I’d checked out of CSI years ago, but the odd choice of Ted Danson to step in as the show’s male lead proved too tempting a proposition to resist last night. Danson has, in recent years, finally escaped the shadow of Sam Malone to craft some amazing characters on cable TV. Of late, we've seen him play a hilarious version of himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm; a corrupt billionaire on Damages (for which he earned an Emmy nomination); and a magazine editor who refuses to quit some bad habits he picked up in the ‘70s on Bored to Death. With that trifecta, Danson had basically inspired me, and plenty of others, to fall in love with him all over again.
But CSI is another animal altogether, cold and logical and seemingly void of a soul, i.e. something Danson could hitch his trailer to. But that’s where the pairing ended up surprising me, and quite pleasantly. Danson plays D.B. Russell, a crunchy investigator from Oregon who's taken over as the CSI team’s night shift investigator. (Because he's from Oregon, he naturally wants to know where the best Las Vegas farmers markets are located.) From what I hear, Laurence Fishburne’s departing character Ray Langston was a dark and tormented soul. Danson, however, is as light and bright as the hair on his head.
But D.B. has an edge, too. Some of the best best moments in Wednesday's season premiere featured Danson opposite series vet George Eads in a series of ghostly recreations in a tram car. Danson swung effortlessly from demanding boss to curious newcomer to empathetic listener to, ultimately, brilliantly deductive criminologist. Before I knew it, something remarkable had occurred: I’d watched an entire episode of CSI, and was ready for another.
There are plenty of people who'd argue that Danson is slumming here. To that I’d say, I’ll take him any way I can get him, and you should, too. You just might wind up enjoying yourself along the way.