Law & Ordocki Season 3 #6 (#29): Mystery Meat
April Fools! I did it! I fooled ya. I did it. You thought it was going to be, like every other week or month or whatever the schedule is, me blathering on about Law & Order for 2000 or so words. Instead, because it is a holiday dedicated to momentarily lying to people and then confessing to said lie, I am going to be discussing CSI: NY, a show that is a diametrical opponent to Law & Order and its spinoffs despite taking place in the same city that never sleeps. I have never seen the show before I decided to write about. Sure, like every alcoholic student in the early 2010s I watched countless episodes of CSI: Miami and hurled slurred invective at David Caruso’s acting “skills”, but CSI: NY never appealed to me. Where was the hook? What was the spice? Gary Sinise sounded familiar as a name, yet he wasn’t a William Petersen, Ted Danson or even a Laurence Fishburne. (Of course now I know him as inscrutable ugly American Ugly American Jack Garrett on Peabody Award winner Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.) I chose this to fool you because the episode “The Daze of Wine and Roaches” (go fuck yourself) features a guest appearance by a young Shailene Woodley. Precious Shailene, as I call her, is all things: a committed environmentalist, a Bernie Sanders supporter, a real free spirit hippie. They tried to categorize her into one of the five personality types and they literally couldn’t. She is spectacular and she is now. Nevertheless, even Precious Shailene could not make CSI: NY anything approaching tolerable. If you ever want to experience fondness for Law & Order: SVU, simply check out its competition.
She was 16 when she filmed this so don’t get any ideas. We’re goddamn professionals here.
CSI’s thing, and by extension CSI: NY’s, is eye-catching crimes. Whereas SVU will have someone occasionally mauled by a tiger or sodomized to death with a wine bottle, that kind of crazy shit occurs every week for these guys. Instead of ripped from the headlines think ripped from the ether rag fantasies. To wit: in “The Daze of Wine and Roaches” a woman meets her end while portraying Marie Antoinette in a guillotine. (The French Consulate is putting on a costume ball to benefit Haitian children… whatever helps you sleep at night, frogs. One costume drama doesn’t wash away centuries of colonialism.) The guillotine itself didn’t kill her, something else did, and that’s the task laid out for the detectives. Marie did mention she wasn’t feeling well right before entering the device; that sounds like an obvious clue to me. Not that it matters, because CSI: NY is not a program in which the mystery is something the viewer can follow along with and at no times does it play “fair”. There’ll be pieces A, B and C of evidence and then suddenly Krang stole the Statue of Liberty. You can’t really ask what’s going on, you can only go with the momentum.
Gary Sinise’s idea of acting in this series is to try to pop his skull out of his body when the character is being intense.
Before we go any further I’m going to try to lay out the unmemorable characters for your education and enjoyment. The opening credits (“Baba O’Riley”, per the requirements that every CSI have a song by the Who as its theme) lists six people among the cast. Gary Sinise stars as “Mac Taylor”, the kind of name deemed too nondescript and bland for a Tom Clancy book. Sinise’s fennec fox-like features evince a wily investigative spirit. Although Chicagoan by birth, Mac shores up his NEW YAWK bonafides by having his wife die in 9/11. That’s like a whole punch card’s worth of credibility. Eddie Cahill’s Don Flack may as well be named Tony Bagodonuts considering how New York-y he is. He will pronounce “guillotine” gill-o-teen and you can shove it up your ass if you question that. Really, characters on this show ought to be judged by the rubric of how well they represent New York since it’s not like they have personalities or are in any way likable. Don Flack was likely baptized in a Shea Stadium urinal, so he’s #2. #3 with a bullet? Carmine Giovinazzo’s Danny Messer. The only more Italian name than the actor’s is something demeaning like Luigi Spaghetti. Replicate what I said about Don Flack and replace the Queens reference with a Staten Island one. Uh, he’s arrested Wu-Tang Clan members multiple times on counts of “looking suspicious”, that’s how fucking Staten Island he is. Hill Harper’s Dr. Sheldon Hawkes is black, but he doesn’t mention being from Harlem so he ranks pretty low on the list. Stella Bonasera is apparently meant to be Gary Sinise’s love interest yet all I can remember about her is Melina Kanakaredes’s curly Greek hair. Only half-Italian? Not very fucking New York! Lindsay Monroe, as played by Anna Belknap, is last but not least. The character comes from a small town in Montana and it’s a credit to the discretion of the writers that she’s not constantly marveling at big city innovations like flush toilets and bisexuals. Later in the series she marries Staten Island greaseball, God help her. There’s not a lot differentiating them in this episode and they mostly trade lines of exposition. If there’s character work I didn’t see it.
