Since its debut in 2000, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which depicts the crime-solving work of Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and his team of smart criminalists in modern-day Las Vegas, has inspired a large and loyal fan following, won critical acclaim and ratings success internationally, and has spawned spin-offs set in Miami and New York and numerous imitations.
Steven Cohan's insightful study of CSI introduces the show, its main characters and stand-out features, such as the role of science, the distinctive use of colour, and the unexpected, often bizarre crimes. Cohan makes a case for the series' classic status, arguing that it has been responsible for the 21st-century reinvention of the cop show in a fresh mutli-faceted setting while also offering a more intellectual model of detection.
Cohan examines the status of evidence in relation to truth and justice, using the story arc involving the Blue Paint Killer as a main example, and assesses the series' impact through the much discussed 'CSI effect'.
He addresses the series' visual style, the attention to both cutting-edge forensic technology and CGI close ups to represent the effects of weapons on the human body, and goes on to consider the series' locale, in which the fantasy delights of the new Las Vegas exist alongside echoes of its gangster-ridden past, and crimes bring out the contrast between the flashy spectacle of the Strip, suburban Clark County and the arid landscapes of the Mojave desert.
Cohan analyses CSI's consistent questioning of identity and 'normality' in the numerous episodes that feature subcultural groups, and questions if mainstream success has affected the show's edginess, particularly as it approaches a future without the key character of Grissom.