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With four different forensics shows on home video, which gets top priority?

Capsule Reviews: CSI vs. NCIS

Once upon a time, a producer named Jerry Bruckheimer introduced American television audiences to the concept of a weekly TV cop drama that focused on forensic investigations of a crime rather than the usual “Book ‘em, Danno” approach. Although CSI wasn’t the first show to center on forensics, it certainly became one of the most popular, inspiring rip-offs and spin-offs galore. Years later, the original CSI is still going strong, as are its competitors and offshoots. Today, we take a look at a few recent home video releases from CBS/Paramount, showcasing the many, many forensics series out there.

CSI: The Ninth Season
We start with the original series (and probably the best). CSI: The Ninth Season starts out on a very serious note, as faithful viewers say a tearful goodbye to one of the show’s most tortured (but still loveable) characters. And then, just when it’s starting to look like you’re out of the woods as far as cast changes go, star/producer William Petersen moves on to greener pastures — leaving the series in the capable hands of distinguished actor Laurence Fishburne (let the Matrix jokes commence!).

Like any season of any good TV show, CSI: The Ninth Season has its share of bad episodes (not to mention bad acting, mostly from the hands of co-star George Eads), but there are more than enough good episodes to make up for that fact. The biggest highpoint for an old Star Trek fan like me was the episode, “A Space Oddity,” in which the series’ lab rats (Wallace Langham, Liz Vassey, et al) attempt to solve a murder at a sci-fi convention.

CSI: The Ninth Season is presented on DVD and Blu-ray, and the HD transfer on the latter release is nothing short of outstanding. This season was filmed in Super 35mm, and receives a 1080p/VC-1 transfer on BD, with very vibrant colors, a solid contrast, and some very crisp detail throughout. Both releases boast an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the complete season, and the Blu-ray has a spectacular 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (giving every music queue and sound effect a chance to be heard), while the DVD contains a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. Special features include several deleted scenes, a couple of audio commentaries and featurettes, and a few episodes contain an optional interactive mode.

CSI: Miami – The Seventh Season
As to how this one continues to infest the airwaves is beyond me. I’ve seen some ridiculous TV shows chock full of bad acting in my time, but CSI: Miami always takes the cake in my book. Once more, we get to watch David Caruso take his sunglasses off only to put them back on over and over. Meanwhile, the rest of his semi-oblivious forensics crew attempt to figure out how to work their imaginary electronic equipment (which really takes the show into a half-ass science fiction field).

The Seventh Season picks up with the exciting conclusion from the previous season, wherein the great Horatio (Caruso) was seemingly assassinated. Sadly, this was not the case — Horatio is alive and well and living in Miami. Like many of the episodes that preceded these, there weren’t very many highlights in this season for me (I’m sorry, I simply do not like this show), although the “Raging Cannibal” episode was kind of cutesy.

Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, CSI: Miami – The Seventh Season boasts a beautiful (and tan!) transfer, and an equally lovely 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Bonus materials are limited to two commentaries and three featurettes.

CSI: NY – The Fifth Season
A far cry from the drivel goin’ down in Southern Florida, CSI: NY – The Fifth Season presents itself as a legitimate litter of the CSI series. The premise here has Gary Sinise (who could kick David Caruso’s ass any old day) as the head of a crack team of experts in the Big Apple. Each character carries their own emotional baggage around on an episodic basis, which affects their lives and their work. Thankfully, CSI: NY tends to actually remember the show is about forensics — and doesn’t get too involved in “cop” part of “cop drama.”

CSI: NY – The Fifth Season hits DVD in another fab-a-roo 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with another fine 5.1 DD soundtrack. Seeing as how the series hit the “100th Episode” mark during this season, this set boasts a four-part featurette about the milestone chapter and nothing else in the Extras section.

NCIS: The Sixth Season
Yeah, it’s a pretty silly show. At times, it might even be dumber than CSI: Miami. But, in the long run, NCIS is a pretty entertaining (and silly) show. In the previous season, the whole NCIS crew was disbanded by the new Director (Rocky Carroll), much to the dismay of Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon, who also co-produces the show, which is his justification for not having to actually emote or act). Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the ol’ crew to get back together.

Several highlights in The Sixth Season include a recurring plot to trap a double agent inside NCIS; a much-needed expansion into the history of David McCallum’s character (he really is the best reason to watch the show); and a laughable two-parter which serves as a backdoor pilot for the rip-off’s spin-off, NCIS: Los Angeles (a series that is destined to join the ranks of W*A*L*T*E*R and Galactica 1980 as Worst Television Spin-offs Ever).

Like all of the other TV on DVD series out there, NCIS: The Sixth Season is presented in a 1.78:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Both the video and audio presentations are commendable, and this set boasts some of the better special features out of all of the four sets (except for Pauley Perrette’s acoustic audio track, which is pretty pretentious — and bad).

OK, so with all these forensic series out there, it’s hard to decide which ones to check out and which ones to avoid. Blu-ray owners definitely have to check out CSI: The Ninth Season: it kicks some major ass. On the SD-DVD front, the regular old CSI still gets top priority in my book. After that, I would elevate the latest installment of CSI: NY far, far above CSI: Miami, saving NCIS for the illustrious “Guilty Pleasure” category.

About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the alter-ego of a feller who loves an eclectic variety of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) film and television. He currently lives in Northern California with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.

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