The CSI phenomenon has been going strong for many years now, and CBS has ridden that wave to become the top network these past couple of years. It all started with the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigator. This Las Vegas show became an instant hit, and three years later we found ourselves in Miami for a spin-off. Two years after basking in the Florida sunshine, Jerry Bruckheimer caught lightning a third time; this time out New York would serve as the setting. While there are ties that bind the three shows to the CSI franchise, each show has a unique style. The cases also serve to distinguish the shows from one another. The leads for the three shows likely give the most character to the series. Gary Sinise as Detective Mac Taylor brings a strength that establishes this show’s credibility from episode one. Taylor is ex-military who lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks. He’s incredibly driven and passionate about bringing down the bad guys, but won’t allow his integrity or that of his lab to be compromised. Also, the New York show differs from the original in that the CSI personnel are full fledged cops and not just lab rats working for them. I find I like this version far better than the Miami setting, even though I can relate more to the Florida locations essentially in my own back yard.
The show does share some of the qualities that have become traditional essentials for the CSI franchise. Each opens with a song from The Who. I was bummed to hear that the original selection for New York was Behind Blue Eyes, one of my favorite Townsend compositions. It would have been a far better selection. New York has the same narrative style, which usually allows for an “A” crime and a “B” crime. The mandatory lab montages are intact, as are the CGI recreations of some of the internal body demonstrations. The show, like the others, focuses on the CSI team. Beyond Mac Taylor the team includes Detective Stella Bonasara (Kanakaredes) who has a dynamic symbiotic relationship with Taylor. They are usually teamed together, and there is great chemistry there without it needing to involve romantic attraction. Detective Danny Messer (Giovinazzo) is all New York from the accent to his habits. He’s the kind of tough no nonsense New Yorker from an ethnic Italian hood who, you get a sense, could have just as easily gone the other way in the world of real-life cops and robbers. Dr. Hawkes (Harper) started the series as the medical examiner, but now works as a CSI detective. Detective Monroe (Belknap), often called Montana, is a country girl adjusting to the big city. Messer often looks after her like a sister, and these two have developed another of the show’s good character chemistries together.
The 4th season of CSI: New York managed to dodge the writer’s strike bullet. The set delivers a full 21 episodes, perhaps 1 or 2 shy of what might have otherwise been. While the show returned to production within days of the strike, the episodes show no sign of being rushed, either in the stories they tell or the production values. The season also changes pace a bit by offering more of a story arc over the season. Mac is being taunted by a serial killer who ends up being a ghost from his own past. Danny ends up feeling guilt over the death of a young boy that effects his relationship with “Montana”. The arc works well, but I’m not sure it fits the series, mostly because we’ve gotten so used to everything getting wrapped up so nicely each week. Watching the DVD’s certainly helps a great deal because you can watch as much of the show as you want in one sitting. I definitely feel like this season plays out much better on DVD than it did during the season. There were many standalone episodes, so don’t think it’s all one story. Down The Rabbit Hole takes place almost entirely in the virtual reality of Second Life. Even if you don’t know anything about it, the show works. It’s clever and fresh.
Each episode of CSI New York is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is awesome. The picture is always razor sharp, and color often leaps directly from the screen. The makeup f/x for victims, as always, been a mainstay for the franchise, and the detail is not wasted in this presentation. With this HD mastering you can see even the most subtle of each and every wound or gash. Contrast is excellent, as are black levels. This non-HD DVD set comes pretty close to the HD broadcasts currently airing. With this level of detail, I’d love to see an HD release of this show just to see if it can be improved at all.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works fine, but this show doesn’t often lend itself to the full surround effect. There’s a ton of dialog, which comes across clean and properly placed. The music drives a little too hard at times, but it’s obviously the intended. The occasional ambient sound catches your attention in the rears, but not often enough to give me that extra WOW feeling.
The episodes are spread out over a collection of 6 single-sided discs. The extras are also a little scattered, but I’ll tell you exactly where to find what.
Art Imitates Second Life: I knew what Second Life was before this episode, but had no real idea what it was really about. The episode was fun and groundbreaking. This feature not only shows you how they did certain things, but is a primer, of sorts, on Second Life. The cast and crew talk about how little they knew as well. Gary Sinise is pretty skeptical of the whole thing, but it actually went a long way toward informing the character.
Dante’s Infernal Episode: This year Halloween fell on an air date for the series. They knew they needed to deliver a solid episode, so who else to direct it than Joe Dante? This 10 minute feature looks at how the show was made, and we hear from cast and crew including Dante himself.
Art Attack: What kind of art would be great over a dead body? That’s the question this 4 minute feature asks. Artist Clemente Bornacelli provided the artwork that is seen as a female victim crashes through the front window of an art house.
Cutting To The Core – Season Four In The Big Apple: I didn’t much care for this 13 minute feature. It bothered me that they were bragging about utilizing iconic landmarks in New York City; all the while most of the show is filmed in California.
Commentary Tracks: There are a few commentary tracks throughout the set. Most are your typical love fests, but there is some insight to be gained.
Last year was a wild ride for most of our favorite shows. You’ve got to give the crew at the various CSI shows a lot of credit. They managed to keep up the shows’ quality and, for the most part, its quantity as well. I never got the sense that the show was interrupted with this set. There isn’t that feeling that more was planned but needed to be abandoned. The New York series was able to get quite ambitious. If you, like me, gave up on most shows last year, you really need to find out what you missed here. Too many shows just ended up looking contrived or forced because corners had to be cut. With CSI: New York it’s like there never was a writer’s strike at all. Solid stories. Compelling performances…”Nothing fake about that.”