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

CSI_S15_Generic

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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The Body Farm with Tara Fitzgerald PREVIEW

Tara Fitzgerald and Keith Allen. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★½

BBC1 starts Tuesday, 13 September, 9pm

Story: In this new series, leading forensic pathologist Dr Eve Lockhart runs a state-of-the-art  research lab. She gets a call from DI Craig Hale asking for help at an unusual crime scene, an offer that could bring badly needed funding to the Body Farm.

Lovely – a series about rotting, putrid corpses.

With plenty of dialogue about ‘fungi colonies’, ‘flesh flies’ and ‘major maggot mass’. If you love a drama that’s up to its elbows in entrails and blood, then you’re in yuck, so to speak.

Top gore scientist Dr Eve Lockhart is, of course, a fugitive from Waking the Dead, the Trevor Eve series that recently shuffled off its television coil. And it’s Eve’s production company, Projector, that brings us Lockhart’s new adventures on the not-so-funny farm.

‘Nice crime’
Along with her business partner Mike Phillips, she runs the Body Farm, a research facility where they and their team of two scientists watch human remains as they putrefy. Times are tight – it’s the cuts – and so when Lockhart gets a call from DI Craig Hale asking her to help him investigate a pretty horrendous crime scene, it’s a chance to get out of the lab and generate some cash for her facility.

The murder scene is in a derelict high-rise that has human remains all over the walls, ceiling and floors. Lockhart’s thrilled – ‘Should prove pretty interesting,’ she purrs. ‘Nice crime,’ says her partner.

Using all the slick technology at their disposal, Lockhart and her team – Rosa and Oggy making up the quartet – quickly work out that there are two corpses plastered around like wallpaper. The crime turns out to be connected to the attempted suicide of a young woman weeks before.

Away from the mayhem – Eve Lockhart

Tara Fitzgerald as Lockhart
It’s a grim and obviously messy story, and by the end turns out to stretch plausibility beyond snapping point. Tara Fitzgerald is good in her comeback as the ciggie-puffing Lockhart, though whether her character would be allowed to question witnesses and suspects is very doubtful.

Keith Allen’s detective is enjoyable. Hale is the team’s ‘arsehole problem’, as Mike puts it, but while he can be crude, he is not the cardboard police cretin so often placed in crime dramas.

The real mystery is why there is an audience for this level of visceral action. Once upon a time, people went to the cinema to watch a Hammer horror or The Exorcist for a bit of gore. These days television shows far more graphic scenes of dismemberment dressed up as forsenic investigation.

Who’s that on the operating table?
Shows such as CSI and Waking the Dead imply that by delving into a victim’s tissue samples that the mystery of their life and death can be uncovered. But surely forensics is rarely, if ever, quite so revelatory about a person’s life and death as these dramas pretend.

Shortly before his death, the author JG Ballard wrote about why he thought CSI was so compelling – ‘I suspect that the cadavers waiting their turn on the tables are surrogates for ourselves, the viewers. The real crime the CSI team is investigating, weighing every tear, every drop of blood, every smear of semen, is the crime of being alive. I fear that we watch, entranced, because we feel an almost holy pity for ourselves and the oblivion patiently waiting for us.’

So that’s us covered in flies and maggots. As Mike Phillips would say, ‘Nice.’

Cast: Tara Fitzgerald Dr Eve Lockhart, Keith Allen DI Hale, Mark Bazeley Mike, Wunmi Mosaku Rosa,  Finlay Robertson Oggy

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