Can ‘CSI: Cyber’ Shake Up the Formulaic Franchise?

Source: CBS

As CSI: Crime Scene Investigation wraps up its 15th season, the flagship’s new spinoff, CSI: Cyber, is about to make its debut. The upcoming series, which marks the third CSI offshoot, puts a modern, digital spin on the familiar crime procedural drama. With the show’s anticipated premiere set to air on CBS on Thursday, both viewers and critics alike are wondering whether Cyber’s new high-tech focus and talented cast will be enough to successfully breathe new life into the long-running franchise.

The upcoming series centers on a team of cyber crime investigators working for the FBI. Recent Oscar winner Patricia Arquette stars as Special Agent Avery Ryan, an esteemed former behavioral psychologist assigned to lead the division. Ryan is known for being fiercely loyal to her team: second-in-command Elijah Mundo (played by James Van Der Beek), special agents Daniel Grummitz and Brody Nelson (Charley Koontz and Bow Wow, respectively), analyst Raven Ramirez (Hayley Kiyoko), and FBI Assistant Deputy Director and Simon Sifter (Peter MacNicol), who is Ryan’s supervisor.

Unlike previous CSI spinoffs CSI: NY and CSI: Miami, Cyber isn’t based on a specific city’s police department. Though the group is based out of Quantico, Va., its members travel nationwide and work on cases from all over the country. Of course, the biggest difference between Cyber and the other CSI branches is the nature of the crimes. As the name implies, the team deals with offenders from the “dark net” who commit online crimes like cyber-theft, sex crimes, and murder. These aren’t the type of cases that can be solved with DNA samples, but with hacking and coding.

It’s a timely subject, one that CBS is clearly hoping will help shake up the tried-and-true crime procedural formula. To its credit, the show’s premise does reflect legitimate modern-day fears, like lack of privacy and poor Internet security. In the end, though, it seems the show won’t quite reinvigorate the franchise the way the network hoped.

Why? For starters, the series comes after every other network has seemingly already jumped on the cyber crime trend. Shows like NBC’s Blacklist, ABC’s Scandal, and CBS’s own Scorpion all feature at least one expert hacker character.

But the bigger problem is that the premise isn’t enough to set it apart from the CSI we know all too well. Between the office banter and the familiar character roles (the supportive superior, the no-nonsense boss, the devoted detective), the show falls into the franchise’s same old patterns. As The New York Times puts it, “Cyber is pure CSI – a slick but wooden fantasy of middle-American paranoia in which aberrant criminals face off against hilariously competent crime solvers.” Meanwhile, Variety claims Cyber’s high-tech world is “just a fancy way of dressing up a 15-year-old cop franchise … to see how much more can be wrung out of it.”

While the show isn’t quite as fresh as viewers may have hoped, it does have a saving grace in Arquette. The actress always draws the best of out the role she’s given, even when we wish she’d been given better. As the Los Angeles Times describes, “Although forced to do the predictable things leads must do in shows like this — look at screens and rattle off orders amid reminders that ‘we’re running out of time’ — Avery is personally intriguing, clearly more than a sum of efficient and insightful parts.”

Arquette has successfully led a television show before, with seven seasons of NBC’s Medium under her belt. Whether her participation and the power of the CSI mold will be enough to keep Cyber around for a while remains to be seen.

CSI: Cyber airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CBS.

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