CSI: Catherine Still Incompetent?

Visitors to the lair know that when I’m devoted to a show, I’m in it to win it until the very end. I’ll even follow you into continued “seasons” in book form if I’m really into you (which reminds me: I need to finish the “eighth season” of Deep Space Nine before I completely forget the first three books from the run). It’s no surprise, then, that I have continued to watch the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation through every bump and dip the show has seen in recent years. And, even though I confess to no surprise from the announcement earlier this year that CBS had cancelled the series after 15 years, I still felt a pang of loss. This show has meant a great deal to me for myriad reasons—so much so that, even though it had become only a sliver of its former self, I mourned the inevitable loss of the comfort I took from its familiar presence in my life.

It was, therefore, with no small amount of sadness that I tuned in this past Sunday to watch the final 2-hour movie that CBS green-lit to wrap up story lines and give fans one final Vegas hurrah. The final movie was, indeed, written almost exclusively for those of us who had watched the show with any sense of religious devotion. It was all about the characters, as it had become within recent years (much to my dismay, TBH). They brought back numerous characters, including Detective Jim Brass, “fan favorite” Lady Heather (who I found entertaining at first, but then quickly found irritating), and one-time show stars Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows.

Clearly, from the title of this post, I’d like to focus primarily on Catherine Willows as well as, more generally, how CSI ultimately failed many of its female characters as well as its female fans. I charge that its biggest failure in this regard, however, was to Ms. Willows.

csiwillows

When the series began in 2000, Marg Helgenberger and William Peterson clearly were marketed as the stars—sort of the Scully and Mulder of the forensic world, with the sassy headstrong redhead and the nerdy-hot socially awkward loner. As the series got its footing, it became more and more clear that, while Grissom was the technical leader of the team (read: He was the one making the bucks and getting all the attention), Catherine was the engine that made the operation run. However, there was a far less progressive message being conveyed in the depiction of Catherine’s “behind the scenes” role. She wasn’t in charge, but everyone on the team, including Grissom, depended on her to keep everything on track—paperwork completed, assignments passed out, reviews given, etc. In essence, in addition to being a high-ranking and capable CSI, Catherine Willows was Gil Grissom’s administrative assistant, taking care of all the clerical duties that Grissom felt were not what he should be focusing on.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with anyone who performs clerical tasks. There isn’t even anything wrong with setting up a scenario in which Grissom is completely inept at such tasks and Willows steps in to provide him the support he needed to keep the team on-track. What was wrong, however, was the turn of events that started at the beginning of Season 5, when the lab director decided to split up the grave shift, setting up Catherine as the new swing-shift supervisor in charge of Nick and Warrick. With Willows and Grissom separated, Grissom continued on as he always did, and no attention was paid any longer to his clerical ineptitude. He was simply the grave-shift supervisor. Period.

However, almost from the start, TPTB wrote Catherine Willows as unable to perform her supervisory duties with any degree of aptitude. She bungled cases, her team (two people previously under her supervision on the grave shift and previously possessed of respect for her skills and supervision) disagreed with her constantly, and the generally accepted presentation to viewers was that she was not suitable as the swing-shift supervisor. This was disappointing, of course, but also problematic. When the team was together, it was very clear that Grissom cared far more for cases, evidence, and investigations than in his supervisory duties. Catherine was the one who took care of all that, and Grissom trusted her implicitly. Plus, he trusted her implicitly as a CSI, often deferring to her as the next senior-ranking investigator on the grave shift. Nick and Warrick respected her as well while they were all on the same team. Splitting her away and making her their actual supervisor should not have changed any of what had already been established—should it? And yet, it did. The implication, of course, was that Catherine Willows could only be successful if she was supported by Grissom, who actually gave her no support at all. But clearly, she couldn’t handle all the things she used to handle without someone there to give her no help at all!

