CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The Eighth Season
Directed by Kenneth Fink et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 732 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 2.0 stereo Spanish
MSRP: $ 84.98
Release Date: October 14, 2008
Review Date: October 11, 2008
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been the cornerstone of CBS’ procedural-laden schedule for its eight years on the air, and its dominance in the ratings as CBS’ highest rated scripted series for almost a decade helped spawn two highly rated spin-offs as well as numerous other crime investigative series closely or loosely based on its model. While the show continues to draw terrific ratings, its momentum and the basis on which the show established its somber persona has begun very slowly to change over the past couple of years. Now the producers of the show enjoy throwing quirky, off-the-wall episodes into the mix on a fairly regular basis, possibly keeping things interesting for the writers and actors but robbing the series of some believability in its methodology and some assurance in its storytelling moxie. A bothersome kind of haughtiness has crept into the show over the past two seasons that has rendered many of its episodes irritating rather than fascinating and banal instead of brilliant.
Dr. Gil Grissom (William Petersen) heads the night shift in the Crime Scene Investigations Unit of the Las Vegas Police Department. Shift supervisor Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) takes the lead on cases Grissom doesn’t head while Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), Nick Stokes (George Eads), Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox), Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda), and newly promoted David Hodges (Wallace Langham) work in the field gathering evidence at crime scenes which often leads to the guilty party being discovered and arrested. Back in the lab, another group of techs assist in analyzing evidence while M.E. Doc Robbins (Robert David Hall) and his associate David Phillips (David Berman) probe the bodies for any other significant clues. Advances in forensic science over the past couple of decades have aided greatly in assisting the police in uncovering criminals, and the innovative camerawork with microscopic investigations of corpses’ insides and creative reenactments of crime scenes as they happened have distinguished the series from the start and have given it its exalted status as one of television’s most innovative series.
Eight years in, however, the bloom has begun fading from the rose. It was widely reported during the summer of 2007 that actress Jorja Fox was leaving the show by midseason, so the first seven episodes of season eight portray the slow, steady deterioration of Sara Sidle’s enthusiasm for the work after surviving a harrowing attempt on her life by the identified serial killer from the previous year’s season-long “miniature killer” story arc. Once Sara’s departure was a certainty, the show’s writers seemed determined to insert episodes into the season which had distasteful black comedy undertones. There’s a series of murders set at a schlock horror movie studio involving the murders of everyone from a scream queen to a dwarf with lots of tasteless, smug puns added to the dialog. Bad puns also defeat two other played-for-laughs episodes: a lab tech-centered show which contains four fantasy murder scenarios which it’s obvious the cast is loving to play but which is highly unsatisfying for the viewer, and an episode written by the staff of Two and a Half Men as a spoiled sitcom star and her stand-in are murdered by someone connected to the show. Other ways the show tried to shake things up involved bringing back a genius child from two seasons ago who outsmarted the team then and tries to do it a second time, a ridiculous episode where a prisoner is permitted a temporary leave from prison and manages to call all the shots on the outside even managing his escape from a clueless Nick and Capt. Brass (Paul Guilfoyle), and an irritating crossover episode which began on CSI and concluded on its sister show Without a Trace. And then there were the personal problems of actor Gary Dourdan which lead to his character’s being placed in a precarious position for the show’s season cliffhanger.
The cast is still performing well together, a hallmark of teamwork which bodes well for the show’s continuing success, but I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that many of the cases this year either bored me or gave off a sense of self-satisfaction in the storytelling which seemed unworthy of the show at its zenith (its first three years). And the news that star William Petersen is leaving the program during season nine after ten episodes also gives one pause since his quirky Gil Grissom has anchored the show since the beginning. The next season should indeed prove a challenging one for everyone concerned.
Here is the list of seventeen episodes for season eight of the program. Names in parentheses indicate the participants in the two audio commentaries included with this year’s set.
1 - Dead Doll
2 - A La Cart
3 - Go to Hell
4 - The Case of the Cross-Dressing Carp
5 - The Chick Chop Flick Shop
6 - Who & What
7 - Goodbye & Good Luck
9 - You Kill Me (Naren Shankar, Wallace Langham, Lis Vassey, Archie Kao, Sheeri Rappaport, David Berman)
8 - Cockroaches (William Friedkin, William Petersen, Dustin Abraham)
10 - Lying Down with Dogs
11 - Bull
12 - Grissom’s Divine Comedy
13 - A Thousand Days on Earth
14 - Drops’ Out
15 - The Theory of Everything
16 - Two and a Half Deaths
17 - For Gedda
The program is broadcast on CBS in 1080i, and these 480p down converted transfers represent the 1.78:1 aspect ratio of those broadcasts. Much of the series is shot at night, and the black levels of the transfers are well done. However, there’s a softness in many shots which doesn’t replicate the look of the high definition broadcasts, and there’s an uncomfortable amount of moiré and aliasing not only on flyovers of Vegas but in other shots, too. Fleshtones vary from accurate to overly warm, but color saturation in general is rich without much noise. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is loud to be sure, but the rear surrounds aren’t nearly as interestingly designed as on the show’s spin-off CSI: NY. Music becomes the primary inhabitant of the rear channels, and LFE is too infrequently used compared to other procedurals on CBS (the other CSI shows, Criminal Minds, and Numb3rs).
The two audio commentaries are both disappointing affairs. The track for episode #9 features the show’s writer and the lab techs who star in the episode, but there are too many people chatting away but offering not much pertinent information. The commentary with episode #8 features Oscar-winning director William Friedkin basically describing what we’re seeing on the screen abetted occasionally with star Petersen and writer Dustin Abraham swapping compliments among themselves on a job well done.
There is one deleted scene associated with episode #12 which runs 2 minutes.
The crossover episode of Without a Trace which concludes the story begun in episode # 6 is included in the set for viewing.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“While the Cast Is Away, The Rats Will Play” is a 14-minute condensation of the audio commentary concerning the production of episode #9 which focuses on the show’s lab techs, done after a similar comedy episode with them the previous season was well received.
“William Friedkin: A Different Take” is a 9 ½-minute tribute to the director who came into direct his old friend William Petersen in an episode of his series after having worked together previously on two films. The story of the old mob boss still operating in Vegas was one Friedkin felt comfortable with having dealt well with gangsters in several of his previous films.
“So Long, Sara Sidle” gives an appropriate send-off to actress Jorja Fox by actors and producers on the show who praise what she brought to the project during her 7 ½ years on the show. This tribute lasts 15 ¼ minutes.
“What Happened in Vegas” is a 21-minute summary on the story arcs for Sara and Warrick which consumed a great deal of season eight’s itinerary. Also the effects of the writers’ strike on the show’s production is also discussed in this interesting featurette.
“Shot in the Dark” features interviews with the show’s two directors of photography who give CSI its signature dark, lush look. This featurette runs 9 ¼ minutes.
“TOD: A Bug’s Life” is a 21 ¼-minute discussion with the show’s consulting entomologist Dr. Lee Goff about his science’s influence on the world of forensic investigation, and how important he feels it is for more entomologists to enter the field.
There are previews for Dexter, Criminal Minds, Twin Peaks, and the CSI franchise.
CSI still has enough going for it to attract huge audiences each week. Despite cast changes and some less than satisfying cases during season eight, fans of the show will no doubt enjoy the generous selection of bonus features in this year’s box and likely overlook some of the weaker moments in a show that is still trying its best to keep things lively and unusual.