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CBS couldn’t ask for better publicity for its new series. Recent Oscar winner Patricia Arquette stars in CSI: Cyber, and her impassioned equal-pay acceptance speech had people talking about the actress long after the Academy Awards were over. Too bad her new series isn’t as interesting as she is.
Arquette plays Special Agent Avery Ryan, a character she debuted last year on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Avery heads up the Cyber Crime Division of the FBI. As is typical in this type of crime drama, the characters exist merely to advance the plot and are given a series of quirks instead of an actual personality. Avery loves giant convenience store sodas and, like the characters on the short-lived Fox drama Lie to Me, can read micro expressions to determine someone’s innocence or guilt. As she’ll tell viewers at the top of every episode, Avery is a behavior psychologist whose confidential files were hacked, resulting in the murder of one of her patients.
Her second in command, Agent Elijah Mundo (James Van Der Beek), is fond of video games. (Side note: How old does it make you feel that Dawson is a divorced dad in the FBI?) Daniel Krumitz (Charley Koontz) and Raven Ramirez (Hayley Kiyoko) appear to be characters lifted directly from the network’s Scorpion. Brody Nelson (Shad Moss) is a criminal assigned to the division by court order because it “takes a hacker to catch a hacker.” They’re overseen by Assistant Director Simon Sifter (Peter MacNicol), whose main purpose seems to be telling the other characters that they’re running out of time and the situation is very serious.
The series is based on the work of cyber psychologist Mary Aiken. But just because the show is inspired by real life events doesn’t make it any less predictable. By now the formula is established: Find a known actor to headline your series (in this case, Arquette), throw in a song by The Who (“I Can See for Miles”) and demonstrate a fondness for slow motion and dramatic close-ups. Just the name CSI: Cyber sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit. What’s next? CSI: Whole Foods?
The writers clearly tried to determine what would freak out viewers the most. The premiere features the hacking of a video baby monitor that allows kidnapped infants to be auctioned off to foreign buyers. Subsequent episodes available for review find the team dealing with a serial killer who uses an Uber-type app to find his next victims and a computer geek trying to impress his online friends by hacking into roller coaster and subway systems. After viewing the series, you might decide that paper and pencil, riding your bike everywhere and standing over your baby’s crib all night long is the way to go.
Part of the problem is the same one that plagued the network’s Intelligence last season — cyber crimes are basically actionless crimes. It’s simply not that exciting to see someone sitting at a computer typing, no matter how intense or menacing the look on his or her face. So CSI: Cyber has a lot of action that seems a little out of place — Would the same people who are computer geniuses be the ones running with guns? Probably not — and features many of the gross-out factors that the original CSI pioneered (clearly, the people behind these shows will never tire of seeing a dead body covered with bugs). The difference here is that the crime could take place anywhere in the country (although poor Boston is targeted twice in the three episodes available for review) and the team is able to get there quickly.
There’s a lot of talk about “black hats” (those who use their computer skills for bad) and “white hats” (those who use their computer skills for good), which will certainly be confusing for any fan of Scandal. It’s no surprise that the series doesn’t really give Arquette any opportunity to demonstrate the acting chops that garnered her an Academy Award or the warmth and likability she radiated for seven seasons on Medium. Van Der Beek and MacNichol also are capable of much more than simply spouting exposition.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has already spawned two successful spinoffs (CSI: Miami and CSI: New York) that have come and gone. Rumors are swirling that CSI, now in its 15th season, may not be renewed. CSI: Cyber is the network’s attempt to make sure its schedule always has a CSI on it.
But it may be time to let the franchise die.
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