It was no surprise, then, that the next season brought them all back together as one team, Catherine once more serving as second to Grissom. Now, I get that this “breaking up the team” story arc was just a one-season ploy to begin with—something to stir up some controversy, shake the dust of familiarity off everything, and whatnot. What was frustrating was the fact that the ploy had to come at the expense of showing a previously capable member of the team fail so dramatically that no one even questioned her unspoken demotion at the beginning of the sixth season. Or at the beginning of the 12th season…but we’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve already gone off on a tangent about how CSI treated its female characters. And while some of my thoughts from that post have evolved with time, they’re still pretty on-target. However, what I point to from that post is the fact that Jorja Fox and Marg Helgenberger were the ones to call for a truce between their characters. They saw the value of ceasing and desisting with the continuation of discord between Willows and Sidle. It’s just one of the many reasons that I admire both of them. Of course, the writers’ solution? Stop having Willows and Sidle interact. Instead of climbing out of their clear comfort zone of supporting the notion that women cannot work together in the same collegial way that male characters often do and writing Willows and Sidle into two representatives of a new idea…a fantastic idea…the amazing notion that women can work together without sinking teeth into each other, figuratively or literally…they just gave up on having the women interact at all unless they had to. And usually? It was to spark some kind of fight between them that required male intervention to solve.

Again, all part of the process of pushing stories forward, but it’s trite. It’s demeaning. And it reflects the perpetuation of a misconception that deserves to DIAF. Women work together all the time without fanging each other or deceiving each other or betraying each other or just in general hating each other, “because women.” I do it every day. Even better, my female coworkers and I can pass the Bechdel test with almost every single conversation we have—something that, even by the last episode of a 337-episode run, Willows and Sidle failed almost completely.

But I digress. This is about CSI Willows. Fast-forward from the sixth season demotion to William Peterson’s departure in the middle of the ninth season and Catherine Willows’s subsequent promotion-by-default to head of the grave shift. Again, a shift she’s been helping to run for many years, supervising people she’s worked with for years—she’s got this. Right? And yet, at the beginning of Season 10…the beginning of Season 10, when Catherine Willows has barely been in charge for half a season, we learn that one of her staff has left after filing charges against Willows, for what? Incompetent management.

Again, the writers needed to cover the fact that an actress they’d cast the previous season either left or they let go because the character wasn’t working, but notice how this is the second time they’ve made Catherine Willows incompetent to fix the flow of the story? Sara even tells Catherine, in one of those delightful yet sadly rare moments when these two characters interacted amicably, that she’s a great CSI and that “the only thing that Grissom had that you don’t, is you.” (P.S., this was yet another instance in which Sara and Catherine also failed the Bechdel test, because apparently the only way these two could see eye-to-eye was if they first discussed Sara’s relationship with Grissom…but we’ll get to that in a moment as well).

[Loba Tangent: By the way, this could have been an incredible moment in which the writers decided to make Sara Sidle the second-in-charge to Catherine Willows, thereby having two women in supervisory roles. Can you imagine? Instead, they had Catherine make Nick Stokes her second-in-command. Look at there: Catherine Willows, supported yet again by a man. Surely, she’ll be successful this time!]

So was Sara lying? Or was it simply the fact that the writers at some point decided that the best way to fix major story changes was simply to make Catherine Willows the default incompetent scapegoat? Don’t believe me? Head on over to the beginning of Season 12. Laurence Fishburne had decided that serial television was not to his liking so he departed, to be replaced by Ted Danson. Arriving as D.B. Russell, Danson’s character quickly was established as, what? The grave-shift supervisor. Apparently, being He Who Was Sam Malone trumps the status of the woman who has been on the series since the beginning, and once again Catherine Willows becomes too incompetent to lead.

What’s even worse is that this time her incompetence stems partly from her emotional response to actions that took place at the end of the previous season—actions that a few of the male characters were complicit in carrying out for equally emotional reasons. But it was Catherine Willows who fell and served in demoted silence for all of one season before Helgenberger finally called it quits and left the realm. At least they replaced her with another woman when they brought Elisabeth Shue on as CSI Julie Finlay. Strangely enough, Shue didn’t get to become the head of the team. You’d think that being an Oscar-nominated film star would trump being Sam Malone. Guess not.

Jump, jump, jump ahead to the end. Catherine Willows returns in her new capacity as a field agent for the FBI’s Los Angeles office. Incompetent as a state employee? Don’t worry. The federal government has got you covered, bae!

Seriously, though. By the time Helgenberger left the show, the writers had written the character of Catherine Willows as someone whose personnel file was so riddled with problems that she should have been shipped back to the strip club where she started. And yet, they felt it was appropriate to send her off to the FBI? Forreals?

