I watched the first two episodes of CSI: Cyber over the weekend. It made me remember how much I used to really enjoy watching the other programmes which made up the CSI franchise, as they all performed well in different ways.
And now there’s CSI: Cyber which has…some of the laziest writing and awful plotting I’ve ever seen on a cop show. The amount of threadbare exposition and stumbling onto plot points that the Cybercrimes Division did in the two episodes I’ve seen, they make NCIS Los Angeles look like fucking Poirot.
I decided to write a review for the website; fortunately I haven’t been completely scared away from operating technology despite this programme’s best (worst) efforts.
There’s a running joke on the Botchamania series that, whenever the wrestler Sonjay Dutt is featured, his intro caption includes the phrase “(deserves better)”. And that’s how I felt when I saw that the first season of CSI: Cyber is headlined by the trio of Patricia Arquette, Peter MacNicol and James Van Der Beek. (Though I’m not so surprised to see that MacNicol is no longer a part of the show as of season two.) Despite what my macho status otherwise indicates, I was a big fan of Medium, Ally McBeal and, yes, Dawson’s Creek as well; seeing the stars of all three in the same room saying actual lines like “this computer is an accessory to murder” made my heart hurt a bit. (Take a bow, Peter.)
Arquette plays FBI Special Agent Avery Ryan; a psychologist whose patient records were once hacked, leading to the murder of one of her patients. Her determination never to let something so awful happen again is what led her to head up a team of computer experts in the war against cyber-crime.
It’s a decent enough back story for our lead, and a good reason for her distrust of the scum that preys upon innocent people from behind a computer screen. This distrust is played up for maximum shock value throughout the cold open; in the case of the second episode we’re at a theme park where a ride is sabotaged, killing some of its customers.
The drama is ramped up; fiances are left ruing the day they brought their beloved here; officers of the law sullenly get statements, and our cast makes the requisite sad/shocked faces when presented with what happened.
And now, for my second Law & Order comparison of the week, a crime show done properly; you know when Ed Green turns up to see the guy murdered outside the fancy restaurant, and Lennie Briscoe cracks wise with a line like “he should’ve stayed home and ordered a pizza”? That is what years on the job does to you; desensitises you beyond all reasonable reaction.
Here at the rollercoaster crash, and far from getting on with their jobs at an efficient pace, our cast are practically on their knees, shouting “KHAAAAAAAN” at the sky like a bad William Shatner impression. COMPUUUUUUUUUUUUTERS!!!!!
Stop all the downloadin’!
From the beginning, and not helped by lines like “this computer is an accessory to murder” is the immense distrust they’re heaping on computers, coding, basically anything that you can plug in.
In the original series we got exposition of blood spatter, gunshot residue, even the paths that bullets take from gun to victim – all via fancy graphics that were scientifically sound, not to mention highly educational in an age where courtrooms were only just getting to know the fascinating side of forensic science.
Here, DER GREEN CODE IS GOOD BUT DER RED CODE IS BAD. Thanks, nerd guy – not at all patronising and fake. I’d feel better about this absolutely pandering mode of address if the programme were made 20 years ago, but here we are, being talked down to by a fat bloke wearing glasses because that’s what most computer programmers look like.
The investigation process/unfolding plot then takes some nonsensical liberties and horrible shortcuts to get us from suspect to suspect, each time presenting us with ugly, ugly men with big jumpers who obviously live in their parents’ basement. (They even make an ironic joke along those lines at the end of episode one, as if showing some self-awareness to try and disprove that trope – but sadly they seemed not to realise that the programme actually was banging that drum throughout the episode.)
How else do we know that tech is scary and dangerously unreliable? When we see scenes filled with numbers, letters, and diagrams that just come flying out of smartphones, laptops and big screens, all over each shot as our agents are faced with information overload. That’s pretty much every single scene. It’s actually sort of sad; those same bursts of information were hugely helpful in previous programmes when showing us a vital piece of evidence coming into play – here it’s just a massive headache.
And all that jargon! Bad enough when the cyber-geeks have to stop what they’re doing and explain it to MacNicol (presumably he’s only there so that we get the explanations as he does…no wonder he left), but even worse when they’re actually just factually wrong about something, or just talking absolute bollocks. If they’d just stop explaining it in overly simplified terms which still don’t make sense, we’d get to the result much faster.
If CSI: Cyber had debuted alongside its cooler older brother some fifteen years ago, when cyber-hacking was still a thing in Hollywood to make sci-fi movies from, you could at least forgive all the needlessly complicated and sometimes just plain wrong language, but all these years later it just comes off as cheesy and not interesting. And who even thought Cyber was a good suffix anyway? Actually, scratch that – it’s clear just from watching the programme that they’re painfully behind the times.
One to avoid – unless you really like CSI, especially when Ted Danson’s character joins for season two.