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March 13, 2007

CSI/Crime Show Cliches

Turn The Lights On, Asshole. Is there some protocol that forbids disturbing a crime scene with electromagnetic radiation? Apparently there is, because, especially on CSI, criminologists prefer stumbling around in the darkness to disturbing a simple light switch.

Even when a room actually has its lights on, for some reason it's so dark so permit flashlight-beams to be very visible as they slash across the room.

Oh, well. Flashlights in darkness look cool. But maybe they'd look cooler if they were only used once every three or four crime scenes instead of every damn show.

Worst offender: CSI.


Glass Is The New Black-board. I think this one started with A Beautiful Mind. Hack screenwriter Akiva Goldsman wanted to make his main character's mathematical doodlings more cinematic looking, so he invented the silly conceit of him writing equations out on windows and other glass surfaces.

Since then, writing on glass has become the rage -- at least on TV. No one has chalkboards or big pads of paper anymore. No one uses chalk or magic marker anymore. Now, whenever someone needs to write something out for a group, they wheel in these huge sheets of glass (mounted on steel roller-rigs) and write all over them with colorful waxy crayons.

Who the hell makes these enormous, expensive, potentially lethal sheets of glass, anyway? And where the hell are they storing these seventy-pound high-impact impeccably-clean slabs of delicate glass when they're not being used? Half of them don't even look like they'd fit in an elevator.

Worst offender: CSI: NY.


The Magic Computer. Apparently they think it's more cinematic to show a computer plotting out a 3-D map of the city than to show detectives pouring over paper maps -- and paper databases (also called "reference books"). So now anytime there's a situation where detectives have to figure out where a crime may have taken place, they just punch in the relevant limiting information into the Magic Computer and they get a kewl looking 3-D map of the city pinpointing the location they're looking for.

Pro: It is somewhat more dramatic and cinematic than showing people plot out locations on paper maps

Con: It's so fucking ludicrous it makes people laugh out loud (or LOL, for the computer-savvy set)

Worst offender: CSI: NY and CSI: Miami, tied.


We're Going To Explain To You This New Sexual Craze Called "Autoerotic Asphyxiation" For The Seven Billionth Time. It's sexy! It's deviant! It's deadly! It's all played out!

Yes, this was an interesting new kink fifteen years ago when we first learned of it on Law & Order. Or ten years ago, when Michael Hutchence of INXS killed himself by hanging himself while trying to get off.

But in 2007, not only has this been a manner of death in every single crime show ever made -- even those lasting just six or seven episodes -- it's now been a cause of death a dozen times on a long-running show like CSI. And yet every time they have to present it as if it's something new and edgy. Once in a while they'll try to freshen it up by giving us some cool new cop-lingo for it ("Ligature marks are light, indicating possible sexual choking." "Ah, she must have been a gasper."), but even that's old by now.

The fact is, more people have died of sexual asphyxia on TV cop shows than have even tried it in real life. It's time to give it a rest, don't you think?


Two Top-Flight Forensic Scientists Explaining Very Basic Principles of Criminology To Each Other, Even Though Both Obviously Know All Crap This Already. Very excusable, because you need some way of explaining to the audience what the hell is going on. The scientists themselves of course don't need to explain to each other what they're doing; but they do need to say it out loud for the non-scientist audience.

Still, there are times when this becomes a hilariously inept form of not-well-disguised exposition.

"Well you see Warrick, human blood falls into four general types..."

"Right, A, B, O, AB. I think I read that some place."

"Exactly. And there's a further type callled an Rh factor, which can be..."

"Negative or positive. It was a featured topic at last year's Southwestern Criminologists' Conference."

"Right. So, basically, if you're going down to the Red Cross to donate blood, it will save them a few minutes if you can remember your blood type."

"Got it. I'll look into my records."

"You may have it noted on something called a 'Donor Card.' In fact, I'm pretty sure you have one right now in your wallet."

(opening wallet) "Hot damn, I do. Thanks, Grisss."

"You know what the third most common blood type can teach us about inferring from the evidence, Warrick? Always be positive. Always. B. Positive."

(wipe/commercial break)

Worst Offender: CSI, but mainly because, unlike the other shows, they actually keep a focus on real forensics.


The Rookie Who Always Vomits In The Background To Show Us How Disgusting a Murder Is. Okay, in fairness, this one is so cliched no one does it anymore.

Still a classic.


Sometimes We Wear Gloves, Sometimes We Don't. And booties, too -- they make a big deal about "flat-foots" not contaminating crime scenes with their big dumb shoes and yet CSIs rarely bother to wear cloth booties themselves. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. They never explain why.

Worst offender: All of them, though I do notice Gary Sinise pretty much lives in his gloves. But not his booties, which are an optional fashion accessory.


The FBI Are A Bunch of Incompetent, Arrogant, Glory-Hounding Assholes, Unless The Show's About FBI Agents, In Which Case The Local Cops Are Incompetent, Uneducated, Defensive Pricks. In the entire history of fictional criminal investigation, there have been exactly zero recorded examples of federal and state and/or local law enforcement personnel cooperating colleagially in order to catch a murderer.

Worst offender: Every crime show, book, or movie ever made. CSI: Miami is particularly fond of this cliche, though, as it gives a whole new additional dimension into which David Caruso can project his slow-burn righteousness.


The Government Spends Exorbitants Amounts of Money Giving Its Civil Servants The Swankiest, Coolest-Looking Offices and Computer Monitors Possible. CSI: Miami's offices look like a tony corporate headquarters -- all sun-gleaming glass and polished steel, and, for some reason, a huge bronze honeycomb -- though the other shows do make their offices look like, well, offices.

But the government apparently spends billions of dollars each year giving the AV guys the most drool-inducing monitor arrays on the market. Not just one 52 inch flat screen high-def monitor, either-- no, for some reason, every computer geek on these shows needs that behemoth surrounded by a cloud of smaller, but still huge, sub-monitors. So that they can really, really have a good time while playing Unreal Tournament Online.

Worst Offender: CSI: Miami.


Need To Storm A Dangerous Criminals' Apartment? Don't Call SWAT-- Call the Lab-Geeks. For some mysterious reason CSIs and detectives -- who don't spend all that much time on weapons practice or tactics -- are almost always in the lead on a hot breach. Once in a while there are some armored SWAT types around, but usually they're hanging in the back, letting the detectives take the lead with their powerful .38 cal snub-noses.

Worst Offender: CSI: Miami, as usual, but to be fair, David Caruso is an actual GOD and therefore cannot be harmed by mortal weapons.


The Rule of Three Questions. You just have to ask a perp if he committed a crime three times before he makes a full confession without so much as a sentence reduction being offered.

This was parodied in Austin Powers. But it actually happens, every single week, in CSI: Miami.

All David Caruso has to do is snap off his sunglasses for that crucial third prompt and the perp spills everything. I think I've seen like three people, total, ask for a lawyer on CSI: Miami.

CSI avoids this one: people never confess unless confronted with overwhelming evidence (n which case the confession is irrelevant).

CSI: NY is somewhere in the middle.

But on CSI: Miami? The Sunglasses of Justice always compel a truthful answer, like Wonder Woman's lariat.

There's No Such Thing As A Bad Button. Okay, they all do this. You just can't cut to a commercial break without a sardonic remark or "funny" little pun.

Worst offender: Is there really any doubt?


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posted by Ace at 03:42 PM

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