Right.

So Willows comes back to help during a time when Sara Sidle, by dint of reason that she’s literally the last remaining original CSI left (even though she didn’t appear until the second episode), oh and the show is ending, is up for consideration as the director of the crime lab. WHO’S THE BIG DAWG? Winning by default is still winning, AMIRITE?

Never mind that she’s up for a job that we will never get to see her actually work. No, scratch that. That’s one of the things that really pissed me off about seeing Sara Sidle up for this huge promotion. Pardon my language, but big fucking deal. Why didn’t the writers consider her for the promotion when they decided to demote Willows a third time? You want to give these women reason to fight? There would have been your reason. You know, because women never support each other in the workplace. Instead, she’s not up for any kind of promotion until the last episode. A promotion that she gets (spoilers) and then just as quickly gives up (spoilerz) because love interest is love interest and nothing more. Sara Sidle was always meant to be, first and foremost, Gil Grissom’s love interest. All that time that Sara Sidle was on the show after Grissom left? Well, none of that counted. All those cases she worked and victims she helped and suspects she put away. Meaningless. Everything about her was meaningless until Grissom could return and woo her away once more.

So who became the director after Sara rode off into the sunset with her Prince Charming (literally, spoilers)? The intimation was…it was Catherine Willows. Third time’s the charm? Again, though, big fucking deal. Not only do we not get to see Director Catherine Willows, we don’t even get to see her take the role. It was far more important to see Sara Sidle give up everything to fulfill her ultimate destiny as “Gil Grissom’s love interest.”

Wow. That’s a lot more than I anticipated writing. And yet I barely scratched the surface. Not to say that the show didn’t have great female characters. It honestly had many wonderful female characters come and go through the years. For instance, Julie Finlay was a fascinating character—you know, up until the point where they had her beat into a coma by a serial killer, stuffed into a trunk, and then confirmed as dead in the last 10 minutes of the final episode.

Whatever.

Why does any of this matter? After all, it’s just a show. Just a show that not only ran for 15 years but inspired the creation of at least a dozen knockoffs, including three spinoffs. A show that helped change the course of television in highly influential ways. And yet, when TV Guide dedicated a cover to Helgenberger and Fox? This was the photo they felt was most appropriate:

margjorjakneeswtf

Nothing like women on their knees, eh?

Oh, and if you’d like to dress like a CSI for Halloween? Better just put your own costume together, because this is what you’re going to find in the stores:

ladycsicostumewtf

Positive representation matters. If you think it doesn’t, then you probably are lucky to belong to a group that has never had to worry about any kind of representation, either in the media or in reality. To everyone else, it’s a big deal. CSI made a huge impact in many positive ways, but it also missed the opportunity to make the same kind of impact on how women are depicted in popular culture. They could have taken the character of Catherine Willows and made her an example of a woman who brought herself up from a life she no longer wanted to lead to a life that could have inspired. Instead, she was Catherine Willows, forever destined to make poor professional and personal choices and never ever ever learn from any of them. She—and we—deserved better.

There’s still hope, even in this particular franchise. Patricia Arquette is the lead in CSI: Cyber, which returns this upcoming Sunday. Of course, Ted Danson is shifting over to that show now that the Vegas crew has investigated their last crime. So help me, if he somehow ends up bumping Arquette to second-banana, hell will truly have no fury like Loba unchained.

Go ahead. Try to demote me again.
Go ahead. Try to demote me again.

Sugar and Spice and Everything…Catty?

Today’s EXTREMELY long-winded feminist rant will be brought to you by the letters C, S, and I. You have been warned.

Have you ever seen the first interaction between CSIs Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle? No? Let me share:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOLg3RWL9DU&w=480&h=390]

Not the most welcoming of people, that surly CSI Willows (just look at the video clip description: “Bitchy & Rude Catherine”). In Catherine’s defense, I should point out that Sara Sidle was originally brought onto the Las Vegas team to investigate one of their own for his role in the death of another investigator. She was an interloper, brought in to suss out the possible guilt of one of Catherine’s closest friends on the job. Not exactly the best setup for a warm and fuzzy friendship.

