Arguably, Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon (1981) completely revolutionized modern crime fiction. By placing a strong emphasis on the science and technology behind criminal forensics and psychological profiling, Red Dragon was seminal in the creation of contemporary police narratives in the vein of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Bones, Criminal Minds, and of course, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Thus, it is perhaps ironic that CSI: Miami, the successful spinoff of CSI, simultaneously feels retrograde and refreshing, in the sense that it goes back to the realm of old-fashioned, action laden police and cowboy stories.
The storylines of CSI: Miami are very straightforward, and so similar to each other that with time they become rather repetitive. Indeed, as the episode starts, a dead body is found somewhere in the sunny Miami Dade district, and the always efficient criminalists are dispatched to find the culprits. Under the tight supervision of Horatio Cane (David Caruso), the CSI team bags the evidence and heads off to the lab. Towards the episode’s end, an implausible situation or unrealistic technology provides the clue necessary to identify the wrong doers.
Needless to say, some of the cases confronted by the CSI team involve truly bizarre and gruesome situations. So, for example, in “Born to Kill, a vicious serial killer marks the chests of his victims with a “Y”; a scalped body is found near a Native American Casino in “Bloodline”; a stunt driver is decapitated in “High Octane”; a voodoo curse claims several victims in “Curse of the Coffin”; and a personal favorite of mine is “A Grizzly Murder”, where, believe it or not, a man is killed by a black bear.
But even though some of the cases appear to be intriguing and completely out of the ordinary, the CSI: Miami team features a calculated cultural and gender diversity, and its members conform to specific stereotypes. Indeed, while Horatio is the intrepid, caring, and paternal head of the group, Calleigh Duquesne (Emily Procter) is the heartthrob blonde and weapons expert. Similarly, Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez) is the action oriented Latino, Dr. Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander) is the African-American spiritual forensic pathologist, and Maxine Valera (Boti Bliss) is the laboratory geek. As each episode progresses, these characters are expected to pitch their unique talents and skills towards the resolution of the crime.
However, stereotyping is not limited to the main characters, but it is also applied to the main locale of the action. Indeed, the show almost appears to suggest that Miami is very close to paradise on Earth, where everybody is good looking and rich. Consider, for instance, how the opening sequence of every episode is used to set the tone for the place. These scenes usually feature a paradisiacal beach or a luxurious mansion full of perfect bodies and expensive cars. In the world of CSI: Miami, all possible social and class barriers are blurred in the display of such an opulent life style.
But then again, such a palpable lavishness is part of the visual style of CSI: Miami. In this regard, it is worth it to notice a rather obvious aesthetic difference with the original CSI. That is, the original CSI features a bluish tint, and blue is a color often associated to the working class and symbolizes physical or emotional injury. On the other hand, CSI: Miami has a yellowish tint, and yellow is the complementary color of blue. Such a chromatic symbolism is clearly embraced by both series. Indeed, in the original CSI, the majority of the stories focus on the impact of crime on working class people, while CSI: Miami quite often ignores the effects and consequences of crime on regular folks.
In addition, CSI: Miami is not as gruesome as the original CSI. While the depictions of anatomically correct dead bodies in diverse states of decomposition are a staple of CSI, one rarely sees this type of scenes in CSI: Miami. Therefore, as a result of all these visual and narrative differences, CSI: Miami emerges far less bleak and depressing than its Vegas counterpart.
But then again, in spite of its name, CSI: Miami is less about forensic procedures, and more about gun fights and car chases. Indeed, Horatio constantly keeps himself at the fiery front of the police investigation, never hesitating to use his sidearm to stop a nefarious criminal. On the other hand, let us recall that CSI’s leader, Gil Grissom (William Petersen), rarely has had to use his handgun. Furthermore, while Grissom is portrayed as a laboratory geek with an intense interest in entomology, Horatio wears cool sunglasses, drives a Hummer, and does not really spend much time in the lab.
As a consequence, it should not be surprising that Horatio is better known, among the fans of the TV series, as the “Shades of Justice”. Such an attributed sense of morality is actually made explicit in the series on repeated occasions, reaching a pinnacle in “Rio”, the first episode of the fifth season. Here, Horatio and Eric unofficially travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to hunt down the malicious Antonio Riaz (Vincent Laresca). On a previous episode from season four, Antonio was behind the deadly hit that claimed the life of Horatio’s wife, Marisol, who also happened to be Eric’s sister (in CSI: Miami, as with most current TV shows, principal characters appear to be required to share a family relation). However, when the Rio Police Department is unable or unwilling to play by Horatio’s rules, the two CSI team members decide to take justice into their own hands.
Quite dramatically, by going outside the scope of American law, Horatio seeks justice and rightful revenge by enacting a superior sense of morality. Such an ideological position is problematic to say the least. Clearly, as an intended or unintended consequence, the actions of Horatio bring to mind the controversial American military campaign in Iraq. As the narrative ultimately sanctions Horatio’s actions as an international vigilante, the political and ideological content of the show is quite evident.
For those who know how to enjoy a good police procedural show, the fifth season of CSI: Miami has recently been released on DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment with pristine audio and picture quality. A few decent extra features are included on the DVD set. Most notable are the 5 selected episodes that include audio commentaries with some of the actors, writers, and directors involved in their making. In addition, the set presents a series of short, but quite interesting, documentaries on the special make-up effects, the unique visual design and cinematography of the series, the costume design, and a look at the real life Police Department in Miami.
Even though CSI: Miami is far from being the best police procedural series on the small screen, it remains an engrossing and satisfying show. Quite different in style and approach than the original CSI, the Miami spinoff reinforces the idea of the archetypical American hero. Indeed, by possessing a superior moral stand and a precise sense for justice, and by never having to justify his actions to anybody, Horatio is the perfect embodiment of the quintessential Old West crime fighter.