CSI series 15, Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue, George Eads PREVIEW


Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue in CSI. Pics:C5

★★★ It’s gory and implausible, but why is CSI so popular? JG Ballard thought it was all about our innermost fears…

Channel 5: starts Saturday, 24 January, 10.15pm

WHAT A WEIRD and unsettling series CSI is. A house of horrors for the TV age, delving into nightmares of mortality with detachment and a throbbing rock beat.

Watching the opening episode of the 15th series, I was reminded of a typically provocative feature that JG Ballard wrote about the series 10 years ago in The Guardian. He became hooked on it and stated: ‘The series was original, slick and deeply disturbing, though I wasn’t too keen to find out why.’

But then he goes right ahead and dissects the drama anyway (excuse the pun). As a former medical student with experience in the exploration of corpses before he went on to write unsettling masterpieces such as Crash, The Unlimited Dream Company and High-Rise, his insights were intriguing.

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Silent Witness series 18, Emilia Fox, Richard Lintern, David Caves PREVIEW

Thomas Chamberlain (RICHARD LINTERN), Nikki Alexander [EMILIA FOX], Jack Hodgson [DAVID CAVES], Clarissa Mullery [LIZ CARR] in Silent Witness
Silent Witness returns with Richard Lintern, Emilia Fox, David Caves and Liz Carr. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: When three people are shot dead at a petrol station, Nikki and Jack strive to track down the sniper at large in London and stem a public crisis.

HOW IRONIC that a drama so obsessed with death refuses to die. Every year since 1996 Silent Witness has got off the slab and come back with fresh traumas, gougings and splatters.

It’s survived the first eight series with po-faced Professor Sam Ryan (Amanda Burton), wonderfully satirised by French and Saunders as Witless Silence and by Dead Ringers – ‘Just by looking I can tell

Jack Hodgson [DAVID CAVES], Nikki Alexander [EMILIA FOX] in BBC1's Silent Witness
Jack and Nikki at a crime scene in Sniper’s Nest

that this was a man aged 35-37 called John, who was having an affair with his secretary.’

It has brushed off controversies over being too gruesome. And it rarely excites the critics or judges at the Baftas or the Crime Thriller Awards.

But there is clearly an audience for it and the BBC are happy to devote 10 episodes to a season. The reason it endures is perhaps that the many modes of death so accurately portrayed are used to glimpse into lives encapsulated by their violent demise.

Certainly, the leading players – forensic pathologists Nikki and Tom, and scientist Jack – play second fiddle to the forensics and victims.

Silent Witness‘s lifeless characters

In this season’s two-part opener, Sniper’s Nest, they are working with DCI Jane De Freitas to work out the motivation and profile of a gun nut on a killing spree. There is an attempt to flesh these character’s out a little by giving De Freitas and Tom relationship bust-ups to contend with, and by hinting at Nikki’s loneliness.

But it’s not long before we return to fingers poking brains or staring down the rifle sight as the killer lines up another unsuspecting victim. All of this is dressed up with baffling dialogue, such as De Freitas saying, ‘It’s our daily routines that govern the ecology of victimisation,’ or Nikki stating the obvious – ‘Here’s blood and brain matter travelling in the same direction as the bullet.’

Sights for gore eyes: Forensic TV shows
Quincy, Waking the Dead, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 
CSI Miami, CSI NY, Bones, Body of Proof

It’s a show that is more concerned with ensuring that the post-mortems are as lifelike, so to speak, as possible, rather than delving into characters that are believable. When it tries to introduce some drama for the living, such as the press officer turning up and telling De Freitas she’ll lose her job if she doesn’t immediately turn herself into a media darling, it is jarringly implausible.


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Murdoch Mysteries Series 4 PREVIEW

Constable Crabtree (Jonny Harris), Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) and Insp Brackenreid (Thomas Craig). Pics: Alibi

Rating ★★★

Alibi, Tuesdays, 9pm, from 15 February

The modern-day obsession with gory forensics and series such as CSI and the UK’s Silent Witness is filtered into a late-Victorian makeover for Murdoch Mysteries. The setting is Toronto and William Murdoch, played by Yannick Bisson, is a pioneer in the then new detective sciences, but apart from these features this routine police procedural breaks little new ground.

In fact, it’s so familiar as the type of standard crime show and TV movie mystery you see on Sunday afternoons that, if the lab scenes were toned down a bit, it could have been made any time in the last 40 years. But if you like decent, gentle costume mysteries, then this is a fair cop.

What’s new at the start of series four is that Murdoch’s love interest, pathologist Dr Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), has cleared off to Buffalo and a new job.

Body hacked to pieces

In spectacularly brusque recap, she tells puppy-dog faced Murdoch, ‘It’s clear to me how much you want a family. But my abortion left me sterile.’ How about that for getting to the point. She’s on the train before gormless Murdoch can summon the words, Don’t go. However, my crystal ball (aka the Alibi website) tells me she will crop up again during this series.

Anyway, there’s no lady action for the detective as the first grisly case of the series comes Murdoch’s way, that of a body hacked to pieces, set in concrete and left by the Don River. Instead, Murdoch has a new male colleague to rub along with – the ill-tempered Dr Francis (Paul Rhys, seen recently in the BBC’s Luther), newly arrived from Scotland Yard.

The new coroner insists the body parts are from one victim. Murdoch secretly sends Dr Ogden some of the evidence, and she says there are three victims and most likely one killer. The victims turn out to be an unknown man with gout, a syphilitic ex-con, and Duncan Burnside, Toronto’s citizen of the year. So, Murdoch must work out what connects them.

Yannick Bisson
Some familiar faces from UK television will appear during this series in addition to Paul Rhys, including Lisa Faulkner (New Street Law) and Simon Williams (Upstairs Downstairs).

It’s a shame that Yannick Bisson as Murdoch is such a blank page, who – à la Roger Moore – tends to express himself with one eyebrow. When you’re acted off the screen by a former Coronation Street regular (another Brit, Thomas Craig, as Murdoch’s boss, Insp Brackenreid), then you know a bit more effort is needed.

Alibi, the crime channel, brags that Murdoch Mysteries ‘continues to push the boundaries of crime television’. You don’t need to be a top detective to spot that this statement would be called perjury in any court.

Still, these mysteries, based on the series of novels by British-born Canadian Maureen Jennings, are fun and the historical setting is interesting. And there is even an added bit of emotional intrigue thrown in. The series finale will include a wedding – but who will be strolling down the aisle?

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