However, this animosity between our two heroines not only lingered, it evolved…or, rather, devolved into a series of biting comments, veiled insults, and out-and-out vitriol. True, some of it stemmed from personality differences. Catherine as originally created had a world-wise brusqueness to her, not necessarily spiteful or cruel, but direct and sharp. Sara, on the other hand, arrived with a quirky, nerdy sensibility and equal doses of naivete and a “black or white, no gray” outlook that often set her apart, not only from Catherine but from others on the team.

They weren’t the only ones on the team who had disparate personalities. Warrick Brown and Nick Stokes as first conceived shared very few commonalities. Our introduction to them also showed them vying against each other for a promotion. Yet right from the start they were still shown to share a comfortable camaraderie, a friendly competitiveness that served to bring them together rather than set them on opposite sides of an ever-widening chasm. Not at all like the steadily increasing animosity shared by our lovely ladies of the pink printing powder. (For the record, I love this scene for the fact that this is one of the rare moments from the show’s early days that showcases the previously mentioned contrasting characteristics of both women in a wonderful albeit short comedic moment.)

It’s not just this loopy lupine who noticed this decidedly disappointing development default in the relationship shared by Catherine and Sara. In this PopGurls Interview, Jorja Fox had the following to say:

You’ve said that the CSI writers and producers are really kind. That if there’s someplace you don’t really want to go with the character, you can talk to them, and generally they’ll change the course or direction. When was a time that you brought up a path w/the producers that you didn’t feel comfortable with for Sara?

There have been a couple of times over the years. The first one that comes to mind—very early in the show, the writers had wanted to create a real solid tension between Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle. They started off right away that we would lock horns and that this would be a theme that would go throughout the show. Marg [Helgenberger, who plays Catherine] and I talked about it and we both felt that, since we were the only women on the show at that time, to have [us] fighting each other and jockeying for position was an area that we were hoping that [we didn’t have] to go. We wanted actually to work well together—we could still disagree on things from time to time. Certainly Sara and Catherine are very different people and they go about things differently but we didn’t want to set a tone that would last throughout the show. We went to the writers and they were kind enough to pull back on that which was great.

I felt more passionately about potential for camaraderie coming from these two women being so different instead of the opposite.

Two sharp women are better than one...

Kudos to Jorja and Marg for putting their feet down to character choices that would have done nothing but continue to substantiate a dismal stereotype of women in the workforce. Sadly, however, as with most stereotypes, this particular one grows from a kernel of truth.

Admittedly, I’m little more than an armchair sociologist, but I have noticed something about the way my generation was conditioned as young girls that is both distressing and highly counterproductive. First, a confession: During my formative years, I probably spent more time interacting with boys than I did with girls. But that’s because the boys were all into fun things like riding bikes or playing football, and they had cool toys like G.I. Joes and Transformers. The girls all wanted to play house and put diapers and frilly dresses on grotesque plastic effigies that to this day haunt my darkest nightmares. I really, really hate babydolls.

That being said, I learned from an early age that interacting with boys is a much different experience from interacting with girls. Boys are rough and brash and to the point. If they say something that another boy doesn’t like, there will be a confrontation. It might get physical. But they get it out of their systems and they move on. They’ve also got your back. If you’re their friend, you’re in their pack, you’re on their team. And boys are taught from a very early age about the dynamics of teamwork.

Teamwork was still a foreign term for a lot of the girls my age. Title IX had already made its initial impact for opening up to the fairer sex the world of high school and college sports, but I believe that the concept of girls viewing other girls as teammates was still a holistically foreign concept for my generation. Why?

Because our greatest influences in character development were our own mothers. And our mothers grew up in a time well before when girls would take to the courts and baseball diamonds the way the boys were always able to do. The only viable competition available for these preceding generations of young women was for the sole prize that they were ever allowed to strive for: the ideal husband. Even my own mother saw a future in which her biggest expectations for me concluded with marriage and motherhood.

Don’t worry. I shuddered a little bit, too, just then.

You don’t get a husband through teamwork. You get it by being the last woman standing…and you stay standing by whatever means are at your disposal.

Is it any surprise, then, that when our predecessors began finally transitioning in larger numbers from housewives to working girls, they carried these same “values” with them into the workforce? We didn’t have the sports-based team ethics that the boys had. Hell, we didn’t even get the Godfather‘s rules of “It’s not personal, it’s business”! Instead, we were taught that the best way to play the boardroom game was to steal our secretary’s ideas in order to retain our sole seniority status AND gain the attention of the alpha male protagonist.

