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TV Review: CSI: NY – “Yahrzeit”

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Season five of CSI: NY has always promised to be a year of amazing storylines, both character and crime-wise. After all, this is the Big Apple. Anything that can happen generally does. This week is no exception. We have a top name guest star, a cameo by one well known character actor, and a subplot which relates the hidden message without conking viewers over the head with its importance.

First to the major guest star. Ed Asner plays a jeweler with a secret. This is hardly news, since most characters who are part of a crime investigation have one. Let me back up a little. A man dies in the midst of an auction. Literally. The case leads Mac (Gary Sinise) to have a chat with Abraham, who is played by Asner. 

Sinise and Asner play against each other well. The acting experience of both men is extensive, although there is not the same antagonism between the guises they assume as compared to the arrogance of Robert Dunbrook. From the first time Dunbrook (Craig T. Nelson) greets the deputy chief of detectives at a charity function ("The Party's over"), one senses immediately he is going to be trouble. So does Mac. Dunbrook isn't the one who kills the deputy mayor, nor does he purposely kill the intruder who breaks into his office ("The Past, Present, and Murder"). The word choice on the last sentence was deliberate. Dunbrook plays another role the second time. The true identity of the baddie, however, is probably not a shock to this show's fans.

Abraham is different. He shows Mac a tattoo on his arm from his days in Auschwitz. Can he be believed? Asner is potentially old enough to at least have had relatives die there, even if he didn't. The sincere overtones in Asner's voice while recalling a time of religious persecution help seal the deal. Yes, he and the victim interact. By itself, this is hardly enough to take someone into custody. A perfectly reasonable explanation is offered, as a matter of fact. Abraham wants a piece of jewelry appraised, and the victim works at the auction house where he dies. Simple enough.

The scene when Mac discovers the truth is electrifying. Sinise tends to be at his best when he can come on strong, and there is not much stopping him. It's not the secret itself which is so surprising, but how it finally comes out. I'll put it this way – another character puts into words succinctly where to put the blame.

What is more compelling takes place with Dr. Sheldon Hawkes (Hill Harper). As the only person of color on the entire team, Hawkes stands out. Period. Ever since the second season when he joined the team as a field investigator, this has never been an issue. The former medical examiner brings his knowledge as a valuable aid. Even though he has never gone through the police academy, forensics is a good fit for someone with his skills. The level of caring he shows week to week makes him want to seek justice for the crime victims, and it's never a bad thing for people employed by the police department. This being said, there are those who do not feel the same way about Hawkes as his colleagues.

The focus of this storyline is racism. What better way to deal with it than to bring back Michael Elgers, the Neo-Nazi implicated in a house explosion ("Green Piece)? Matt McTighe really makes his persona loathsome this time as he displays complete and utter ignorance. For Mac and Det. Don Flack (Eddie Cahill), they handle Elgers by failing to respond to his taunts. Also, they will wait on evidence before they haul him in. No need to waste the paperwork.

So who takes Elger's bait? Det. Danny Messer (Carmine Giovinazzo), naturally. Giovinazzo has played the role of his street smart cop well ever since coming on screen five seasons ago. The same rough edges Danny has with his colleagues help him to understand the criminal mentality. Considering his older brother, Louie, is a man with ties to a gang ("Run Silent Run Deep"), it's amazing Danny has stayed on the legal side of the law for so long. Becoming a cop has been one of his greatest achievements.

Still. More than once, Giovinazzo is required to get Danny into trouble by not exactly following proper procedure. The last time is dangerous as he runs after a ruthless killer without a bulletproof vest ("The Point of No Return"). Mac tends to stand behind Danny, although he cannot professionally approve of his actions. I have to hand it to the writers, they have Sinise remain calm as he reminds Giovinazzo that even the worst offender is allowed the same rights as any other citizen.

The earlier scene by Giovinazzo and Harper is much more revealing. Harper shows his strength by saying the problem of judging another by the color of his or her skin is just that, but someone else's. Who would go willingly into the comfort zone of hatred? Giovinazzo is simmering just below the surface while takling to McTighe, but Harper is pretty much cool as a cucumber. Anger, though, can be felt without ever showing it on one's face.

Giovinazzo and Harper are a decent team on their own. It's not the same as the one with Cahill, but it shouldn't be. When Hawkes loses a favorite uncle to a heart attack, Danny is the one reassuring. Giovinazzo channels sympathy well, and perhaps even a reminder in the back of his head when Danny saw Louie in a coma ("Run Silent Run Deep"). Harper is clearly shaken, and it fits.

Before this episode starts, a warning is given so viewers can use their own discretion as to whether it should be seen. I have to agree with the decision. Since this is at an hour right before the news, one can expect more than a little bit of grit each week. Crime is messy, and those involved have complicated lives. So do the ones who investigate. In a single show, though, CSI:NY brings front and center an issue (or two) which some may find uncomfortable.

Three more episodes are left in the season. Lindsay (Anna Belknap) should return to work at some point, having been home in Montana on maternity leave. Stella (Melina Kanakaredes) has a new man in her life, but he may or may not be back. Sometimes things get set on the back burner to simmer a bit longer before they show up again.

The Greek smuggling ring storyline has gone through more than a few episodes, and perhaps it will be over and done by finale end. It should be. When the guy who attacked Stella in the tunnel turned up dead ("Point of No return"), an end would have been fitting. No such luck. Mac is now trying to figure out who killed him. Is the Greek ambassador involved? Maybe, but he has avoided implication thus far.

Craig T. Nelson has one episode left on his contract. To see the sizzling chemistry between Nelson and Sinise is interesting to watch, but I think most viewers will enjoy the fresh air once Dunbrook goes for good.

The finale, by the way, has been moved to may 14th at 10 p.m., right behind CSI:Crime Scene Investigation. While this should bolster ratings, more than likely Sinise and company will have a Season Six. Oh, rumors suggest one less person makes it there. All I can say for sure is a well known character is affected. I won't even try to guess, but chances are, Sinise isn't it.

Why not? The lead role tends to stay until the series finale. Most of the time, anyway. Lose the main person, there goes the the show. While this is not called the Mac Taylor show, he's easily picked out as the lead actor. Not only does he carry many of the scenes, he has most lines.

The thrills of the Big Apple crime fighting team are most likely not over yet. Keep watching….

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