Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Praise of CSI: Miami

Why do so many people dog CSI: Miami? It wins it's time slot easily every week. It's been in the top thirteen television shows for its entire seven-year run, getting as high as seven in 2004-05 (it's third season). The cinematography is gorgeous, it has beautiful people, and it has interesting stories. It also has David Caruso. I know for some, this is enough not to watch. I'm here to tell you something: you are missing out if you don't watch this show.

Some critics think CSI: Miami (Miami for the remainder of this post) is too unreal. Hello? If you're not watching "The Wire," then just about all police shows are unreal. Sure, some are more real (The Shield) than others (Monk) but that doesn't mean they are bad. They're just different. It is entertainment, after all. Miami's creator, Anthony Zuiker, knew exactly what he wanted when he made Miami: Not Vegas. In Vegas, you have The Land of Perpetual Shadows, pretty people wearing sexy clothes, and interesting main characters. In Miami, you have The Land of Perpetual Sunset, prettier people wearing sexier clothing, and main characters who are equally as interesting.

Miami had the luxury of airing its pilot episode wrapped inside an episode the original CSI. There's a crime in Vegas and Warrick and Willows travel to Miami to follow leads. There, they meet the Miami cast, see how they work, react to the differences, and basically get Miami's mission statement directly from Calleigh Duquesne: "We do things more fanciful down here."

Calleigh is only one of the cast of Pretty People in Miami. She's fun because she's a blonde Southern belle who knows and likes guns and has an alcoholic father. Hunky Eric Delko is Miami's underwater diver who, just last season, learned that his dad was really a Soviet, the very man who put out a hit on him. Yikes! Hello dad. Glad to know you, too. For fans of characters who have a lot of noirish backstory, Delko's your man. Or maybe you like'em smaller, less hunky, prone to wearing pastel ties with jeans, but with a gambling problem. Miami's got you covered. Ryan Wolfe has his demons, gets himself kicked off the force, brought back on the force, and is the only one team leader Horatio Caine trusts for a giant undercover project, much to the chagrin of the straight-and-narrow characters.

Horatio Caine. I think we can all be honest and say that, if you're one who doesn't like Miami, it's because of Caine. Rather, it's because of David Caruso, the actor who portrays Caine in all the episodes. I don't get it. Some accuse him of being a prima donna after his departure from NYPD Blue back in 1994. Yeah, maybe. Whatever. I don't care. Caruso's NY detective, John Kelly, was a great character and did the honorable thing when he turned in his badge and walked away. Granted, I caught this in reruns but I liked what I saw. Cut to the one-season TV show "Michael Hayes" (which I watched and enjoyed, thank you) and I thought there might be a new series for Caruso. Nope. Then, the Miami pilot: There he was again. And his character, Caine, and Caruso's portrayal of him, had me from the beginning.

As writers, we are excoriated to show, don't tell. Show a characters traits, don't tell us about them. Caine, in the first scene, shows what kind of man he is. The cops are looking for a seven-year-old girl. Caine finds her in the Everglades (or wherever they are) and approaches her. They talk and he mentions that people are looking for her. He sits next to her and says "Why don't we sit here and let them find us together." As a new dad in 2002 when this show aired, I was hooked. To paraphrase, he had me at "together."

It's exactly that empathy that I love and appreciate in Horatio Caine. He ends the episode by talking with young Sasha again, together, as they sit on a beach. He tells her that she'll hear many bad things said about her parents, who have both been murdered. He implores her to remember that both her mom and dad "fought like heroes for you." I guess that's why I like Caine so much: he fights for the powerless. Whether it's a little girl, newly orphaned, or Wolfe when he's fired/rehired, or the various other victims of crimes he meets, he's always there to help, to shoulder the burden of others' pain. That's why he does what he does even though his personal life (murdered wife; criminal brother; grown son introduced last season) is often in the tank.

You're saying "Scott, that's all well and good, but the show is just too damn cheesy" and I'll agree with you. Yes, there are entirely too many coincidences in Miami (CSI, too; can't speak to NY as I don't watch it). We're talking a 48-minute show here, people. What might take hours or days in real life takes a commercial break on TV. Deal with it. Yes, Caruso delivers his one-liners like Roger Moore did in his Bond films. William Peterson did, too, and no one gives him grief. What's up with that? And yes, there are the sunglasses. Yes, there are times when, entering a dark room, I yell for him to "take off the shades, H!". Whatever. It's iconic now. Just like Chicago *has* to play "25 or 6 to 4" in concert, Caruso has to have the shades. In last week's premiere, we get an origin story of the team...and the shades. I grinned. I love this show. So sue me.

If you haven't given CSI: Miami a try, you ought to. If you've left, give it another shot.* You might be surprised how much fun it really is.