[Loba Tangent: Seriously, what kind of fucked-up message was Working Girl trying to convey? That women can’t work with each other unless they’re on the same low-level rung of the corporate ladder with no aspirations for climbing higher? That women who do make it to higher positions shouldn’t be trusted because they’re not going to try to help other women make it as far as they have? Instead, they’re going to use whatever means are necessary to ensure that they hold their competition as far down as they possibly can? Yeah, Sigourney Weaver met a perfectly Hollywood ending…but the movie still propagated stereotypes about women in the workforce that made me cringe almost as much as Baby Boom. But that’s a completely different tangent…and this post is already too long…]

Am I guilty of offensive generalizations and of propagating the stereotypes that I claim to loathe through this post? Perhaps. I am proud to say that I’ve been lucky to have worked for some amazingly progressive female supervisors. They’ve encouraged me, they’ve depended upon me for the skills I can bring to their team, and they’ve never been duplicitous in their dealings with me. I wish I could say this was the way it was across the board, both for my own experiences and for the experiences of all women in the workforce. However, I can’t. I daresay neither can most women my age.

The sad truth is that too many generations of women have long been conditioned to view the same sex as competitors that must be eliminated, not as teammates. But is it still this way? Are today’s young girls still being taught to view others of the same sex as the enemy, competition to be vanquished whether it be for that amazing job promotion or for the old-school brass ring of marital bliss and motherhood? I should hope not. Then again, it’s my generation that is now in the parental driver seat…and this was how we were raised. Will they pass along harmful lessons to the next generation? Or, like Fox and Helgenberger, are they going to say enough to petty stereotypes that do nothing but divide and weaken us, not only as a gender but as a society?

Dipthong

I don’t know why, but I’ve had the word “dipthong” stuck in my head for about a week. This post really won’t have anything at all to do with the word…although perhaps it does. This will be a bit of a dual-toned entry—equal parts whimsical and serious. That pretty much sums up my current state of mind. I’m sure I won’t need to tell you that by the time you’re finished here. If you finish, that is. This one’s a rambler, denizens.

So I’ve been cheating on you all. With other blogs. Yes, that’s right, I said blogs. With an “s.” I’m not telling you anything else. I don’t want these other blogs to feel your wrath over my infidelity. They’re good blogs and they know nothing of the lair. Well, one of them does. But that’s a long story. Oh, and to make matters worse? I get paid to do one of them. That’s right…I take money for blogging. Do you feel dirty now? You should. You mingy little monkeys. You like it when I talk to you like that though, don’t you? Don’t you?!

Oh dear.

I don’t really know what the hell is going on with me right now. Things have been random parts chaotic and stressful in my life for so long that I think it’s starting to wear me down. Things are finally starting to level off…but the damage is done. And, yes, denizens, there is damage. I simply can’t tell you about it. Professional lines of scrimmage and all that, you know.

You gotta keep on spinnin’ around—
Never let your worlds collide
‘Cause if we all start talkin’ there might
Be nowhere for you to hide

Ain’t that the truth.

Two evenings ago, we were on a walk around the neighborhood and this beautiful black dog came bounding down the street toward us. I swear to you on my life, had she had a white stripe on her chest and one blue eye, she could have passed as my Jodie Girl. Everything else about her was perfectly, precisely Jodie: her size, her head shape and her floppy ears, her multicolored fur with the black overcoat and brown/gray undercoat, the way her tail curled back toward her body in a fluffy “O”…but more than this, the mannerisms were spot-on. The way she ran like a bullet, barely able to come to a stop before jumping up at me with fluffy soft paws. The sound she made as she ran: this steady chuffing that made her sound like a furry little engine-that-could. The way she pranced and turned when her owner tried to grab her collar to put her back on her leash. Jodie was always a clown, my little “bo-bo dog,” and she thought everything was a game and everyone wanted to play with her. This dog seemed to think the same thing.

I really don’t think I’m giving this the proper weight it holds in my heart, but everything about this dog was Jodie. Things that I don’t even know how to capture in words…some ephemeral essence that maybe only I could sense. But it was her, denizens. It was her.

