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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

‘CSI’ Is Corny and Clichéd but You Can’t Help but Love It

It’s been said that serial killers will sometimes insert themselves into investigations of their own crimes, attempting to “help” the police along. In this 13th season of CSI, the show’s writers frequently attempt to insert the police into the crime as the show drifts toward the melodramatic and believability gets stretched almost to the point of breaking. That said, you can’t help but love this stalwart show and its cast and writers. There are fumbles, foolish plot devices, annoying clichés and daft jokes by the dozens but it’s nearly impossible to stop watching.

Ted Danson returns for his second season as D.B. Russell, the man who came down from Seattle to apparently set Las Vegas to right with his ability to close cases within 42 minutes and his sometimes self-effacing humor. Danson is a gifted comedic actor and he brings this expertise with him into this role, giving the character the right balance between eccentric genius and corny goofball. (And thus keeping the show from disappearing up its own backside.)

He’s joined by another former Seattle cop, Julie Finlay (Elizabeth Shue), who seems almost interchangeable with the departed Marg Helenberger’s Catherine Willows but that hardly matters, there’s nothing here that’s going to upset your enjoyment of the show save for maybe that crossover episode starring Gary Sinise who just happens to be visiting from New York’s C.S.I department. (Didn’t crossovers die around the time Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life went off the air? Shouldn’t they have?)

Cast stalwarts George Eads and Jorja Fox are still hanging around, though Fox isn’t used nearly enough throughout the season and Eads might get more screen time than necessary as his tough guy bluster becomes hard to take in large doses by the fourth of fifth episode.

And about those episodes?

There are some real killers, including “Last Woman Standing”, in which a group of well-known poker players are knocked off one by one, “Dead of the Class” in which David Phillips (David Berman) attends his high school reunion where (GASP!) a murder has been committed. Ol’ D.B. Russell’s in trouble too at the very start of the season as his family’s bound up in a kidnapping plot (“Karma To Burn”) and, later, his star basketball player son is perilously close to being a murder suspect (“Pick and Roll”).

We get to learn about some of Finlay’s unrealized dreams in a tennis episode and watch her interact with one of her ex-husbands as she returns to Seattle in an attempt to solve a serial killer case. No character seems immune from being drawn into the chaos, even Warrick Brown, dead since the ninth season, is not immune from having crime invade his otherwise (ahem) peaceful existence. (That episode, “Fallen Angels”, might find you talking back to the TV once or twice. Might.)

There’s plenty of labyrinthine explanations for labyrinthine motives and labyrinthine murder plotsm but that of course is just part of the fun behind each episode, even the season cliff hanger, which features not just a guest appearance from Black Sabbath (hyping the band’s then new album 13) but memorable performances from Eric Roberts and Tim Matheson.

DVD extras include a handful of episodes with audio commentary, a number of deleted scenes and several featurettes that round out the sixth disc which, it so happens, also features a video for Black Sabbath’s “End of the Beginning”. CSI isn’t high art, of course; it can’t compete with cable shows such as Breaking Bad or Dexter for the rights to moral ambiguity and character development but it sure can outsmart a whole lot of what’s on network TV. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

RATING 8 / 10