TV Roulette: CSI: Immortality

In All, Television by David

Goodbyes can be hard, but they are a part of life, and often very necessary, especially for TV shows. Ending a show is never easy, because there is so much juggling to do. Your finale episode has to resolve current storylines while acknowledging what has come before. A lot of times it becomes a supersized episode as cast members who have long since moved on return to add to the finality of it all. Mostly, though, finales are about leaving fans of a show in a good place as they say goodbye to a show that has been a part of their lives for a significant period of time. For the final TV Roulette Catch Up, the roulette wheel selected CSI: Immortality, the TV movie event that brought the long running former backbone of CBS’s primetime schedule to a close. Did it leave things on a good note, or was it just another episode? I’ll examine that right after the run down, so journey with me into the recent past one last time. Spoilers Ahead. 

TV Roulette Catch-Up #3  

CSI: Immortality Part 1 and Part 2; Finale Movie

Air Date  

September 27th, 2015 

Have I Seen This Show Before?


If So, How Much?

Not a lot, really. An episode here or there throughout the years. Never regularly, but I have always kept up roughly with how the show changed throughout the years.

Yeah I know, it really was confusing trying to juggle all of these characters.

CSI has always had a weird place in my television life. I have never been a fan, but that has never stopped the show from taking up a special place for me because of its grand impact on the modern television landscape. First airing in 2000, CSI was one of the key foundational pieces that allowed CBS to build itself into the dominant juggernaut it is today. There has been no rock bottom for CBS the way there has been for the other three major networks during the 2000s. ABC was in shambles going into the fall 2004 season, before Lost, Desperate Housewives, and later Grey’s Anatomy put the network on the map again. NBC’s rock bottom is a bit harder to pin down, as it struggled for most of 2005-2010 (which allowed it for a time to become the home of strange and awesome low-rated comedies like 30 Rock, Community, and Parks and Recreation), and it wasn’t until The Voice premiered in 2011 that NBC began its turnaround. Even then the network didn’t truly seem on sure footing until the premiere of The Blacklist in 2013. Fox, meanwhile, found itself at its nadir last year, as the network had been unable to make anything really work to make up for the fact that American Idol was no longer the ratings juggernaut it had been. Empire showed up and breathed life into the network, but it remains to be seen if Fox can actually build on this or not.

While its competitor networks struggled, CBS just kept chugging along. Its viewership is consistent, to the point that CBS routinely cancels shows that would be successes on other networks. CBS knows what its audience wants and delivers that consistently, and CSI is one of the major reasons for that success. It has spawned three spinoffs, and more importantly, its fingerprints can be seen throughout the procedural genre as a whole. CSI added a slickness to the procedural that hadn’t necessarily been there for quite some time, if at all. CSI provided a template: difficult case, different blend of characters in the field and the lab, the right combination of action and science, a brisk pace that doesn’t allow for a lot of downtime, and just enough serialization so that characters change somewhat over time, but not enough that you need to watch every episode to understand what is going on. CBS has tweaked parts of the template here or there throughout the years, but most of their shows have the same feel as CSICold Case, Unforgettable, Without a Trace, Numb3rs, NCIS (which is particularly interesting since it is actually a spin off of JAG, but always had more in common with CSI),  and its spin offs, etc all are shows that owe some of their DNA to CSI, and are shows CBS has relied on at one point or another to keep on churning out consistent procedural experiences for its audience based on the house style established by CSI. This unparalleled consistency is one of the many reasons CBS will be the last bastion of the old network TV model when all others have died or turned to the Internet to be saved. That isn’t really a good thing, as it means that CBS will continue to rely mostly on an audience that is getting older and older, without bringing in newer viewers. But the viewers CBS currently has are legion, and CBS is the only network that really knows how to get the most out of its live audiences on a consistent basis.

CSI’s decision to bring more science to the genre was a big deal at the time. It showcased how modern law enforcement had changed the way it went after criminals, and helped bring into focus the importance of things like DNA and other forensic evidence. Considering how little the public knew about forensic evidence at the time, this was probably a good thing. Ironically, CSI’s introduction of forensic evidence into the zeitgeist may have had a negative impact on the actual justice system. Many American legal professionals believe in a “CSI effect,” the idea that jurors expect more forensic evidence than they used to thanks to the show’s popularity. Supposedly this effect leads juries to acquit more often when forensic evidence is not available, and to convict more often when it is, even though forensic evidence is often less trustworthy or accurate than CSI and the shows it’s influenced tend to suggest. There is little empirical evidence of the “CSI effect,” but the very fact that it is a widely held belief in the legal and law enforcement community demonstrates CSI’s outsized cultural impact.