I know that more than likely Jodie would have been gone from my life by this point in time anyway, had she not been taken from me by cancer. After all, 14 is pretty old for a dog her size. But seeing this dog just brought all the…missing right back to the forefront. As if I need to be reminded that there are multiple pieces of my life puzzle that I can’t seem to stop missing.

Even my subconscious mind seems hell-bent on reminding me. This morning my alarm cut into a dream-in-progress in which I’d witnessed someone fire-bombing my parents’ house in the middle of the night (although, honestly, it looked more like the house from A Christmas Story, only it had a window in the shape of the Star Trek delta shield at the very top; seriously, this is what my dream world conjures for me). Suddenly, it’s daylight and I’m standing outside a black Denali…talking with Catherine Willows. I’ve just told her that my dad had to carry my mom out of the house while the firebombing took place, but he wasn’t able to walk to the hospital fast enough and the doctors didn’t think she’d survive. Willows’ response was something along the lines of “Her body couldn’t have survived much longer in its condition anyway; perhaps this is for the best.”

That’s the point where I woke up.

There was always a part of me that wondered if perhaps my previous CSI-related dream had something to do with my mom as well. Some sort of strange parable, an attempt by Sara Sidle to give me a message that I was too stubborn and too late to hear. CSI Willows’ message was a little less cryptic and a lot more upsetting.

Now I’ve associated both of my favorite CSIs with something sad. That’s not cool. Here’s a happy photo. Erase, erase, erase:

It’ll be a year this Sunday. For some reason I’ve fixated on the thought that after this Sunday comes the beginning of the time in which I can no longer think to myself, “She was alive at this point a year ago today.” Strangely, I could find some sliver of solace in such thinking. Soon, that sliver will be gone.

I miss my mom.

So do I, Admiral. So do I.

See? I told you: dipthong. Two tones. One high and one low. Always sounding in my head anymore.

Did I ever tell you that when I was in San Francisco last year, I made a special walk from our hotel just to take this photo:

It’s probably the touristiest thing I have ever done in my entire life. I got looks. It’s admittedly not the first time I’ve gotten “looks.” But still, it made me laugh.

Well, then. That’s quite an eyeful I’ve just dumped on you. And now I’m leaving you. “Lunch time” is over and I have professional obligations to which I must attend. I’ll be back. I have a book review. And I know that tomorrow is Flashback Friday. I’ve written myself a reminder. Honestly and seriously.

Now I just need to figure out what kind of Flashback to have…

BookBin2011: Never Suck A Dead Man’s Hand: Curious Adventures of a CSI

As if the title of Dana Kollman’s memoir, Never Suck A Dead Man’s Hand: Curious Adventures of a CSI, isn’t awesome enough, right in the introduction, I came across the following:

I don’t recall Gill Grissom [sic] responding to any “burglary” calls where the only evidence of the crime was a stranger’s turd found floating in the toilet, and when was the last time Catherine Willows came home after handling a decomp and found a dead maggot in her bra? Did Warrick Brown ever earn overtime because a junkie died after eating the living room sofa? And I must have missed the episode where Sara Sidle was directed to process a tree house for latent prints.

Okay, references to disgusting evidence and mention of characters from my current favorite show? Oh, CSI Kollmann, you indeed know how to get on my good side.

[Loba Tangent: See, I told you in my last book review, denizens: My CSI obsession isn’t going away any time soon. If anything, it’s getting worse. I’ve already talked about this obsession in more detail in a previous book review so I won’t go on anymore here. Suffice it to say, I do loves me some Vegas CSI. And I still want Sara Sidle on my desk. The action figure. Pervs.]

Seriously, though, if you’re a forensic nerd like I have obviously become, I highly recommend this memoir. Kollmann gives you a multifaceted, personal (and oftentimes extremely graphic) inside look at the real life of a crime scene investigator. Also, she was a CSI for the Baltimore Police Department, which means she gets bonus White Wolf points for being a resident of the Old Line State. True, there are a few chapters that I found myself reading and wondering why they were included, but holistically, this is a strong offering from someone able to give you a front row seat to some of the strangest and worst incidents you can imagine. And some that you would never even consider imagining. Like sucking on a dead man’s hands. More on that later…

I will say this, though: If you are easily offended by flippancy in the face of what most people would consider to be serious and horrific crimes, you might not want to read this book. Kollmann is very honest and upfront about the fact that she developed what many might consider to be an off-putting callousness toward the crimes and people she investigated, pretty much as a defense mechanism for having to deal with some of the worst that humanity has to offer.

