The stars of CSI are William Petersen, 49, who plays the solitary, brooding, and obsessively scientific Las Vegas Crime Scene Investigations chief Gil Grissom, and Marge Helgenberger, who plays his sidekick Catherine Willows. They have a team of young and hunky criminalists, including a recovering gambling addict and an ex-jock who has fallen in love with a casino hooker. According to Variety, C.S.I. has become the number two drama on network TV (behind ER), with over 25 million viewers a week.
The real star of the show is science. Grissom and Willows and the other criminalists share one pronounced trait -- they believe nothing anybody tells them, and they only trust solid evidence. They depend heavily on a well-equipped crime lab and use a wide variety of scientific tools to re-construct crimes. Like X-Files, the show shoots many scenes in darkness and shadow, and has a tendency to include brief and disciplined flashes of shocking gore: the path of a bullet will be illustrated graphically, or a diseased organ, a rotting corpse or slashed artery. Computers are a mainstream tool of this crew, along with smart thinking, and laser and DNA testing.
Like X-Files, the show has a dark view of science. Science is the real hero and the real star, but it's used mostly to reveal truth in sad circumstances. The CSI criminalists work in a depressing world where they nonetheless seek the raw truth, and believe in the ability of science to uncover it. Grissom is an older David Duchovny. He has a lonely life, a corrupt boss, endemic authority problems, and absolutely no patience for the stupid, dishonest or lazy. He shares another trait with Mulder -- he has to deal with the fact that in this world, the good guys don't always win.
It's fitting that TV's most intelligent drama follows one of its shlockiest programs -- Survivor. It would seem to be a foolish pairing, an idiotic broadcast followed by one so cerebral. Together the two shows cover the spectrum of contemporary TV. But while Survivor seems to become more unbearable by the week. CSI, already good, is getting better all the time -- gutsy, smart and inventive.