In 10 Words or Less
TV's most popular geeks' fourth go-round
I'm willing to admit, I only started watching "C.S.I." in first-run TV during the fourth season, after I married my wife and she turned me onto it. I've picked up each season box set since then, and have been amazed at how the show has been able to build an intriguing overall story about the investigators while telling the smaller stories of the dead. The writing is consistently fantastic, while the acting is as good as any that has been seen on television.
Season Four featured more character development than the previous three, as some lingering issues from previous episodes came to the forefront. Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) must deal with her connection to casino owner Sam Braun, a connection that holds personal and professional ramifications for her. Meanwhile, Sara (Jorja Fox) is coping with issues of her own, as a promotion she was after goes to Nick (George Eads) and Captain Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) becomes worried about her.
Of course, all these concerns affect the department's head, Gil (William Peterson), who's dealing with his own problems. A recurring theme in this season sees the C.S.I. team running afoul of the police, enforcing the idea that the investigators are not cops. Several cases, including one centered around a police convention in Las Vegas, featured the police questioning if the C.S.I.s are working with them or against them, which is too black and white for Gil. In his eyes, the team works for the victim.
The fourth season also saw expanded roles for lab tech Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda) and medical examiner Dr. Al Robbins (Robert David Hall), who were added to the opening titles. Greg's interest in becoming a C.S.I. became a big subplot in this season, leading into Season Five, while Robbins continued to be the voice of science, explaining how all things scientific happen. I have no problem saying that the cast, as constructed in Season Four, might be one of the finest dramatic casts ever. Led by Peterson's stern, yet human scientist, the characters are all real, with flaws that make their work in the field so much more incredible.
Among the highlights of Season Four are "Fur and Loathing," about a murder at a "Furries" convention, "Jackpot," which sees Gil on his own in a small town, "Invisible Evidence," where bad evidence causes a 24-hour forensic marathon and "Paper or Plastic," which has the whole crew working a chaotic five-victim shootout at a grocery store. There are plenty more great episodes, but these represent the best of the bunch.
23 44-minute episodes are spread over six discs, housed in six trays wrapped in a acetate cover designed to look like a morgue drawer. On the back are episode titles and numbers, as well as information about the extras. This is all packaged in a hard acetate slipcover. Those extras can be found on the sixth disc, as well. The menus have taken a big leap since the last set, and are animated using footage from the show. Options available are episode selection and audio choices, including 5.1 English and 2.0 Dolby Spanish. When audio commentaries are available, they can be found on a post-episode selection menu. Here's a breakdown of the episodes (Note: the episodes were shown out of production order, and the discs follow the order they were broadcast (so the first episode is shown third)):
"Assume Nothing" - The season opener sees Grissom and the crew chasing a pair of serial killers, while Catherine deals with Sam Braun's murder trial. Part one of two.
"All for Our Country" - Part two. The serial-killers case takes an odd turn, causing friction between Grissom and Brass.
"Homebodies" - The C.S.I.s are spread out across town, working on four cases that share some connections. Stephen Root (Office Space) guests.
"Feeling the Heat" - A dead baby, a dead man and a dead woman make up the three cases caused by the oppressive Las Vegas heat.
"Fur and Loathing" - The "Furry" community was upset at their portrayal in this episode about a murder at a convention of animal-costume fanatics. Fun look at the fringes of American. The subplot, about a frozen murder victim, has great forensics moments.
"Jackpot" - Anyone with a fear of small, rural towns will have their fears confirmed here, as Grissom runs into a wall of silence while investigating a severed head sent to his office. Catherine's subplot takes another turn in this episode.
"Invisible Evidence" - Everything that could go wrong does, forcing the team to build a new case against a rapist and murderer in just 24 hours.
"After the Show" - A truly character-driven episode, as Catherine takes a big case from Nick and Sara, only to find herself with a stalker. This episode is based on a true crime handled by one of the show's producers.
"Grissom Versus the Volcano" - Two interesting cases see Grissom dealing with a politically-charged case, and Warrick investigating the death of a singer's wife.
"Coming of Rage" - Missing weapons are the key to a pair of bizarre murders. Brian Austin Green ("Beverly Hills, 90210") guests.
