One of the biggest mysteries in "CSI: NY," the latest addition to the "CSI" palette from CBS, is how the two stars can hear each other when they mutter so softly in such a noisy town. Actually, Gary Sinise is usually audible in the role of Detective Mack "Mac" Taylor (any relation to Moe "Mo" Green?), but Melina Kanakaredes as Detective Stella Bonasera (doesn't that mean "good evening?") whispers up a hush.
Of course the show, premiering at 10 tonight on Channel 9, is super-slickly put together by Jerry Bruckheimer productions, but the "CSI" trademark is being so liberally applied now that this new entry comes across now and then as self-parody. When a medical examiner mentions that a young woman's corpse has a broken neck, we know we're going to see an X-ray view of neck bones breaking, crunch-crunch, in slow motion, and we do.
Similarly, when the details of a crime are recalled, then bangety-boom, we see them occur in blurry, overexposed photography accompanied by loud, crashing-bashing music. The show doesn't have flashbacks as much as crashbacks. And just after you've turned the volume up to hear what on earth Kanakaredes is saying to Sinise, you have to rush to turn it down again or be blasted out your front door.
The premiere's first 20 minutes or so has such a metronomic hush-bang-hush-bang rhythm that it becomes not only predictable but comical. Through all the noise and visual folderol, Sinise still manages to make Mack-Mac a real character -- a haunted and troubled man who, we learn late in the show, still mourns his wife, Claire, who apparently died on 9/11. Mack has disposed of all her belongings but one -- a beach ball, of all things. And why? Because it is filled with her breath.
Writer Anthony E. Zuiker isn't given time for very much touching characterization since he has to keep the bodies and clues coming and keep flashing back to the night this or that happened. New York appears to be facing the menace of a serial dumper; he dumps women's comatose bodies on garbage scows and such. The chief crime scene investigator has a big Mack-Mac attack when the Big Mackster notices that one of the victims has Russian dental work. How would he know that? He took some dental courses once, he explains.
The script hurls details at you whether they have any significance or not. When a woman is found among junk on a barge, a functionary of some kind notes that the barge is "about half the size of a football field." No! What an amazing piece of absolutely worthless trivia.
"Blink" is the title of the episode, and it's a very dramatic moment when one of the victims does just that -- indicating to Macky-Mac that she is still alive. He has a difficult conversation in which she answers questions with two blinks for yes and one for no. The women victims are "locked inside their own bodies," Mack keeps saying, and the script really doesn't make it clear enough what that means. The show is almost drowning in detail, minute detail, so that the basic plot line and its resolution are a chore to follow and figure out.
Sinise is an ideal actor for television because he can convey a great deal with a minimum of dialogue. Kanakaredes seems to be all about her hair. It's so big, you'd think she'd have to walk through doors sideways. Others in the cast don't get time to make solid impressions, but in coming weeks that could change.
"CSI: NY" certainly comes off as bleaker and darker than the other "CSI" dramas do, and the producers have promised it will be more character-driven than its brethren, which isn't very evident in the premiere but is good news if true. After all, a viewer can look at just so many microscopic blood droplets and poop particles before freaking out and running off in search of SpongeBob SquarePants or some other blessedly merry prankster.
Actually, "CSI" will be going up against "Law & Order," which means the biggest CBS drama franchise will be facing the biggest one at NBC. "Law & Order" is ancient, but unless there's some calamitous drop-off this season, has yet to appear tired. With all its whispering, bursts of cacophony and grimness, "CSI: NY" may be the more artful show, but it is also harder to watch. Sinise, fortunately, makes it worth the effort.
Scheduling dilemmas like this one are why TiVo was invented.
It took guts for ABC to name one of its new fall shows "Lost," since the hitless network itself has been wandering in the wilderness for months. Will "Lost" help save it? The show certainly tries hard, combining a kind of scripted reality show ("Survivor," mainly) with the thrills and chills of an old Saturday afternoon serial, for those of you old enough to remember what a Saturday afternoon serial was.