So immediately upon arriving at the scene THE FUCKIN’ BRASS THE SUITS UP STAIRS are jamming up the cops because apparently the victim, Simone, is a part-time interpreter for the UN and something something it’s an important case so the hated Inspector General tells them they can’t examine the body for a while. “It’s a question of international diplomacy, detective” the recently passed away Carmen Argenziano tells Sinise, who I imagine in real life thinks the United Nations is a Bolshevik plot to make all our troops wear silly blue helmets. Unable to process the body, they interview Precious Shailene and her coterie of caregivers. She’s a Pierpont (as in “those” Pierpont) and her parents are busy selling off this country in China so she’s looked after by her lawyer and her child psychologist. Simone was “more than just [her] French teacher”, she was Precious Shailene’s best friend. “Unlike some of my parents’ other employees” she says right as she looks up to the lawyer. Damn, that is ice cold. You might even say it’s dauntless…if you’re an idiot, that is. It’s lab time as the characters examine the available evidence and it’s at this point in the show that I realize about 50% of an episode of CSI: NY is the camera swooping around while actors intently look at things, often while holding a flashlight to the item. A Timbaland song is playing. I feel both old and embarrassed. Think of how Gary Sinise must’ve felt; that motherfucker believes Elvis Presley’s lewd gyrations almost won the White House for Adlai Stevenson. Sorry, lab work cannot be made sexy unless Hill Harper starts raw dogging Melina Kanakaredes right then and there. It makes sense, then, that this ran on CBS, the old fogey network. Slap some contemporary rappist music on there, cast some fresh faced youngsters, give the cameraman some cocaine and the result is hip contemporary television for the 49-65 demographic.
Those big block letters are definitely the work of distinctive handwriting!
The team has two pieces of evidence in Simone’s case: a choker with some DNA on it (lovers quarrel?) and chocolate wrapper foil with a syringe shaped hole in it. The DNA belongs to Charlie Cooper, Precious Shailene’s shooting coach and someone who is also already in the morgue. Well, wouldn’t be the first time NYPD has arrested a dead body and sent it to Rikers. “So how does a dead man bite the choker of a living woman who’s now dead?” I’m pretty sure I had that question on my ACTs. They determine the guy died via a gunshot wound delivered to him by…Simone! The theory is that she got unsettled by a note threatening to divulge her expired visa status and yadda yadda yadda she murdered her boyfriend. She then died from poison in the chocolate. Or maybe, just maybe, she’s a dog-human hybrid and the chocolate WAS the poison. But look, there’s no point in focusing on that when CSI: NY can and will throw all sorts of preposterous nonsense at the audience. Curly Haired Greek thinks Precious Shailene’s a big fat liar so she sciences some tears off her handkerchief and comes to a startling conclusion: “they’re not emotional”. Apparently there’s three kinds of tears and Shai cried the wrong ones. “Science says she knows something.” Try that with a jury. Just try it. “Uh I gave the tears a polygraph and they FAILED. Find her guilty!” What the fuck is this shit
He’s a few years off. If he had rocked this during Hamilton’s height he would’ve been drowning in pussy.
Hill Harper traces the drug delivery system back to the Pierponts and it becomes a game of guessing what previously introduced character had the motivation to kill Simone. How about the lawyer who I just realized is named LUTHER VANDROSS? Sure, whatever! Fuck it, there’s only like 4 minutes left, let’s GET NUTS. He embezzled in Simone’s name, she found out about it, he poisoned her with a drug delivery system pilfered from a patent application and somehow midwived by chocolate. Vandross (LUTHER VANDROSS!!!) immediately lawyers up and suggests they take the approximately 112 seconds left in the episode to suspect Precious Shailene again. “That child is poison.” There’s this whole dumbass Usual Suspects-esque sequence that sees her manipulating everything for…I don’t know? What’s her motivation again? She wanted Luther Vandross to stop stealing from her so she informed Simone he was screwing her over? Is that right? “It’s not illegal to be a sociopath” intones Curly Hair as the episode closes. Conspiring to murder is in fact illegal, and I’ve never heard of the NYPD giving up based on pussy shit like “there’s nothing to charge them with”, but I guess they got tired of investigating. Hey, at least there’s some hilarious closeups of a smiling Shailene that try to suggest she’s a detached monster. Otherwise the episode commits the sin of showing without telling, in that characters keep on saying she’s poison and fucked up without offering anything in the way of compelling evidence besides ‘look at her!’.
