CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigator, a real branch of law enforcement of the United States, dedicated to analyzing crime scenes to determine the suspects and victims of crimes.

CSI is also a fictional show on the network CBS, currently the most popular show on the U.S. television airwaves, detailing the lives of several CSI personnel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Unlike most shows, that have a pivotal villain or problem that must perpetually be solved, the only constancy between episodes is the crime, the constant battles with the press, and the chemistry between the characters. The character's roles are ever-changing and the relationships between them also change. For example, Warrick and Nick are good friends and their conversations reflect that, while Sara perpetually ignores Greg's advances. Sara slowly comes out of her mildly agoraphobic shell, interacting more with people, and her reasons for hiding are slowly revealed, episode by episode.

The facts in the show are fairly spot-on, and the technology they use is real. While some of the stories are relatively far-fetched (a scuba driver found in a tree in the middle of the desert, for example), for the most part the murders and crimes are based on actual theories, and sometimes, actual crimes.

The show's storyline also reflects real life rather nicely. While crimes are often solved in a quarter of the time it would take real-life CSI, sometimes murders go unsolved or the murderers get off scotch-free (like two murderers who played the CSI off each other, so the CSI knew that one of them killed a man, but did not know which one). There are occasionally recurring crimes, like murders revolving around a certain unknown serial rapist. The murderers' motives and manipulations are shown, and oftentimes the viewers are made to sympathize with the murderer.

There are usually two crimes solved simultaneously by various members of the CSI, but there are occasionally three, and less oftenly one.

The show is very moody in its cinematography, favoring underexposed hues of blue and green, experimenting in exposure, focus, computer-generated effects, and other niceties of modern camera-work. Quite notable are the flashbacks, where the crime is shown how the CSI imagine it, full of conjecture, and heavy on the blurry, effects-laden picture. The flashbacks are often jerky with dramatic use of light and darkness, and highly contrasting colors. There are also points where a certain organ or part of the body that is zoomed in on the corpse to show various effects of external stimuli on the body, revealed in glorious CG. The action is oftentimes extremely graphic and the show is unafraid to show blood splashes, gore, and to a lesser extent, sex and nudity. This is not a show for everyone.

The music is also noteworthy. It alternates between a composer hired for the show and various obscure artists. The theme song was written by The Who, for example, and the music in the show has featured the likes of Portishead, Zero 7, and Sigur Ros, although Classic Rock and Alternative Rock are not unheard of.

The sound is realistic, with splatters, peels, and all manners of percussive noise. Whenever there is a flashback there is a loud rushing noise, sounding like a choir inhaling. Another cue, spoofed in one of the episodes, plays right before the opening credits roll, a loud bassline. In one of the episodes, the bassline begins playing but Grissom answers his cell phone at the same time, and the music stops, makes a rewinding sound, and the scene continues.

Main Characters

  • Gil Grissom - Essentially the head CSI of Las Vegas, and the mainmost character of the show. Former coroner and specializing in entymology and obscure facts about topics ranging from anatomy to chemistry. Slowly losing his hearing to a genetic disorder, and a classical music afocianado.
  • Jim Brass - A homicide detective, and runs the CSI department. Interrogates suspects, rarely helping out on actual crime scene investigation.
  • Sara Sidle - The attractive materials and element specialist of CSI, she brings a certain emotion to the show, not to mention a chemistry with some of the main characters.
  • Warrick Brown - Considered by many viewers to be the "token black male" of the show, Warrick is the audio/visual analysis specialist and photographer.
  • Nick Stokes - A car lover with a Texan accent, Nick is still relatively geeky, known for quoting encyclopedias and Animal Planet. Specializes in hair and fiber analysis.
  • Catherine Willows - Former exotic dancer in Vegas turned CSI. Specializes in blood spatter analysis and the second main character of the show. She may have a crush on Grissom and vice versa.
  • Al Robbins - The coroner of CSI Las Vegas. Rather monotone and mournful, yet extremely knowledgeable. He has a limp on his right leg.
  • Greg Sanders - Lab technician at CSI, he gives his analyses in riddles and has a different hair cut each episode. He also has a crush on Sara.

CSI has spawned a spin-off show called CSI: Miami, so CSI is now known as CSI: Las Vegas.


This critically acclaimed awward-winning drama series has sometimes been criticized for being too formulaic. While its writers and producers have defended this by arguing that the formula is less important than the specific elements of each case presented in the various episodes, it is hard to deny that there is certainly a formula in place and that anyone familiar with more than a few episodes is probably very much aware of it.

The anatomy of a typical CSI episode

Most episodes start just prior to the crime that will form the basis of that episode. We are often introduced to someone who is about to become a victim or, sometimes, when the writers want to switch things up a little, otherwise uninvolved citizens discover a body or crime scene. When the viewer does witness the crime, the details provided are sparse. The show does not make extensive use of dramatic irony, and viewers typically learn of new developments as the investigators unearth them.

