Commentary: In America’s Idealized CBS Procedures, Cops Can’t Do Anything Wrong | Entertainment

You may not have noticed it, but the fall TV season has arrived, that time of year when broadcast networks are still producing production by rolling out new brands and models. CBS, which likes its new season to look a lot like its last, has added programs to its current three lines of what I consider Acronym Procedurals: “NCIS: Hawai’i,” which premiered on September 20; “FBI International” which bowed the next day; and “CSI: Vegas”, which is more or less a relaunch of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”, the first of this brood (also including “CSI: NY”, “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: Cyber” ) and debuted on Wednesday.

The new shows offer new twists while coloring themselves in the lines of the franchise. “NCIS: Hawai’i,” which announces its intention to be culturally proactive with an apostrophe, makes heavy use of the tropical beauty and local customs of the 50th state – already exploited by network reboots of “Magnum PI” and “Hawaii Five -0 “- with a complement of” mahalos “and shaka signs, soju and lemongrass to keep things smooth between chase scenes and firefights. And in Vanessa Lachey, he has the first “NCIS” team leader who is not a white dude. In “FBI International” the landscape is European – Hungary, this bastion of rampant autocracy, is where our heroes camp, but they are a rapid response team that goes wherever they are needed when Americans or “American interests” are involved. (There’s a dog in it, which functions as a team member as well as a pet, which I think is new to one of these shows.)

And “CSI: Vegas”, although set on old ground, offers a new cast to returning players Jorja Fox, William Petersen, Paul Guilfoyle and Wallace Langham to join – under the command of another woman of color, Paula Newsome – in its improved version lab full of cutting edge gadgets that end in “scope” or “graph”. (Cops haven’t really struggled with budgets since, like “Kojak.” Even the cotton swab budget on “CSI” has to be substantial.)

Besides the basic business plan of taking something that worked in the past and doing it over and over again – the very definition of CBS, some would say, but certainly not unique to this network – franchising adds a sort of third dimension. It allows for crossover episodes, which bring these fictional worlds closer to ours, breaking not the fourth wall, so to speak, but the third: the one with a door, through which the characters can travel in a completely different spectacle. Most of these series come into the world through “stolen pilots,” where an episode of an established series introduces an upcoming spin-off; indeed, the opening episode of “FBI: International” concludes a sort of triple play that started on “FBI” and spanned “FBI: Most Wanted”.

Each franchise has its own character. Produced by Dick Wolf, best known for his “Law & Order” and “Chicago” series on NBC, “FBI” shows divide the difference between “L&O” naturalism, Dickensian social drama and action-oriented antics from other brands; sometimes, especially when Zeeko Zaki and Missy Peregrym are onscreen in “FBI,” it may only seem like a Jerry Orbach and Jesse L. Martin piece to piece together the facts. (As if to prove a point, the original “Law & Order” would be back for a 21st season, a dozen years after its cancellation.) The characters in this franchise are perhaps the most self-tortured, or can – just be more convincing.

The “CSI” series enjoys visual gadgets, arty framing and panning, and crossfades, rendering elements of a dried-up corpse or bringing a crime scene to life in retrospect. It’s the most disgusting of these franchises, the most likely to show you an open body mid-autopsy – the sort of thing once limited to second features on double-bill driving. The “NCIS” series, on the other hand, tend to be stylistically neutral, that is, they look like TV shows, made on a budget, with an emphasis on adventure and fun. team dynamics; it’s also the funniest of brands.

These procedures are the meat to the potatoes provided by CBS’s multicamera sitcoms. (You can gauge how conservative the network is, or its image, by the fact that every time someone out there puts on a single-camera comedy, it sounds insanely radical.) They’re basically at the point. Critical proof – reviews rarely cover them anyway – and so successful that even a stack of bad reviews can do them no harm. They do what they are made for; criticizing them would be like criticizing a stepladder for its color. Does it support your weight? Good.

These shows play on our desire to believe or uphold our belief in capable, reliable, idealistic, corruption-free, and outside politics or prejudice law enforcement. When bad apples threaten to ruin the barrel, they’re usually gutted and turned into applesauce at the end of the hour, unless it’s a two-part story or seasonal arc. . (Real-world news seems to be divided into stories of local, state, and federal agents doing their jobs, sometimes under pressure, or not doing their jobs, sometimes because of outside, outside, or outside pressure. inside the department.)

Indeed, their predictability is a feature and not a bug; these are shows for people who don’t like surprises other than the usual hopping-from-behind-the-door and that-dude-all along. Basically, it is a matter of reassuring and conquering evil; the three-series script that launched “FBI: International” was a riff on Jeffrey Epstein as easy to read as the first line of an eye chart, with the notable difference that here the cops also had the merchandise on them. “politicians, businessmen [and] dot-com millionaires “who have filled his circle, or that of his successors, with sex trafficking and pedophilia. Go get them, fictitious wish-fulfills.

Diversity is on the minds of every producer these days, for both thoughtful and cowardly reasons, but this genre of programming also wants to deliver a vision of an ideal America – like the multi-ethnic crew in an old Second-Year movie. World War, but with people of color and women added. As a sort of corollary, the local police forces in “FBI: International” always screw things up with their jurisdictional claims, incompetence or corruption, instead of just letting Americans do their own thing in Budapest or Zagreb or elsewhere. . . (Asked by Europol Liaison Christiane Paul if her team is accompanied on a raid by local police, the jaw-clenched leader Luke Kleintank replies: “No, but they are in our thoughts.”) The arguments on jurisdiction. are common to procedural stories, of course, but that’s a bit of a flaw nonetheless.

All of them find room for domestic drama, and workplace drama that spills over into domestic drama, and is its own kind of domestic drama anyway. As with any TV show with an ensemble cast that lasts a certain amount of time, viewers themselves become part of the team, invested in its dynamics if they cannot participate. (Like a ghost!) Fans come to cherish certain relationships and rhythms between the actors – Petersen and Marge Helgenberg sharing a pair of reading glasses as they walked into a casino reading a file on the original “CSI” is one of the sweetest things I have seen on TV. But the format is superior to the characters, who tend to represent relatively few well-defined types: the cool-headed pro, the ambitious newcomer, the eccentric pathologist, the eccentric but often cute tech genius. (No one is less than good at their job, and the evidence is being developed at lightning speed.) For variation, you can just take some extra adjectives in a hat or give them the Mad Libs style: back, really. whatever comes to mind.

And really, there is no reason for these marks to run dry. Just add a new city to the title like they do on “Real Housewives”, and you’ve got your next show: “NCIS: Poughkeepsie”, “FBI: Sioux Falls”, “CSI: Seattle”. You can Mad Libs the rest.



Rating: TV-14-LV (may not be suitable for children under 14 with warnings of foul language and violence)

Where to watch: 10 p.m. ET Monday on CBS



Rating: TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under 14)

Where to watch: 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on CBS



Rating: TV-14-LV (may not be suitable for children under 14 with warnings of foul language and violence)

Where to watch: 10 p.m. ET Wednesday on CBS


(Robert Lloyd has been a Los Angeles Times television critic since 2003.)

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