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Desperate Measures

Returning dramas up the emotional ante in lieu of good ideas. Plus, Crusoe and Crash.

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Illustration by Rodrigo Corral  

With her usual ambivalence, Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) came back to Gil Grissom (William Petersen) for a couple of weeks to start the new season of CSI in tumultuous Las Vegas. Yes, her return was motivated mostly by solidarity and grief—her former colleague Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) had been murdered by a fellow cop in a seedy alley. But she also ended up in bed with her old boss Gil, the anal-retentive bug-man. And in this bed her ambivalence was apparently contagious. Sara is already gone again, and we’re told that Petersen himself will leave the show in January, after almost a decade.

Some sort of reshuffle and new deal were to be expected from dramatic series worried we might have ceased to care about their characters after last year’s strike-shortened season. Afflicting those characters with traumas, or blessing them with babies, or making them suspects in cases themselves, are tried-and-trite speedball-narrative booster shots. (Maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems to me that some of the striking writers may have spent some of their down time actually reading. What else explains references this fall to On the Origin of Species, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Paradise Lost?) You and I would probably prefer that cops keep their emotions to themselves and just do their sanitation jobs, but upping the ante of family feeling in the work environment is a favorite option of producers.

And this time, at least, such nesting chimes with our terrible season. The collapse of capitalism and the divorce of Madonna leave all of us a little shaky. We huddle around the family hearth—the plasma screen—hoping for a heartbeat. Thus it’s not enough, on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, that Lena Headey’s character protect her son, John, from the evil future; she has so much excess Supermom that she picks up an endangered child and reads him The Wizard of Oz. Surely it’s only a matter of minutes before she realizes she will have to mother the robotic teenybopper Cameron (Summer Glau) as well. Cameron has started to have feelings. Cameron is bewitched by the Christian cross. Next stop: anorexia.

Thus, as well, Numb3rs, where the sibling rivalry between Don (Rob Morrow), an FBI agent in Los Angeles, and his younger brother Charlie (David Krumholtz), a Cal Sci math whiz only too eager to hand the Feds a brand-new algorithm, has metastasized into a national-security scandal. Charlie is out in the cold and can’t stand just teaching; Don’s job is twisting in the wind; their father (Judd Hirsch) has lost his chess-playing girlfriend. Over at Bones, where the writers should be ashamed of themselves for what they did to child prodigy Zack (Eric Millegan) in the ludicrous last-season closer, holographic artist Angela (Michaela Conlin) has broken up with trust-fund entomologist Hodgins (TJ Thyne), while the forensic anthropologist Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and the FBI agent Booth (David Boreanaz) consummate their relationship in intimate sessions with a shrink. On Cold Case, Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris), the Edith Piaf of Philadelphia homicide detectives, finally has a boyfriend with a sense of humor to help her through her weekly rounds of racism, homophobia, and abortion-clinic bombing.

All the wives in The Unit have been whisked away to a different town, in one case leaving a sick child behind, ostensibly because of terrorists but maybe because they need something else to worry about besides their Delta Force husbands. There are indications that James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) might divorce Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) on House. And by now we should know that anybody in the cast of CSI: Miami can die at any time except David Caruso, who only pretended to last May. This includes his undercover brother. I’ve decided not to worry about his son in prison, or his ex-wife, a plywood Elizabeth Berkley, or his totemic sunglasses, to semaphore a gnomic apothegm. His writers get worse by the week.


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