When the episode opens with a soon-to-be-victim in the moments leading up to the crime, it is also common to not see the crime actually occur. We often see the seconds just before the crime, then a quick cut to after the crime has taken place. After the "jump," the CSIs are usually just arriving at the scene or have been there for a very brief period of time. They frequently interact with David, the coroner's assistant, who provides information regarding time and cause of death. The CSIs/detectives on the scene then make some observations regarding the crime scene, and one of them (usually superviser Gil Grissom) makes some kind of remark that sums up the scene, usually involving some kind of pun.

The opening credits are then played. Unlike the majority of other television shows, they always come after the scene that sets the tone for the rest of the episode, even when the rest of the episode deviates from the standard CSI formula. The credit sequence features clips from previous episodes accompanied by the Who's "Who Are You?" ("Baba O'Reilly" in CSI: New York and "Won't Get Fooled Again" in CSI: Miami).

The main actors are given prominent billing in the main credit sequence. Supporting actors, including those with recurring roles, are billed during the secondary credits shown over top of the episode's next scenes. Recurring actors are billed first, then all other supporting actors are billed afterwards. The lone exception to this is when very famous people (think Faye Dunaway) guest star on the show; they are often billed before the recurring actors. (It should be noted, however, that when Roger Daltrey guest starred on the show he was credited after later-to-be-main-actor Wallace Langham as a "special guest star.")

The scenes following the main credits are also often formulaic. There is often further analysis of the crime scene, featuring the introduction of preliminary suspects and the procuring of trace, DNA and fingerprint-related evidence, which is sent to the lab's various technicians to be analyzed.

It is common practice for the investigators to begin suspecting the most "obvious" suspects early on in the episode; this is often (but not always) an indication that the person is actually innocent. These suspects are interrogated and maintain their innocence and are rarely believed by their investigators until one of them, or one of the lab technicians seen throughout the show, provides test results or evidence that exhonerate that suspect, sending the investigators back to square one.

It is rare for every CSI to be involved with one case. More often than not, three investigators work on the "main" case (known to some fans as the "A plot") while the other two work on a secondary case that usually has nothing to do with the main case (the "B plot"). The two plots are presented simultaneously (that is to say that one case isn't solved long before the other), with scenes from each presented interchangably.

Most episodes often see the CSIs having to return to the crime scene to re-evaluate the evidence they've collected, or to search for more. Among the show's regular themes is that of changing one's initial theory as new evidence comes to light. Sometimes the two plots are connected, but more often than not they have nothing to do with each other.

As the evidence comes together, there is usually one bit of information -- most often DNA-related -- that breaks the case open. It is, naturally, discovered towards the end of the show and usually leads to the questioning of someone you never really thought to suspect. In many episodes, this person confesses during interrogation; in others, he or she maintains his or her innocence but it is clear that he or she is guilty.

The typical final scene of a CSI episode is often (though not always) more light-hearted, sometimes allowing us a glimpse into the personalities of the characters. It also often revolves around the circumstances involving that particular case, with the characters sometimes reflecting on what they would have done had they been in situations similar to the victims or even the assailants.


Special episodes

Some episodes get as far away from this formula as you can get. These, often involving big cases, rarely involve a secondary plot and often see the entire team investigating one case or may even revolve around members of the team testifying at the trials of those charged with crimes based on the evidence they gathered.

Though rare, there are episodes intended to further character development as well. The fifth season episode Nesting Dolls included several seasons providing information about Sara's family history. While character development is most often included in the more formulaic episodes in bits and pieces, some episodes break away from the formula in order to teach viewers more about the characters. Other examples of this include The Unusual Suspect, where the entire team (or, at least those who appear in the episode) is focused on one case and we learn more about the characters than we might in most other episodes.


Several episodes are "two-parters," where the case goes unsolved in the first half and is eventually solved in the second half. Examples of this include the seventh season finale Living Doll and the eighth season premier Dead Doll, where Sara is trapped under a car in the desert by the Miniature Killer; Grave Danger parts one and two (directed by Quentin Tarentino) sees Nick kidnapped and buried alive while the other CSIs work tirelessly to save him (and not on any other cases) is also a two-part episode. Unlike Living Doll and Dead Doll, both parts aired at the same time. At the end of season six, Brass is shot while trying to diffuse a hostage situation.

The Miniature Killer

The seventh season featured a number of episodes dealing with a psychotic serial killer who placed extremely detailed scale models of the crime scenes at the crime scenes. This storyline involved several victims over several episodes and therefore didn't fit the generic formula, though the first few episodes that dealt with these cases were in that format (with a secondary case, etc.). This was the show's longest storyline to date, spanning from the first episode of season seven to the first episode of season eight. 


Is any of this surprising? Not really. Murder mysteries have always been reasonably formulaic, and CSI is really just a murder mystery series with lots of science. The idea that the murderer is always someone you least suspect is as old as time itself, and was just as prevalent in shows such as Murder She Wrote and so forth.

Furthermore, formulaic plotlines have also been an element of TV shows for years. Full House episodes are just as formulaic. The challenge for the writers is to make the content of every episode as different and interesting as possible, which may in fact only be possible because they often use a set formula.

CSI seasons 1-7 (DVD).

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.