A Cheer for CSI and A Boo For Castle

October 7, 2009 | By More

Quite frequently the older a TV series gets, the more is starts to seem like old shows regurgitated. CSI has long been the leader of the forensic shows that now air on every network. The last couple of seasons were starting to seem a bit stale, even. When William Petersen decided to leave the CSI mothership last year, a number of fans and non-fans figured that would be the first shovel of dirt on the corpse of dying show.

However, Laurence Fishburne was brought in as a new star power draw. Fishburne was brought in to portray Dr. Ray Langston. I think a number of folks, myself included, assumed he would be stepping directly into Grissom’s shoes as a the top egghead in the lab. But, it didn’t turn out that way.

While a medical doctor with a famous book about a serial killer under his belt, Langston knew very little of the technical tasks of forensic science. His first fingerprinting attempt was a little less than stellar. Much like the viewer, Langston was cable of understanding the results, but didn’t yet possess the technical skills to get there.

I give the writers a lot of credit for this. To bring in a fairly large star, but basically relegate him to newbie status is something of an anomaly on TV. Most of the time that newbie is played as a background actor who may or may not make it through an entire season.  However, in this case, I think it has really helped renew the focus of the show. It gives the writers a chance to go back an explain things that the veterans would know.  I think all of us have faced the challenge of a new job, and I think it makes Langston considerably easier to identify with than if he was a hot shot “expert” from another city.

This brings me to last weeks episode. If you haven’t watched it you might want to stop reading here.

The writers of CSI came up with another new twist that I have to really give them credit for. The early CSI episodes had a number of episodes where Grissom faced off against an adversary named Paul Milander. This was a multi episode storyline arc. that wasn’t cleanly wrapped up in an hour. I believe this is probably a more real world scenario than the norm.  This arc came back to light in the most recent episode.

Millander wasn’t Grissom’s antagonist in this episode, it was his stepson. A murderer is stalking a crumbling Las Vegas suburb. And low and behold, here is Milander’s stepson living right in the middle. Nick and Sara focus their investigation on him. I believe this would be real world, as well. They both knew the original case, and as such couldn’t look at the new case without seeing the connection. The audience has these gears turning in their heads, as well.

Langston, however, is able to step back and look at the case a little more clinically. He does a dramatic little demonstration that proves the innocence of the young man. This is what really impressed me. For a series to have a relative of fairly well known villain be presented on the show and end up just being basically “another kid” is pretty unheard of.  I really do have to say well done to the writers. They could have taken an easy way out, but didn’t.

Overall, the writers and the cast of CSI have managed to renew my interest in the flagship show. The slick thing is that they have done it in a way that seems organic in its’ execution, instead of abrupt.

On the other side of the spectrum is last weeks (9/28/09) “Castle”. Now, dear reader, please understand, I’m not a huge fan of this show to begin with. The main stars are intriguing enough to make me watch, but none of the plot lines have been memorable. In general, I think the concept jumps the shark before the show even starts. There would be so many legal issues have a writer follow a police detective on a day to day basis, it would be logistically impossible. The defense attorney on any of the cases Castle “consults” on would be crying tampered evidence at the drop of a hat.

If you are able to suspend your beliefs to get past those little facts, “Castle” is a typical girl boy police drama. In this case, Det. Beckett seems more than capable of solving any of these case by herself. In fact, she reminds of Det. Boxer from “Women’s Murder Club.” As a cop drama, the show is pretty standard.

Which brings us to last weeks episode. The plot line in the episode revolved around two homicides being solved by two separate investigative teams. At one point evidence suggests the two are related. The Hitchcock movie “Strangers On a Train” is thrown out, and the all of the pieces fall into place for the cases.  If you are not familiar, the Hitchcock film has two strangers swapping murders with each other to provide alibis and obscure the motives for the crimes.

Sound like something you have seen? If you are one of the 10 people who saw “Throw Mama From the Train”, the plot is inspired by the Hitch’s film. More recently, and importantly, the plot was used as a twist on, ready for it?, CSI. (The 2003 episode “A Night at the Movies”. ) The film is reference in a number of other places, but the CSI turn of it is the one I remember.

While I’m sure I’ve seen plot lines reused through the years, this one could have been a little more obscured. Considering that during the each of their episodes, both Grissom and Castle mention the film by name, it links them up. While the CSI one actually has the a movie theme in it, Castle mentions it as something he’d seen. If you consider that the Spike is constantly showing CSI in rerun, the odds of a cop drama fan having not seen the CSI are slim.

I think it’s a little depressing that a show in it’s second season, like “Castle,” has to resort to retread plot lines already.

I’ll give Castle to the end of this season to show me something original.

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  1. Poe Ghostal says:

    I like Castle. Nathan Fillion makes it though.

    But it did crack me up that NCIS used the exact same “Strangers on a Train” plot–complete with the movie reference–LAST NIGHT. So how mad are you now? 😉

  2. Engineernerd says:

    You know, I watched NCIS on DVR after I wrote that. It really ticked me off. The NCIS episode had four things in it’s favor over Castle:

    1. I really like NCIS
    2. It wasn’t a straight up murder swap plot like the other two were.
    3. Tony frequently quotes film plots and dialog. From him the connection seemed to be a more natural fit.
    4. NCIS has Abby.

    I was disappointed to see the plot mechanism come up again, though. When they mentioned that the deli guy took the train in from the suburbs early in the episode, I started wondering if that is what it was going to be. Mrs. Nerd and I actually shouted out “Strangers on Train” simultaneously about 5 seconds before Tony said it.

    Did I mention NCIS has Abby?

  3. Mrs. Nerd says:

    I respectfully disagree with my husband about Castle. While I will grant you the premise is more than a bit far fetched, I don’t need all of my shows to be “believable.” Some shows you just watch as a guilty pleasure to escape the stresses of the day.

    Castle is one such show for me. And, did I mention, it has Nathan Fillion? Poe is right — he makes the show.

    Mr. Nerd and I often chat about how so many of our childhood favorites (read: ALL things Disney these days) are coming back with sequels. Now THAT is just wrong.

    I would like to see some more original ideas (don’t forget that Bones also did a show using this same theme). Creepy as they are, I would think a gander at the daily headlines across the country could provide plenty of potential ideas.

    So, writers…if you are reading this, kindly stop using “Strangers on a Train.” We’ve been there, and done that to death. Time to move on.

    Unless, of course, Nathan Fillion is in it. In that case, you have my blessing. 🙂

  4. My thought as I once again heard another reference to the movie, “Strangers on a Train,” was that the writers of these shows are getting lazy when they have to use the same plot line of another show.

    Regarding Laurence Fishburne, he’s so good in this role that I don’t even miss Grissom. And I was a fan of Peterson long before he started playing that character.

    But, hey, lay off Castle. As an author myself, I love this character and his witty comebacks, so it’s easy to overlook the little detail that this kind of thing couldn’t happen in real life. Besides, Rick Fillion has a great smile that warms my heart.

  5. Engineernerd says:

    Apparently, I need to give Fillion some more chances.

    And Barbara, you will always be our favorite author. 😀

  6. good post, i think castle is just running out of ideas.