Last night I watched the 2-hour series finale of the original CSI which called it quits after 15 years. The episode, titled Immortal, was clearly written to give long-time fans of the show a warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling. They brought back long-absent stars William Peterson and Marg Helgenberger as well as Melinda Clarke (the oh so intriguing Lady Heather). They completely side-stepped the plot developments of later seasons and offered up a more or less self-contained finale. Rather than meditate on the decline in quality of later seasons (two years of Lawrence Fishburn and Ted Danson... why exactly?) I thought I'd meditate on what the series stood for. Fifteen years ago when the series began, they were a bastion of science and rationality in popular culture. This is before the Auber-rational Gregory House or Temperance "Bones" Brennan or the nerdgasm of The Big Bang Theory. It took popular crime drama and gave it an infusion of empiricism. It created the mould which would produce three direct spin-off series and inspired several forensic-crime drama series. When I began at UofT, they were offering a new expanded Criminology major, which probably would not have existed without programs like this poking the zeitgeist.
Now of course there are scientific liberties. I'm not claiming that anyone would want to watch prime-time crime drama as a substitute for a science textbook. But the show has a strong moral undermining that was relatively new at the time and very influential for me in my teens.
The number one rule of investigators is follow the evidence. Trusting your instincts and jumping to conclusions are big no-nos. Knowing something in your heart of hearts doesn't count unless you can back it up with evidence. Over and over again the intuitively obvious solution (the wife did it) turns out to be the wrong one. The series created a world where people solve problems by investigation and thought; something which is far less common than it ought to be.
The character of Gil Grissom is like a Dumbledore for the scientific age. Calm, reflective, rational and basically a creature of pure wisdom. He made rationality and empiricism cool for a huge number of people who would otherwise just be watching people get shot and things go boom.
So with fond childhood memories, I'm happy to say goodbye to the original CSI.