March 4, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “CSI: Cyber”


CSI:  CYBER – Wednesday 10PM on CBS – If Nothing Else Is On…

Nobody tunes into a CSI show to be surprised.  The franchise has been spectacularly successful for CBS, and even now, 15 years into its run, the mothership series does a fair number each week (better than Battle Creek, which replaced it last week in the Sunday 10PM slot).  But the original CSI is getting top-heavy and too expensive for its ratings, and so we have CSI: CYBER, which makes minimal changes to the formula.

Instead of being based in a particular city, Cyber‘s forensic heroes belong to a special FBI unit that’s based on Washington, and flown wherever needed each week.  And as the title implies, their specialty is solving electronic crimes, which means that there are many scenes of people peering at screens large and small, while the kind of fake beepity-boopity sound effects play in the background that made computers sound “modern” 30 years ago.  The opening episode, written by series creators (and CSI veterans) Carol Mendelsohn, Ann Donohue and Anthony E. Zuiker, and directed by Eagle Egilsson, contains more bang-bang violence than is standard for the franchise, but that may very well be a function of the increased budget a network typically pays for a series premiere.   The hour also makes clear, though, that once an episode’s premise has established its cyber bona fides (in the opener, it’s a network of hacked baby monitors that allows a black-market baby auction crew to gather data on each family’s routine before abducting the child), the bulk of the drama is more or less the same as in the other CSI incarnations.

There is, of course, a fresh cast in place.  It’s led by newly-minted Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette, who will probably earn more from a few Cyber episodes than she did for her 12 years of work on Boyhood.  As Avery Ryan (her character was introduced on a mothership CSI episode last season), Arquette is allowed a few moments to show maternal instinct with rescued babies, and a breath of backstory about a tragedy in her past that will probably come up again as sweeps approaches, but for the most part she’s a purely functional figure.  She’s supported by two other TV veterans, Peter MacNicol as the head of the Cyber unit, and James Van Der Beek as Avery’s second in command.  The unit’s trio of hackers feature a burly guy who looks like he’s put in the requisite time playing videogames in somebody’s basement (Charley Koontz), a black ex-blackhat who seems to be on some kind of work-release program (Shad Moss), and a multi-racial social media expert (Hayley Kiyoko).  As an ensemble, they’re not nearly as appealing as the group in the somewhat similar (and far better) Scorpion.

Cyber‘s opening hour, while professionally executed, felt as old as the CSI franchise is, and the jump cuts, graphics and CG (including a virtual autopsy) that tried to jazz things up were just sad, like a relative in late middle age who makes too much of an effort to look hip for a family function.  Like the network’s reboot of The Odd Couple, CSI: Cyber is CBS at its most CBS-ist.  It’s for viewers who may need to nod off before the final credits.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."