It was a "chapter play" that unreeled like a novel and kept the mostly young audience coming back week after week, no matter what the feature presentation was. Many of the serials took place in mysterious jungles with gorillas running amok and forever carting off the prettiest and screamiest girls.
There are, so far, no gorillas-gone-ape in "Lost," which premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 7, but there is, unfortunately, your proverbial Big Scary Monster lurking somewhere in the forest of a tropical island where a small crowd of plane-crash survivors are trying to survive each other. They are also trying to avoid the big scary monster, which remains off-camera during the premiere yet still manages to pull the pilot out of his crashed cockpit and eat him.
If the passengers are the usual "Bridge of San Luis Rey" cross-section of humanity, they don't come off that way. The bass player from a rock band talks with a British accent and manages to rescue his stash of cocaine from one of the plane's toilets (the crash came just before the flush). Matthew Fox, really the star of the show (and for years the nominal patriarch on "Party of Five"), takes command by virtue of being a doctor who knows how to care for the various wounds and traumas suffered.
One awesome babe thought ahead; she brought along a supply of flesh-colored and tight-fitting underwear, just perfect for eye-popping baths in the surf. There's also a big fat guy with frizzy hair who, mercifully enough, shows no sign of having brought any flesh-colored underwear whatsoever.
The episode begins with the survivors already on the island, but throughout the premiere -- and reportedly in the second episode as well -- we catch glimpses of the nightmarish plane crash (good grief, crashbacks again). In one of them, we see the tail portion break off and fly away into the distance. Anybody already afraid of flying -- surely the most rational phobia on earth -- will be truly unnerved by these special-effects displays, though producer J.J. Abrams saved money by not showing the exterior of the plane, just the inside.
"Lost" actually gives every sign of knowing where it's going and what it's doing. It's solid, suspenseful and fraught with frights. The Big Scary Monster may be a corny touch, but who's to say what does and doesn't exist on those mysterious uncharted islands where, for example, King Kong once holed up. "Lost" has the capacity to bring out the kid in adults and the adult in kids.
There'd have to be a guy named Travis in a show like "The Mountain," and there is. He and most of the other characters in this awful groan of a show appear to have wandered into the local cozy watering hole after having shot a big beer commercial out on the slopes. They have that blandly beauteous look of models who inhabit ads where everyone is active and laughing and full of life.
Unfortunately, life is not what "The Mountain" is full of. One of the season's worst new shows, this WB montage of cool cliches -- premiering at 9 tonight on Channel 50 -- proves that the song "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" should definitely not be taken literally. The mountain after which this series was named is, after all, "just a big rock," one of the characters notes -- a big rock with a pack of blockheads grasping for control of it.
In the opening scene, onetime TV star Chad Everett, looking white-haired but very fit, visits his heirs via a videotaped will and shocks them by leaving the family mountain -- now a "world-class ski resort" -- to the aforementioned Travis, who's considered among the least responsible and trustworthy of the group. But the geezer knew his oats, and his corn, and was sure Travis would rise to the occasion. About 10,000 feet or so.
"Baywatch" worked largely because its beauties and cuties scampered about in the equivalent of their underpants. Nobody is going to want to watch the comely cast of "The Mountain" as they bumble about in the equivalent of George Costanza's bulky Gore-Tex jacket on a certain funny episode of "Seinfeld." It makes you chilly just to watch the show, which may be okay during the last hot gasps of summer but won't be during the viciously icy winds of February.
The villain of the piece is a rich developer who wants to decorate the mountain with "condos and burger joints" and so of course must be stopped at any cost because ski lifts and snooty rich brats are ever so much prettier. It's easy to tell the good guys from the bad; the good guys have stubble and the bad guys are cleanshaven. Except that just about everybody shaves for the funeral.
Then it's back into that trendy face foliage again.
"Mountain's" surfeit of clothing may have some rankled viewers yelling, "Take it off!," but the excess of hokey old stuff you've seen a thousand times is more likely to inspire cries of "Turn it off," or the proverbial and very American equivalent -- a mantra, really -- "See what else is on."