Like many innovators, though, CSI has been a victim of its own success. When it first aired it felt fresh and new, but it slowly began to seem less interesting, less hip, and more dated as its imitators either improved on CSI‘s formula or benefited from their comparative novelty. Combine this with the fact that a show as long-running as CSI was never going to keep all of its actors the entire time, and the show’s viewership eventually dropped to the point when CBS finally pulled the plug. Still, the show proved to have an ER-like ability to lose major characters without skipping a beat (other than the Laurence Fishborne years, which I have heard were a bit of a mess), and that to me is the greatest achievement of the finale movie. Some characters leave, some characters come back, some come back and leave again, but life will go on for the forensic team regardless. ER’s finale made it clear that the real star of the show was the hospital, and even brought in new characters specifically for the finale to show how endings just bring about new beginnings. CSI doesn’t go as far as ER did, but it does leave you with a similar feeling.

Only one of you is actually important, but good for the rest you, keep trucking along anyway.

As for the finale itself, well, it’s pretty standard stuff. There is a bombing in a casino that has to be solved with science. Old main characters return to offer their assistance, Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger). A past recurring character returns to be at the center of this investigation, Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke). There are a lot of competent people using science to piece together the case, find suspects, disable bombs, and ultimately figure everything out. There is a nice touch when the show which became notorious for how it used impossibly effective image-enhancing software to find clues actually used it here realistically. But overall, there is nothing that special to the final plot. For better or worse, CSI is what it is, and it stayed true to itself to the end.

There is one notable exception, and that is the resolution of the relationship between Grissom and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox). As characters that had gotten married and divorced during the course of the show due to reasons I can only surmise (seems like it was due to a combination of distance and their lives going in different directions), their shared history causes their interactions to really stand out. Whereas the rest of the episode is slick and smooth, Grissom and Sara are messy. Both still love each other, but they no longer know how to talk to one another. Sara finds her judgment in the case clouded, distracted by Lady Heather’s relationship with Grissom, and for his part, Grissom seems paralyzed when trying to speak to Sara. The real tension in this episode is whether the two of them will realize that for both of their sakes they need to at least try to make things work together, or forever regret it.

All of their scenes together have an energy that almost none of the rest of the finale has, and they are together in the finale’s coolest scene, where the two of them train and paint bees to help them track down the bombing mastermind. Petersen and Fox have great chemistry, and it really shows here. Plus, Petersen really nails a moment where Grissom tries to say something to Sara but cannot, because the distance between them seems too great. The rest of the episode continues to tidily conclude things and get its ducks in a row. Every character gets some moment in the finale, and everything is set for the show to end like any other episode, albeit with a few more farewells than normal. The only question is what will happen with Grissom and Sara. Lady Heather proves quite helpful in this case, as both Grissom and Sara admit their love for each other while interrogating her, but it is Catherine’s daughter Lindsey (Katie Stevens) who spurs the couple into action.

Lindsey is the real sense of newness brought to the finale. She has just started at the crime lab, and this is her first real experience with the work done there. So it makes sense that she is the one who delivers the tape of Grissom’s interview with Lady Heather that reveals his feelings for Sara–the new guard helping the old to move on. And move on they do, confirming that this finale was really just a love story with CSI trappings to distract the audience. Sara finds Grissom as he is about to leave on his boat. They embrace, and then sail off into the unknown. Life in the CSI unit may move on in a normal way, just with a combination of new and old faces; Catherine decides she wants to stay in Las Vegas and is willing to run the lab, so Sara is able to leave without the lab being impacted in any real way. But for Grissom and Sara, everything is changing again as they are committed to trying to live their life together in whatever form that may be. It’s this blend of messy and tidy that allows CSI: Immortality to shine more brightly than it probably had any right to.

Embrace + Boat = Surprisingly Solid Ending

Notes and Observations: 

  • Ted Danson’s D.B. Russell also gets a send-off in this episode, but he is mainly an after thought. Still, he deserves mention because from all indications he is one of the main reasons that CSI was able to rebound after Peterson left and go on to eke out far more seasons than could have been expected.
  • The show always did a solid job of showing the many faces of Las Vegas, and the finale helped tie all of it together, showing off the good and bad aspects of the city’s personality.
  • The finale suffered from having a big cast combined with the returns of Petersen, Helgenberger, and Paul Guilfoyle’s Jim Brass. There was just too much clutter, and the need for everyone to have a moment led to things feeling a bit too by the numbers.
  • Helgenberger also kind of felt tacked on, and never really got to do much in the episode. Her presence was helpful, but the need to showcase Petersen and Fox really hindered her ability to do anything.

Episode Grade: B-

Would I Watch More?

Well, there isn’t any more, so no. I guess the better question is, would this make me want to go back and watch old episodes? Still no. The actual episode was rather boring, other than the stuff with Grissom and Sara. The finale really just confirmed why I have mostly passed on this show throughout the years.

That’s it for our final edition of TV Roulette Catch Up. It’s been fun looking back on the recent past, but now it is time to move on. The roulette wheel continues to turn, and who knows where it will land next. Until then, I am going to make sure the sharks are leaving the whales alone.