"Eleven Angry Jurors" - A jury holdout is murdered, making the remaining 11 jurors the suspects.
"Butterflied" - Grissom's personal feelings creep up on him as he investigates a murdered woman who reminds him of Sara.
"Suckers" - One of the best crimes of the season, as a case that starts with an electrocution takes several twists and turns before the end of the show. A second case explores the goth subculture and a dead "vampire."
"Paper or Plastic" - A classic episode, as a robbery in a grocery store leaves five dead and one cop's actions questioned. The amount of forensics work done is staggering.
"Early Rollout" - The Catherine and Sara subplots take new twists, while the crew investigates the murder of a porn star.
"Getting Out" - Kink and drug abuse collide in this episode's cases, involving a man in make-up and a drug rehab center. Written by Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight)
"XX" - A body found under a prison bus is the main story, while Grissom looks into a strange stabbing death.
"Bad to the Bone" - One of the more complicated cases in season four starts with a casino parking garage murder.
"Bad Words" - A suspicious death at a word game tournament draws Grissom's attention, while Warrick works a serial arson case.
"Dead Ringer" - In the middle of a cop convention, three murders occur, all involving police.
"Turning the Screws" - A roller coaster has a massive accident, one the team has to declare an accident or a murder plot.
"No More Bets" - Sam Braun's accused of murder, again, when two guys are found dead after winning big at Braun's casino.
"Bloodlines" - One of the key tenants of the show, "the evidence never lies," seems wrong for once, when a DNA test goes against the rest of a case's evidence. In the ending, a major event occurs for one of the C.S.I.s.
The anamorphic widescreen video looks tremendous, retaining the dark, grainy depictions seen on the original broadcasts. The episodes were shown in high definition, but this transfer doesn't touch that level of quality. Considering the amount of detail and style piled into each show, the DVDs do a proper job of reproducing "C.S.I."'s look, right down to the correct colors and the ghosted special effects.
The audio is equally as impressive, sounding the same as it did when it was broadcast in HD, with spooky, active surrounds and heavy center speaker feeds. The Spanish tracks are decent, but nowhere as deep as the 5.1 English.
The main features are the seven commentaries, spread out over the 23 episodes, landing as follows: "Assume Nothing" (with executive producer/writer/creator Anthony E. Zuiker and executive producer/writer Carol Mendelsohn), "Homebodies" (with executive producer/writer Naren Shanker and producer/director Ken Fink), "Feeling the Heat" (with Zuiker and writer Eli Talbert), "Jackpot" (with executive producer/director/writer Danny Cannon and Shenkar), "Invisible Evidence" (with Cannon and producer/writer Josh Berman), "Butterflied" (with Zuiker, Mendelsohn, producer/director Richard J. Lewis and writer David Rambo) and "Bad to the Bone" (with Talbert.)
Each contributor has his or her own style, which makes the commentaries vary quite a bit in terms of the pacing and content. Zuiker, the star of the show on three tracks, is a natural, as is Mendelson. Cannon is quite talkative as well, and together, the group provides plenty of production and story trivia, as well as plenty of technical info. The seven hours of commentary is as useful as any feature I've seen on DVD, in terms of learning more about a show.
On disc six, the other big bonus is found, the four-part behind-the-scenes featurette, "The Evolution of an Episode: From Concept to Completion." Broken up into "Script," "Pre-Production," "Production," and "Post-Production," (with a "Play All" feature included) the 50-minute, full-screen look at the making of "C.S.I." mixes interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage to put the viewer right in the middle of the show's production, specifically the creation of "Suckers." Combined with the commentaries, this feature puts this season set head and shoulders over the series' previous collections.
The Bottom Line
There's not a night of the week when you can't catch some form of "C.S.I." on TV, but there's nothing quite like the original. I'm not sure if it's the Las Vegas setting or William Peterson's presence, but the first is still the best. While some shows fall into a rut after being on the air for several years, Season Four represented something of a leap for "C.S.I." in terms of the characters' lives. Whether you've seen the previous three seasons or not, the fourth is definitely worth checking out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.