It’s not all that surprising, but it is a bit jarring at times to read her rather whimsical takes on people and events that a non-CSI would find highly upsetting. I by no means hold this against her. I can’t imagine how a person could be a CSI without forming some kind of barrier between their humanity and the inhumane acts they investigate on a daily basis. I just thought that I would warn anyone about this fact before continuing.

One of the things that I found most amusing about Kollmann’s take on her former career is how she pointed out right upfront how unreal shows like CSI actually are and telling readers how she was going to show us the truth of what the life of a crime scene investigator is really like. She then went on to tell about cases that, in many ways, almost perfectly paralleled cases and actions depicted on this “very unrealistic” crime show.

I do understand her point, however. Watching CSI gives viewers a false sense that the evidence is always going to be there and that cases are always going to be solved by the science nerds (you know, because all those cops are just sitting around doing nothing). Oh, and those DNA results? They’re going to be ready and to you before that fresh pot of coffee is finished brewing in the break room.

Less-reasonable viewers then go on to be called for jury duty and sit on trials in which they think that everything is going to go down like it does on the TV. Nick Stokes is going to come in and give you the rundown on how ballistics matched the bullet fragments found inside the DB to a gun registered to the aunt of the guy who used to share a dorm room with the suspect on trial. And then Catherine Willows is going to give you the breakdown on the blood spatter evidence and how it speaks to the fact that the crime was obviously committed by a left-handed person with a limp and a slight Mediterranean accent…which perfectly fits the description of the suspect.

See? It’s a little ridiculous after all, that wonderful Vegas show.

Oh, and I know what you’ve been wondering ever since you started reading this review, and the answer is yes. Kollmann indeed explains the title of this memoir. And it is so very disturbing. And hilarious. Just like the rest of this book.

Final Verdict: This is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a long time (yes, I really am that morbid). And, really? The title alone makes me want to keep it, if only for the puerile joy of hearing people’s reactions when they see the title on the spine.

BookBin2011: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Companion

Are you getting the impression that I’m not really taking this year’s BookBin all that seriously, denizens? I do apologize for that. I have been reading a “real” book from my collection—an anthology that I bought at a charity book sale more than 10 years ago. The problem is that…well, the problem is that I hate the anthology. Whoops. Guess I’ve given away the fate of this one before I’ve even written about it. I do intend to finish it (it’s the principle, dammit!), but I needed to step away. It was too miserable an effort to keep reading it. Thus why I stopped for my last posted read and now this bit of silly fluff.

That’s a bit of a harsh summary of this book, though. True, the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Companion isn’t going to be placed on any college-level reading lists, but that’s not why I wanted this book. I wanted it because, apparently, CSI has become my new Trek.

[Loba Warning: This post is probably definitely going to be me geeking out about my obsession with CSI that in many ways rivals my obsession with Trek. So, really, if you don’t dig either, you might want to just skip this entry. Of course, if you don’t love Trek or geeking out in general, why on earth are you hanging out here in the first place?]

Makes sense if you think about it: Both are easily accessible franchises with multiple levels of tasty geekery, including numerous television iterations, video games, comic books, novels and other nerdy books, trinkets, baubles, fanfiction, fan videos, fan sites…the only thing that could possibly make me even happier about the CSI marketing saturation is if they released character action figures. Because honestly? My desk needs a Sara Sidle action figure.

True, in terms of deeper meanings and social commentary, CSI doesn’t scratch a patch on Trek storylines. However, there is something mesmerizing about all that puzzle solving. I still believe that I have a personality well-suited to being a CSI. Too bad there’s all that math and chemistry. I was lucky I made it through high school chemistry with my eyebrows intact. Damned Bunsen burners…

More than just television shows, though, these are my escape for when reality wears me down and I need respite. The stories are almost always engaging and the characters are comforting. Why? Because I can relate to them. For all their attempts at being cool, Trek and CSI characters are HUGE nerds. Like me. And that makes me think that I’d really enjoy hanging out with them if they were real people…okay, maybe not Deanna. Counselors make me uncomfortable anyway, but one who could read my emotional state? Not cool. And Catherine Willows would probably make me nervous as well. She used to be a stripper…and in a previous life, she was a prostitute who hung out with Dana Delany.

