Review: 'CSI: Vegas' revival marks lackluster CBS grab for old glory

by 24USATVOct. 7, 2021, 3:40 a.m. 17
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The crime scenes are back. But not much has changed since 2000.

For 15 years, the forensic scientists of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" often literally dug up clues to Las Vegas murders. And their spinoff counterparts did so in New York, Miami and online ("Cyber"). The series were immensely popular on CBS, burnishing a reputation as the network of criminal procedurals that appealed to a huge, somewhat older audience.

The period during which the "CSI" franchise reigned victorious on broadcast TV has come and gone. Sure, cop shows are still popular: Just look at CBS' "NCIS" and "FBI" franchises. But as viewership has fragmented, the ratings game is played for far lower numbers than in 2004, when an episode of the original "CSI" could draw in 30 million viewers on a Thursday night.

Six years after it went off the air, "CSI" is back on CBS with a few old favorites, some fresh-faced newcomers in "CSI: Vegas" (premiering Wednesday, 10 EDT/PDT, ★½ out of four). It's still the forensic techs of the Las Vegas Police Department solving crimes with science, but by now most of the original characters have retired; only a few have been pulled back into the department to help track a criminal going after their own.

The best thing to be said about "Vegas" is that it's fine, familiar and easy to watch: There are images of dead bodies and plenty of techs wearing lab coats running cotton swabs through fancy machinery. The new crime lab is led by Maxine Roby (Paula Newsome), a no-nonsense former college basketball player. Her young team consists of the typical brand of attractive geniuses that populate the crime labs of this franchise, including the enigmatic Josh Folsom (Matt Lauria) and wunderkind Allie Rajan (Mandeep Dhillon).

More:CBS adds new 'NCIS,' 'FBI' and 'CSI' series in fall programming crime wave

When former LVPD Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle, of the original series) is attacked in his home, the crime-lab team investigates one of his old cases. Brass calls in friend and former colleague Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) to assist on the case. When it spirals out of control, threatening the very existence of the crime lab, Sara and Gil Grissom (William Petersen), stick around the department to investigate.

The first episode assumes a knowledge of the characters from the original to land its twists and surprises. You might find yourself reaching for IMDb, and then googling pictures of the cast now, 21 years after they were the fresh-faced kings of broadcast TV.

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"Vegas" mostly retains the structure from the original: The techs investigate one big crime and one smaller one each episode. But there is also a larger mystery to the series: Sara and Gil attempt to learn whether one of their former colleagues used his forensic know-how to plant evidence and frame suspects, or if he is the one being framed by an elaborate conspiracy of criminals trying to get their buddies out of jail. The setup for this season-long plot is so nonsensical and confusing that even the characters are doing logical gymnastics to justify their actions. It is both the hook that the revival relies on to justify its existence and the weakest part of the show.

Beyond the far-fetched plot, "Vegas" projects an overwhelming air of blandness and dullness. Everything about the aesthetics and the characters (new or returning) is tired and overly familiar. Those who really loved the original probably will enjoy the revival, but it's also possible that this particular nostalgia-grab is just too lackluster to entertain even the most diehard fans. Nostalgia alone doesn't make a good plot or compelling characters, and "Vegas" struggles with both.

Will the original forensics drama find itself the toast of the Nielsen ratings again? Surely it will make a dent, but "Vegas" is a revival CBS didn't need to gamble on.

More:Review: Serviceable 'NCIS: Hawaii' spinoff tries to be different and the same all at once

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