode of CSI: Original Recipe, and the assistant coroner, David Robinson, is standing terrified next to a hotel bed on which lies a woman covered with horrible brown dots. Turns out the victim did not die of Ebola after all. This is disappointing, because David Robinson might have caught the virus and died of it. David is such a creepy loner that I know he'll become a mass murderer later on. He'll kill the CSI staff first (for ignoring him), and then who will be left to investigate their deaths? Maybe they can bring in one of the other casts.

But the ten cc's of urine they find in her stomach perked me right up. At first I thought sadly, ''Oh, they're just going to tell us it leaked there from her bladder.'' I perked up again when I learned that it had reached the stomach in the normal way: She drank it.

On the other side of town, an elderly man is found dead inside his house, which had been sealed up and filled with exterminating gas. This is the Murder, She Wrote subplot, and hence not too intriguing — the guy looks as if he might have died soon anyway — but a valuable hyacinth macaw, Bob, is also missing. All I worry about for the rest of the show is Bob's whereabouts. Although it's preposterously unlikely that a prime-time show would kill off a pet, you could write, ''An animal died,'' on a piece of paper and I'd start crying.

We do learn a few interesting things in this subplot. For one thing, a human who dies by extermination is technically a drowning victim. Also, a good way to find out if one house is leaking extermination gas into another house is to explode a smoke bomb in the first house. And finally, the CSIs track can down perps telepathically! Suddenly, with no prior conversation on the topic, they're interrogating the killer in his apartment. Maybe the reason these people never have ordinary conversations with each other is that they're psychic.

Still, the plastic-surgery story line is the compelling one. Another middle-aged lady turns up dead, also with urine in her stomach. These women will do anything to stay young. On the advice of their sleazy plastic surgeon, they have put catchment basins into their toilets so that they can pour their priceless age-fighting urine into the crystal goblet waiting on the sink. (That's not what turns out to be killing them; the doc accidentally injected them with ten times the ''therapeutic'' dose of priceless age-fighting hydrogen peroxide.) The best part of the show: the autopsy of Victim #2, when the coroner pulls her floppy, hand-grenade-shaped stomach out of a heap of glop and squeezes it, causing a stream of pee to drain out. Funny, you'd expect a coroner to analyze stomach contents by actually dissecting the stomach, but isn't this a much, much better way to do it?

CSI: Miami: The Worst Juror Ever! vs. Uncle Horatio, Ray Jr. Needs You!

We can get the second story line out of the way right now. It's an after-school special about how trying to ''hang'' with the ''cool kids'' can ''mess you up.'' And it has the worst kind of CSI victim: one you feel sorry for. This show works best when the victim stirs up no feelings stronger than pleasant neutrality — either because s/he is too cute to look dead or because s/he deserved to die. A homeless man scared to death by some wiseacre kids (including Horatio's nephew) with a paint-ball gun? That's too sad.

The main plot has more of the right stuff — up to the end, when it also turns too sad. (I don't want to feel sorry for the murderers on CSI, either. C'mon, guys, keep it clean!) A member of a remarkably attractive and homogeneous jury buries a cleaver in the head of a murderous athlete named O. J. Simps— I mean, ''Danny Lopez,'' who's accused of stabbing his wife to death. In retrospect, the setup seems ludicrous. Danny Lopez gets to watch the jurors inspecting his house for no other reason than that the story requires one of them to kill him. The jurors all have to creep around with flashlights in order to ''re-create the scene'' when, in fact, subsequent flashbacks show a normally lit house the night the murder took place. A juror who has been bribed to cause a mistrial induces her own seizure with a laser pointer; her fellow jurors mistake the pointer's flash for lightning.

But let's move on to the cleaver in Danny Lopez's head. I mean, it is really stuck in there! Unfortunately, from a CSI storytelling point of view there's not a lot you can do with a cleaver buried in someone's head. The investigators spend way too much time comparing paper samples and checking handwriting, as if they worked at Staples. A face print created when Juror #3 bangs into a ''pocket door'' (a pocket door! Now we're at Home Depot!) is marginally interesting. So is the scene where Calleigh, with her hair unprofessionally tied back, drapes a bloody jacket over a dummy. I love the notion that there's an industry devoted to making dummy ''vics.''

In the end, though, the main thing this episode taught me was that if I can only figure out how to induce my own seizures, I'll make a good living suing people.

What important lessons did you learn on CSI this week?

Originally posted Oct 26, 2004
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