Anyway, I think the CSI characters win the cage match for the title of “nerds” though, what with all their antisocial tendencies or awkward attempts at social interaction…not to mention the universally-true-for-all-the-characters science skillz , obsessive puzzle-solving, and anal-retentive behavior regarding their kits and whatnot. Although, really, the characters from both shows could intermingle so well with each other. The Dancing Doctor and the ex-stripper could work blood splatter analysis together before hitting the clubs after shift…and Wesley and Greg might actually get along swimmingly in the lab…ooh, and Riker and Grissom could compare beard trimmers and Laren and Sara could see who had the worst childhood…

Okay, now I want CSI/TNG crossover fanfic. STAT.

What the hell is the point of this post? Oh, yeah. The book I just read. Like my Trek compendiums (which you can see in this photo of one of my geeky bookshelves), this is an episode guide fleshed out with fun facts, trivia, and general behind-the-scenes awesomeness from the set of the original Vegas CSI (the only version of CSI that I watch regularly). This guide only covers seasons 1–3, but those are some of the best episodes that this series has done.

[Loba Secret: Vegas CSI started to slip into a downward spiral around season 7 and hasn’t really found its way back to its former greatness. Does that stop me from tuning in every week? Hells no. Optimism or masochism—call it what you will, but I’m probably going to watch this damn show until it goes off the air. Even when it’s bad, it’s a bad I know and love. Besides, what am I supposed to watch? Reality television?]

I found myself loving and loathing this episode companion. First, the loathe. I expected something a little more high quality from Pocket Books. Not to say that the layout isn’t gorgeous. It is. Lots of shiny pages filled with colorful photos and groovy graphic layouts. The problem is in the editing…or the infuriating lack thereof. Lots of grammatical and spelling errors, including one that is a particular pet peeve of mine. One is not a real trooper about something. One is a real trouper. This drives me about as bat-shit crazy as people who write “tow the line.” Unfortunately, it’s all through this book and it stuck out each and every time I read it, like a sliver of glass in my retina.

Petty quibble? Of course. Then again, I’m a editer. I’m suppose to knowtice these things.

Also, a little fact checking and “on the same page” checking between the guide’s writers and the show’s writers might have been a great thing. I understand that this book came out early in the life of this show. I also understand (and actually quite liked) that this show was not originally a character-driven piece. It was heavily plot-driven, with character exposition coming in small, natural doses like how it actually happens in real-world work environments. If something was relevant to an episode plot regarding one of the characters, we learned that bit of personal information. Otherwise, we (and they) were all about solving the cases at hand. Therefore, character development was probably not something that they gave a whole lot of thought. Plot first, then characters.

All that being said, I kind of assumed that the creators and writers would have figured out certain things about their characters, in preparation for where cases might lead them and what we might learn next. Apparently, though, that hadn’t happened by the 2004 release of this book. Every single one of the character profiles had something startlingly and hilariously incorrect. Best one though? Sara Sidle apparently was meant to have loving parents, including a hippy feminist mother, who were concerned that their bookish daughter might be missing out on the fun of childhood by being so studious.

o_O

I laughed for about 10 minutes after I read that. Yeah, I’m that nerdy.

Beyond the absence of research and the massive editorial issues, there just seems to be a general lack of care all throughout…a lot of little mistakes, like Dr. Robbins being listed in his profile as “Albert Robbins,” but all of the accompanying identification badge graphics showing his first initial as “P,” that compounded to become quite distracting after a while.

Distracting enough to get rid of this book? Nope. I admit I’d probably feel a lot surlier if I had paid full price for this guide (thank the prophets I’m cheap and love Amazon Marketplace as much as I do). However, $5 for a 300-page guide filled with nerdy minutia, hilariously flawed “facts,” and oodles of pretty pictures from the only television show that I still watch? I think I can deal with all the errors and enjoy the fun stuff.

Final Verdict: It’s going to be a bit of a tight fit, but soon this guide will be nestled on my geeky bookshelf, right next to those sexy Trek companion guides. Now where are my CSI action figures? And my CSI/TNG crossover fanfic?