Fifteen years ago, I was a first year graduate student at the University of Alabama. It was my first time living on my own (all my family and friends lived 5+ hours away), and when I moved to Tuscaloosa, I only knew one person there. That first year, I was attending school on a fellowship, which meant that I was given a monthly stipend to live on while I was working on my Masters in English.
Since I barely knew anyone in town, and since I didn’t have a job, I spent a lot of time alone in my little apartment those first few months. I used my free AOL dial-up to connect to the Internet and chat with friends on ICQ, or download music on Napster. But my constant companion during the fall of 2000 was television. Every night, I would sit down with my bowl of cereal or bagged spinach salad or Lipton noodles, and see what my favorite characters were up to. While I was firmly entrenched in the WB at that time (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Roswell, and Dawson’s Creek were all appointment tv), there was one new show that intrigued me.
What I remember about the pilot episode is a lot of blue lighting and an unusual amount of screen time for a pair of shoes. I was skeptical of this show about unusually attractive crime scene investigators because it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who, at the time, I only associated with over the top explosions, dramatic electric guitar background music, and slow motion shots of groups of people walking forward (think Con Air and Armageddon). Despite my reservations, I just couldn’t seem to look away when the case of the week was revealed in the opening segment. And so began my on-again, off-again relationship with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Over the next few seasons, I enjoyed getting to know the characters just as much as trying to solve the crime. Would Warrick ever overcome his gambling addiction? Would Catherine ever get the respect she deserved? How was Nick such a nice guy when so many bad things happened to him? What made Grissom see the world so differently than everyone else? During that first solitary year of graduate school, and especially during the uncertain, dark days after 9/11, I took comfort in escaping into these characters’ lives and the fictional cases they investigated.
Fast forward a few years, and I was introduced to the wonders of Tivo! No longer confined to the limitations of live tv and one VCR, I expanded my list of shows. Somehow, when compared to Lost, Alias, 24, and Veronica Mars, Grissom and company were no longer appointment tv. And so, for a few years, I parted ways with this band of crafty crime solvers.
Fast forward to 2008. My life had changed a lot since the days of eating meager dinners in front of the tv in my 400 sq. ft. apartment in Tuscaloosa. I’d gotten married, finished graduate school, moved to Dallas, started teaching college writing courses, bought a house… And on March 1, 2008, Brad and I became parents!
One day as I sat in the living room nursing newborn Benjamin and flipping channels, I stumbled across an old episode of CSI on Spike TV. I was quickly drawn back into that world, and I wanted to catch up on what I’d been missing the last few seasons. Much to my delight, I discovered that Spike TV had nothing better to do than air several episodes of CSI everyday. Anyone who has experienced the challenges of breastfeeding knows that it’s not unusual to spend hours a day (or night) confined to a chair while feeding your baby. And so, in a different stage of life than my grad school days, CSI had resumed its place as my companion in a time of solitude. For the next few months, I became reacquainted with Grissom, Catherine, Nick, and the whole gang. I watched multiple episodes a day, and before I knew it, I was all caught up. I have vivid memories of watching episodes in the middle of the night, when our house was totally quiet and it was just me, the baby, and my pals in the crime lab. (I wouldn’t join Facebook until later that year, so I didn’t yet have my NewsFeed as a source of round the clock community.)
I guess now I could dub my marathon viewing of the first eight seasons “the great CSI binge watch of 2008.” Binge watching is easy these days, with a Netflix or Hulu subscription and some time to spare, but I had to get creative to record all the episodes, even with Tivo’s help. There were highs and lows in this batch of episodes: I was fascinated by the miniature killer story arc, and I was devastated by Warrick’s untimely death. Eventually, my rekindled fascination with the show waned, when I decided that the more gruesome or tragic episodes were too much for my newfound maternal feelings to handle.
While I was intrigued by Laurence Fishburne’s addition to the cast, his presence wasn’t enough to carry the show after William Petersen’s departure. My last exposure to CSI was probably in 2010. I’ve only heard bits and pieces about Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue being on the show, and that never seemed right to me. I still think of him as a bartender on Cheers and of her as Daniel’s girlfriend in The Karate Kid. Why are they now the leads on a crime drama? I hadn’t really thought about CSI at all for a few years until I saw a headline this morning about its series finale, which will air as a tv movie tomorrow night. When I read that Grissom, Catherine, and many of the other former characters would be returning, I knew that I had to watch it. It will be nice to revisit these old “friends” who I spent time with off and on over the last decade and a half of my life. Not even Jerry Bruckheimer and his cliched production values could ruin this highly stylized, clever, engaging show. While it might have gone on a few seasons too long, and while I could do without the comical number of spin-offs it has led to, CSI has earned its place in television history as a crime procedural with likable characters and clever execution. Thanks for the memories!