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TV Reviews: Fresh cast, hit formula launch 'CSI: Miami'

Monday, September 23, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

CBS's "CSI" follows the path of NBC's "Law & Order," spinning off a series that's similar in theme and tone, but with new characters.

Fans of the original "CSI" will probably welcome a second opportunity each week to play armchair detective. It's easy to accept the new cast because most of them were introduced last season on an episode of the original "CSI."

 
 
"CSI: Miami"

WHEN: 10 tonight on CBS.

STARRING: David Caruso, Kim Delaney, Emily Procter

   
 

David Caruso stars as Horatio Caine, who has a penchant for bad puns ("You're really swinging now," he says when he finds a man hanged). New to the franchise is Kim Delaney, fresh off a plane from ABC's "Philly." She plays Megan Donner, former head of the unit who rejoins the team and now finds herself working under Caine.

Emily Procter, Southern Republican lawyer Ainsley Hayes on "The West Wing," retains her sweet accent as Calleigh Dusquesne, a ballistics specialist. Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander) talks to the deceased in the morgue while Tim Speedle (Rory Cochrane) works the street and Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez) dives for clues in Florida's waterways.

Tonight's premiere finds the team investigating a plane crash in the Everglades.

"Any object, any doubts, bag it and tag it," Caine says.

Simultaneously, Donner arrives and slips back into boss mode, barking her own orders. "The problem with the obvious, Tim, is that it can make you overlook the evidence."

If that dialogue sounds familiar, it's probably intended to. "CSI: Miami" is a carbon copy, for sure, but it's a copy of an efficient show millions of people enjoy watching.

The look of "CSI: Miami" is brighter in this first episode and supposedly the series will concentrate more on stories set during the day, leaving night shoots to the original "CSI."

The only other distinction is the cast. Caruso's always plays, well, Caruso, an intense guy whose low grumble of a voice quickens in pace when he's onto something. He's so soft spoken, it's almost shocking when he raises his voice at one point in tonight's episode.

Delaney is crisp and efficient, as always. The rest of the characters range from light and beautiful (Procter) to sullen and glowering (Cochrane).

Not that characters matter. In "CSI," a show without serialized plots, it's all about story.

'Half & Half'

 
 
"Half & Half"

WHEN: 9:30 tonight on UPN.

STARRING: Rachel True, Essence Atkins

   
 

"Half & Half" isn't as tawdry as some of its companion series in UPN's Monday night lineup. It's unoriginal and obvious, but it's at least a little amusing.

Mona (Rachel True) resents her half-sister Dee Dee (Essence Atkins), because Dee Dee grew up with their father and is a spoiled princess. Mona's mom (Telma Hopkins) reinforces that notion. Now the girls are living in the same San Francisco apartment building owned by their father.

Mona's indignant and behaves in ways that are contrary to her supposed intelligence and maturity. Dee Dee may be spoiled, but she's actually generous.

Each week the show will focus on the struggle between the two young women, territory executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser has mined before in "Living Single."

"Half" isn't a must-see, but it's not half bad either.

'The Guardian'

 
 
"The Guardian"

WHEN: 9 p.m. tomorrow on CBS.

STARRING: Simon Baker, Dabney Coleman

   
 

Coming off the dramatic, nerve wracking season finale, tomorrow's season premiere of the Pittsburgh-set legal drama doesn't have the same oomph, but the show and its characters continue to develop in believable, moving ways.

The episode begins with Nick Fallin (Simon Baker) in jail for drug possession and an alleged assault on the stripper Mandy (Jamie Anne Brown), who's now in a coma. Nick's father, Burton (Dabney Coleman) works to clear Nick's name, in the process meeting Mandy's daughter and Mandy's mother, Mary (guest star Farrah Fawcett).

As always, it's the relationship between Nick and Burton that takes precedence.

"Nicholas can't seem to unwind," Burton tells Alvin Masterson (Alan Rosenberg) over dinner. "You know, I don't think I've ever had a really big laugh with him. Ever."

"Do you ever unwind, Burton?" Alvin shoots back.

Executive producer David Hollander continues to reveal the characters, or in this case, use another character to state what's obvious to everyone but Burton: He's almost as emotionally closed as Nick.

Even early in its second season, Hollander, who wrote tonight's premiere (with Michael R. Perry), deploys the secondary characters with greater confidence. It took almost the entire first season, but Hollander now has a firm grasp on how to use the show's myriad characters, especially smiling shark Jake (Raphael Sbarge) and Nick's now-married love interest, Lulu Archer (Wendy Moniz).

In addition, the show's appearance has greatly improved. No more out-of-focus shots, "The Guardian" looks more polished. The budget has clearly been upped, both for the look of the show's interiors and the exterior shots of Pittsburgh, which are much greater in number and variety.

Many area communities get mentioned in the season premiere, including Dormont, Braddock, East Liberty and Mt. Lebanon. Fawcett's character works in a restaurant that looks suspiciously like an Eat 'N Park, though it's never named.

Viewers across the country will get to see the Pittsburgh jail with its wasted view of the river. Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side is also shown, but it doesn't portray itself. Instead it's called Pittsburgh County Hospital -- Pittsburgh County? -- and gets relocated to "near Oakland."

Seeing Pittsburgh landmarks is fun, of course, but the characters remain the show's heart, as they should.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

 
 
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow on UPN.

STARRING: Sarah Michelle Gellar

   
 

Buffy's back: Back to high school, back from a dreary season and back in fighting form with a season premiere written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon that's chock full of surprises.

After an unexplained opening chase scene in Istanbul (count on an explanation in future episodes), it's off to England where Willow (Alyson Hannigan) goes through the Wiccan version of rehab alongside mentor Giles (Anthony Stewart Head).

Back in America, Buffy's little sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) starts attending classes at the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) follows closely behind to ensure her safety.

It doesn't all make sense right away, but tomorrow's premiere sets up the possibility of an intriguing season.

"That's where we're going, right back to the beginning," says a villain out of Buffy's past.

After last season's disappointment, "Buffy's" beginning feels like a great place to be.

'Smallville'

 
 
"Smallville"

WHEN: 9 p.m. tomorrow on The WB.

STARRING: Tom Welling

   
 

The WB's Superboy saga continues tomorrow night right where it left off, with Clark Kent (Tom Welling) rescuing Lana from inside a tornado in a scene that's preposterous and cheesy. That's not new for "Smallville," a warm, thoroughly enjoyable character-driven show that has no qualms about descending into the corny.

A few bits of character motivation ring false in the second season premiere, but otherwise it's an hour of poignant moments, surprise twists and still more references to the Superman mythology.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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