The Secret Life Of An American Teenage Murderer
But that’s not all! The episode actually contains another case, one that gives it its title in that the subplot involves wine and roaches. A chef is dead in a wine cellar filled with priceless bottles. One of the goombahs remarks “my favorite kind of wine is beer”, and there’s a real question of whether he’s going to call the other detective a faggot for showcasing cursory knowledge of wine value. The beauty of CSI: NY is basically any character is a sentence away from uttering a racial or homophobic slur. Anyway, the chef’s got a “Sommelier of the Year” award corkscrew stuck in him and a cockroach in his mouth. “What exactly was this chef cooking last night?” Well, obviously, if he had a roach in his mouth it means he was serving insects to people. You fucking rube. Seemingly this subplot exists as a palate cleanser, a lighthearted romp… but it’s not like the dead frog is treated with much seriousness either. The overall tone is glib and the characters don’t really give a fuck about anything that’s going on. Say what you like about the tenets of National SVUism, at least they’re fucking invested in their cases.
Look, I don’t need this Magic Schoolbus shit
The roach is rich, turns out; it has hundreds of thousands of jewels attached to it. Again, this smacks of an old person’s idea of what the youth are into. If Dick Wolf is a 70 year old man, the collective unconscious of CSI: NY is a decade or two older. “Yeah, kids are probably putting diamonds on roaches, that’s where this fucking country is headed… what’s next, Puerto Ricans going to college?!?” The “roach broach”, as one of the CSI idiots so delightfully put it, belongs to a food critic who got into a fight with the chef the night of his death, because apparently people in the restaurant industry do not appreciate customers who BYOI. “Alec would have killed himself anyway when my review came out” the woman says, not at all helping her case. The cockroach is insured, though. “Insuring roaches, the designated hitter, I tell ya the country is going to HELL IN A HANDBASKET!! …I wish my grandchildren would call me sometime…” Using a lab wand to scan in a broken wine bottle label, Monroe discovers label switchin’ is afoot. She spritzes a glass shard as sexily as she can to reveal yet another set of prints, these from someone in the system for drunk driving. The wine distributor is guilty of fraud but not of murder and this is proven by the team realizing one of the left over pieces from the crime scene is a piece of lead used in mammograms. A busboy at the restaurant also works at a radiology lab so they search his apartment and find…roaches. Lots and lots of roaches. The busboy is something of a Cockroach Supremacist; he killed his boss because he saw him trying to smoosh the jeweled one. “One day, we’ll all be gone, they’ll still be here.” The name Greg Sanford sound anything like Gregor Samsa to you? This is a smart series, folks. The subplot should’ve ended with him escaping prosecution via transformation into an insect. “We can’t charge a cockroach-man for a human crime,” Tony Gabagool would say wistfully. What the fuck did any of this have to do with anything? Why couldn’t there be more scenes of Shailene Woodley? She could’ve gone toe to toe with Sinise in an interrogation room. I’ll even settle for Luther Vandross.
Now I know what I recognize him from: the unjustly cancelled SHASTA MCNASTY!
One might expect that since the entire premise of the series is crime scene investigation that the procedural formula would be markedly different from other cop shows. This is not the case. The main difference seems to be montages of people looking at shit, sometimes with computer equipment and sometimes without. It brings to mind the surgery scenes in Nip/Tuck only less stylish. Another thing I noticed is that the overtly New Yawk characters, the ones who are walking here, serve as actual detectives while their non-accented counterparts usually wear labcoats. It might be a plot point that they don’t wanna look too, how’d you call it, frilly when on duty. I still have trouble buying Gary Sinise as a scientist. When he says he’s a forensic scientist I felt inclined to dispute it. “Oh come on,” I’d say. “You don’t have rocks in your head; your head is literally a rock.”
Joe’s Apartment 2: Joe’s Revenge
What I’ve taken from this is that CSI is essentially the Family Guy to Law & Order’s The Simpsons, in that it takes the formula of the latter and festoons upon it eye-catching elements that distract from the overall soullessness of the endeavor. For Family Guy it’s “edgy” sexual and racial humor and obtrusive pop culture references; with CSI: NY these elements come in the form of pop music, jittery camera angles and wackiness SVU would not dream of attempting. Like Family Guy, CSI has also had a deleterious effect on society, tainting jury pools with a view of forensic science that is not representative of reality. Unfortunately, NY doesn’t have a towering figure of anti-charisma like David Caruso to paper over the structural weaknesses and one’s left with a rather annoying and stupid hour of television. Precious Shailene acquitted herself well but no one else did. Even then she missed out on playing Evie as evil, since the ‘twist’ consists of closeups of her smiling or even an ambiguous facial expression. It tries to do too much with too little in a short amount of time. Maybe combine the two storylines and prove she’s evil by showing her stepping on a cockroach.
No doubt he’s been fucking those roaches.
Despite the presence of my queen, it was a real slog sitting through the 40 minutes of this shit. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m looking forward to writing about Law & Order: SVU next week.
A tag that practically says “come on. Admit it, you were expecting worse.”