Arrogance no longer holds David Caruso's face taut. When CBS' "CSI: Miami" premiered six years ago, it hinged on the swagger of Caruso, who had left "NYPD Blue" some years before in an attempt to become a film star, only to find himself back in blue.
But the years have weathered his character, Horatio Caine, to the point now where even his signature moves -- the removing and replacing of his sunglasses, the blunt puns so mercilessly mocked in any number of YouTube mash-ups -- lack their original luster.
Franchise producers were a little wiser in their unveiling of Gary Sinise's Mac Taylor, the alpha cop on CBS' "CSI: NY," which airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Unlike Caine, Taylor has fewer notable tics and more of a reliable affect. He's stiff and slightly abrasive, with a soft, chewy center -- not unlike the city itself.
This week, "CSI: Miami," which airs Mondays at 10 p.m., celebrates its 150th episode, and "CSI: NY" will broadcast its 100th. Together with the original "CSI," now in its ninth season, they make for one of television's marquee franchises, on a par that includes only "Law & Order" and its myriad spinoffs.
The original "CSI" has been admirably consistent over the years. Its anchor tenants -- William Petersen as Gil Grissom, Marg Helgenberger as Catherine Willows -- have provided the show with focus even with sometimes ludicrous story lines. In the beginning, it didn't seem that the protagonists of either "CSI: Miami" or "CSI: NY" would have the seriousness to pull off the same task. The former felt bathed in light and was oppressively shiny -- you almost had to squint to watch it. By contrast, "CSI: NY" was hopelessly dark, the city rarely breaking out of blues and grays; it was begging for a flashlight.
By now, both shows have regressed to the mean somewhat, without sacrificing too much of their DNA. And notably, neither one opted for a flamboyant celebration of their milestone episode, instead relying on their finely honed traits.
Of the two, "CSI: NY" has the more vivid result. In the episode, people with the name Mac Taylor are being targeted by a serial killer, leading the team to corral all the people in the city with that name in one room. Guest casting is impressive -- one is played by Scott Wolf ("Everwood," "Party of Five") and another is played by singer Chris Daughtry. For a fleeting moment, the result has shades of "12 Angry Men."
But as is often the case with this show, it's the (sometimes ham-fisted) inclusion of all of New York's local color that stands out. In this episode, Olafur Eliasson's public-art installation "The New York City Waterfalls" figures in the solving of the crime.
The rapper Nelly, who has a recurring role as a confidential informant, makes a joke about Staten Island. (The previous week, there were references to specific streets in the Rockaways, a beachfront community in Queens.) Most important, though, the episode feels like an actual mystery, a rare thing for a procedural, and an indication that there are still ways to tweak this increasingly tired format.
This week's "CSI: Miami" is less successful in that regard, though it's extremely useful as a window into the show's foibles. In the episode, about a baby snatching, Caine exhales heavily when making proclamations, as usual.
Last week, with a straight face, he called a crane that had been used in a crime "the biggest murder weapon in Miami." (He isn't alone in absurd dialogue. Last week another officer, Frank Tripp [Rex Linn], told a suspect, "You're looking at a permanent vacation, sport! At the Gray Bar Motel!")
But ever so slightly, Caine is being undone by time. He's hunched over now, looking more creepy than slick, and his righteous streak has all the gravitas of a late-period Steven Seagal film.
In this glistening city, he is a visible sign of decay.