Marc Vann, John Wellner
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All photos © CBS
Reviewed by Will Harris
f you find yourself hearing the occasional cries of agony while watching “CSI: The Tenth Season” on DVD…well, okay, it’s probably just somebody getting murdered. I mean, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect to hear on a show about crime scene investigation, right? Still, the sounds could just as well be the result of the growing pains that CBS’s long-running procedural suffered during the course of the season.
Although the ninth season of “CSI” found the series successfully passing the thespianic torch from the departing Gil Grissom (William Petersen) to the incoming Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne), the curiosity factor that kept the initial post-Grissom episodes interesting – “Say, what’s this new guy all about, anyway?” – could only last but so long. The momentum stayed in place through the end of the season, but as Season 10 kicked off, viewers were finally forced to acknowledge that the show’s dynamic had changed. Grissom had been the glue that held the CSI team together, and although it was creatively interesting for the producers to move Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) into the role of team leader, it seems wrong somehow for a high-profile actor like Fishburne to be relegated to playing a middle-aged trainee.
Much of Langston’s storylines in Season Ten revolve around a serial killer nicknamed Dr. Jekyll, who commits black-humored atrocities on his victims, including tying one man’s intestines into a bow and operating on another man in order to insert a second appendix. There also are repeated references to Langston’s concern over the fact that he himself is in possession of a gene that has been found in serial killers, but while this might have been suspenseful in another series, everyone knows that CBS would never allow one of its flagship series to hire a big-name actor for a lead role, only to have him turn out to be a murderer. As such, the storyline ultimately proves disappointing. Fishburne proves far more effective when, as in the later episodes of Season Nine, the writers take the time to explore the intricacies of Langston as a character, examining his life outside the department and looking into what he was like before he joined the CSI team.
Then again, the show finds most of its successes these days with the exploration of the characters’ lives. After ten seasons, it should come as no surprise that viewers are less interested in the crimes themselves, paying more attention to the people who are solving them. In “Appendicitement,” a road trip gone bad leads Nick and the guys to discover a murder at his favorite (but now closed) rib joint, and not only is it a perfect blend of lighthearted fun and dark humor, but the CSI guys all feel like real people. In “The Panty Sniffer,” Catherine teams with Detective Vartann on a stakeout and, by the end of the episode, has entered into a formal relationship with him – and, frankly, it’s about time. “Field Mice” is a rather surreal episode, but it’s a blast to give the so-called “lab rats” of the series the spotlight as Hodges and Wendy train some students by painting the CSI experience as they see it.
You’ve probably already gotten this impression, but just to confirm, yes, “CSI: The Tenth Season” is the weakest season of the series to date. In addition to the forced nature of Langston’s storylines noted above, the long-awaited crossover between the three “CSI” shows was somewhat of a disappointment, feeling more like a three-hour attempt to further convince viewers that Langston is a viable character than anything else. Season Ten also contains what is arguably the most ridiculous episode of the series to date: “Unshockable,” which featured a storyline revolving around a member of the band Rascal Flatts being shocked under suspicious circumstances, losing his memory, and deciding that he hates country but loves rap. My God, it’s bad.
Still, the chemistry of the cast remains intact, aided in no small part by the decision to bring Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) back onto the team. Yes, it’s a hail Mary move of plot convenience – one which will eventually have even the most diehard fans wondering how Grissom feels about the fact that his wife spends an absolutely ridiculous amount of time away from home (he doesn’t even live in the U.S. anymore!) – but you can’t deny that it’s nice to have her around.
It’s not impossible that “CSI” could settle into a comfortable groove in Season 11, now that Fishburne doesn’t have as much to prove, but given that Helgenberg has already announced that she’ll be leaving at the end of the season, it may be time to admit that which this set already leaves you suspecting: that the show’s glory days are over.
Special Features: It seems like the number of audio commentaries on “CSI” sets shrink as the seasons go by, but at least a couple of members of the cast were willing to sit down and talk about the episode entitled “Appendicitement,” which was apparently as much fun to film as it was to watch. There’s only one other commentary, though, and it’s for – ugh – ”Unshockable,” a.k.a. the Rascal Flatts episode; I’m sure the guys in the band had fun filming it, but watching it once was quite enough for me, thanks.
Fortunately, the lack of commentaries is offset somewhat by the inclusion of several featurettes spread throughout the set. “Frozen in Time” explores the making of the season premiere, “Leaving Las Vegas: Langston Heads Out” details the series’ crossover with the “Miami” and “NYC” members of the “CSI” franchise, “Lab Rats: The Saga Continues” talks about how much the secondary cast enjoyed their chance at the spotlight, and “Killer Tales: Season Ten of ‘CSI’” offers the usual enlightening look into the goings-on during the season. “CSI: The Experience,” however, is basically just an excuse to hype the show-inspired attraction in Las Vegas.