*But don't forget ABC's "Castle." I've written about Castle on my blog and it was the one show I most looked forward to watching again. CSI: Miami was #1A. It's just aggravating that they both show up on Mondays at 9pm CST. Miami is in no danger of cancellation anytime soon. I watch Castle live and, around 10:01pm, I start up Miami. Maybe you could do the same.

P.S., After I wrote about Castle last week, I decided to write about Miami here in this space. I was going for the "Caine is like Donald Lam" angle (I'll write about this later) but changed to an entire CSI: Miami focus. In fact, I had the post mostly written when I received an e-mail from Damon Caporaso of I had linked to his website's recap of Castle on Tuesday. Well, he invited me to participate and write recaps of a show of my choice. Guess what I picked? Well, you don't really have to guess, do you? My recaps start this Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

Excellent points, well stated. It's always nice to find someone who shares one's view, though we have to admit we've failed to connect with "Castle", mainly due to its unfortunate time slot.

We are forever guilty of recording such overlaps, then neglecting to give the necessary time later.

Dave White said...

I think this post was... (takes off sunglasses) RIGHT on target.

Steve Weddle said...

I guess I don't understand people who spend so much energy arguing against a TV show. Wouldn't it take less energy to change the channel?

I have watched one episode of the Miami show--the one where Horatio is wearing the dark suit with the dark shirt and takes his sunglasses off to make a point. I thought it was just fine.

The thing is -- it's a TV show. It has its limits and its own set of possibilities. As Jay said in this space about comics, some packages work better than others for a certain kind of story-telling. With these shows, you know what to expect. Now, some of the better ones know this and use this to flip things around on you. (I'm looking at you FLASHFORWARD.) And just use the convention of the cozy on TV to entertain you for an hour (MONK, MURDER SHE WROTE, MATLOCK.)

On your recommendation, sir, I'll head back to CSI: MIAMI for another go around.

Nice post.

Jay Stringer said...

I've seen a handful of CSI episodes, spread across the different cities. It's not really my thing. But each episode I saw was a tight, well told story. It's hard to disagree with that sort of thing, really.

I LOVE Castle. I was always going to, probably, because I'm a big fan of Fillion. But it's fun, well written and well acted. It's the best kind of popcorn - the kind that doesn't hide behind "it's just a bit of fun" and does the hard work of telling a good story and paying attention to charachter and logic. Good stuff.

Scott D. Parker said...

Dojo - Glad to have another Miami fan. And I strongly urge you to take a look at Castle, even if you do so on Hulu. It's a charming show that might need some help...or a new time slot.

Dave - HUGE GRIN. Thank you for your post. Loved it. Shared it with my wife who also laughed. Have you seen Jim Carrey on Lettermans spoofing Caruso? It's on YouTube.

Steve - Based on your description of Caruso, I'd have to ask "Which one?" since that's pretty much what he always wears. That's his uniform. Happy that you'll give it another go.

Jay - Here's the thing about the three CSIs: each has their own thing. I've rarely watched NY and basically don't care about it. However, I'm still angling for a huge, three-episode arc: mystery starts on Monday in Miami, moves to NYC (with Caruso) on Wednesday, and Caruso and Gary Sinese show up in Vegas on Thursday *with* William Peterson guest starring. THAT would be so friggin' awesome.

And I'm glad you love Castle. Keep watching!

ehmalo01 said...

Scott, thank-you for so eloquently defending my favorite TV show. I especially appreciate the Calleigh quote you used about things being more "fanciful" in Miami. That's the quote I always use when I attempt to 'explain' the show to people.

Caruso's Horatio is what first drew me to the show and what has held me there. Sadly, most non-viewers do not understand the character, and as a result they do not understand the actor. Pity. Caruso is a fine actor.

I've caught Castle occasionally and enjoyed it each time. Fillion is fun, though I liked him best in Firefly. I'll try to make a point to TiVo next week.

Sara said...

Thank you for another point of view. As a life-long David Caruso fan, I have watched almost everything he has appeared in. And up until the last few seasons, I watched CSI Miami on a weekly basis. I lost interest however when the Marisol Delko storyline ended abruptly with her murder.

When Caruso was in NYPD, he had a professional as well as a personal life and both were portrayed on the show. This is not the case with CSI Miami. The writers and directors have made Caruso's character very one-dimensional for the most part. I don't mean this as a criticism of Caruso. He works very well with the material he's given.

CSI NY, on the other hand, manages to balance the work and personal lives of its characters very well. I know CSI Miami could too if only they would try.

Shelby said...

There is nothing left to say except to say thank you for a very well written and accurate assessment of both David Caruso and his show "CSI:Miami". To be sure, I will continue to peruse this site.