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Reviewed by Will Harris
fter solving eight seasons worth of crimes and spawning two series focusing on criminal scene investigations in other American cities, the original “CSI” – a.k.a. the one which takes place in Las Vegas – came upon a mystery this season that they had no choice but to solve: how can a long-running television show survive the departure of its lead character?
Gil Grissom, played by William Petersen, had been integral to the success of the series, first as a familiar face to genre fans (surely you remember him from Michael Mann’s “Manhunter”), then evolving over the course of the show’s run from a brilliant but eccentric forensic scientist into a full-fledged father figure to his team of investigators. Knowing this, the producers of “CSI” knew full well that, were the character of Grissom to depart the series, his departure would have to be handled carefully and presented in a fashion that felt realistic rather than forced. Additionally, since television viewers abhor a vacuum, the hole in the “CSI” roster would have to be filled by an actor who was a “name,” in order to make sure that the viewers would stick around for the post-Grissom era. Both aspects were handled about as well as they possibly could have been.
At the beginning of Season Nine, the show resolved the cliffhanger surrounding the shooting of Warwick Brown, but it wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret that Gary Dourdan had decided to leave the show, so it was hardly a shock when his character bit the dust only a few minutes into the season premiere. Warwick’s death, however, set events into motion for Grissom’s departure in a very realistic fashion when it inspired Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) to return to the fold and grieve with her friends and former co-workers. Grissom and Sara discussed their relationship, and in the end, Sara departed, leaving Grissom alone again and heavily distracted. His state of mind became a major plot point in the subsequent episodes, finally leading him to decide that the time was right to leave the department, but in the two-part conclusion to his stint on the series (“19 Down…” and “One to Go”), Grissom managed to become entangled in a case involving a copycat serial killer who was inspired through the original killer’s teleconference with a classroom of criminology students. The professor? Dr. Raymond Langston, played by Laurence Fishburne, an actor who easily met the qualification of being a “name” and brought more than his fair share of acting ability to the table with him.
In addition to the changes in the cast, the existing characters received some enjoyable spotlight episodes, but the funniest of the bunch, hands down, was “A Space Oddity,” which gave Wallace Langham and Liz Vassey the opportunity to consider a possible relationship between Hodges and Simms.
Grissom’s farewell to “CSI” was handled in a sweet and emotional manner, with his presence remaining within the show well after his departure. Similarly, Langston’s introduction to the team as the low man on the totem pole, despite his medical knowledge and expertise in criminology, felt realistic as well. Indeed, by the last half-dozen episodes of the season, the show had settled into such a comfortable groove with its new roster that things almost felt too relaxed at times, but the fans of this show relish the familiarity. That’s why the change in the status quo had to be handled with kid gloves, but based on the evidence presented here, it looks like “CSI” has solved that mystery we mentioned in the opening paragraph.
Special Features: As per usual, “CSI” has offered up a couple of audio commentaries from the cast and crew, a few episodes which allow you to watch in Comprehensive Scientific Information Mode, a smattering of deleted scenes, and several new featurettes, including “Good-Bye, Grissom,” “From Zero to 200 In Nine Seasons” (the series hit its 200th episode, directed by William Friedkin), “Crime Scene Initiation,” and “Rats in Space.”