CSI: Cyber First Impressions
I was going to start off this review by saying that at least CSI: Cyber wasn’t as bad as Stalker (which I have a well documented disdain for), but a plot reveal that occurs midway through the first episode is so offensive and moronic that it forced me to reassess. Regardless of which show is worse, CSI: Cyber might actually be harder for me to watch, so let’s agree on an initial premise. An @param, if you will. The premise is that I am a masochist when it comes to what I choose to do first impressions for, and I am probably not the intended audience for this show. Right off the bat, I have a number of strikes against me. I have never liked the CSI franchise due to its silliness, its tendency towards over-dramatization, and its propensity to place lights under its lab tables while keeping the rest of the lab poorly lit. Another strike against me is the fact that I know anything about technology, which is not a recommended trait for anyone who intends to watch this show. Unlike Stalker however, the episode waits until it is at least halfway done before it gets offensively bad, so at least there’s that.
The premise of the show is that it follows a team of FBI investigators who specialize in investigating cyber crimes. The team is headed up by Patricia Arquette’s Special Agent Avery Ryan. I like Arquette well enough as an actress, but she doesn’t really have much of a character. She’s determined and observant, but that’s par for the course with female procedural leads these days. Her second in command is Elijah Mundo, played by James Van Der Beek. His character is essentially limited to being a blend of “the hunk” and “the gamer” of the group. Now I can kinda buy Dawson Leery as the hunk, but Cyber doesn’t make him even remotely believable as a gamer. When he first gets called into work, he is standing in an arcade playing a rail shooter. Furthermore, it only gets dumber, as he uses his FPS knowledge to bond with a young witness over a game called Assassoknights. It’s just as irritating as it sounds. Still, he isn’t half as bad as the show’s hackers. They consist of not-Hurley (as played by Community‘s Fat Neil), the rapper (as played by Bow Wow, because every procedural needs a rapper-turned-actor), and the geek-girl (as played by Hayley Kiyoko because someone realized that they only had a single female lead). When it comes to the hackers, not-Hurley and (the formerly Lil) Bow Wow get the most focus. Not-Hurley is presented as being an arrogant stick-in-the-mud though admittedly he isn’t as annoying as he could be, while Bow Wow is the rookie; a hacker who joined the team to avoid a prison sentence. All I have to say about his character is that he rhymes when doing problem solving. What else can I say after that. All in all, the characters feel like blatant one-dimensional stereotypes, but as I’ve said before in other reviews, that is a common problem with procedural pilots and can be overlooked if the premise and execution are interesting.
So how does the plot of this episode stand up? Well, it involves a group of hackers who hack nanny cams in order to auction off middle-class suburban babies to foreigners…. Take a minute to digest that sentence. This might be the absolute dumbest plot to a procedural pilot that I have ever seen! And I watched K-ville! I could write a full paper on why this idea makes no sense, and it doesn’t help that Cyber can’t even decide if the villain of this episode is a genius or a moron. At one point, he hacks a child’s game console to send a video message to the FBI (I’d point out why this doesn’t make sense, but I honestly don’t even know where to start), but the next moment the team is commenting on how neither the hacker nor his underlings is likely to remember a 20-digit password. Furthermore, it would seem that the hacker wasn’t smart enough to deactivate the built-in speaker in the nanny cams that he was hacking, and as a result people could hear the baby bidding going on through their digital cameras. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a good idea contained in the idea of hacking nanny cams. Plenty of companies fail to properly secure their firmware, and that can allow hackers to infiltrate networks through fake firmware patches. But the idea of hackers selling our precious babies overseas involves logical leaps the size of the Grand Canyon, and it is honestly shocking that none of the people in charge of this show realized that this could be viewed as racist. After all, the plot involves an Saudi bidder winning a Caucasian baby. This is offensive on so many different levels, and ignorance can only excuse the creators for so long.
The visual aesthetic is also God-awful to look at, though this is partially due to CSI’s trademark tendency to provide computer generated visuals to try and illustrate what is going on. These often look laughable, and the show tries to use image artifacts as part of its transitions. If I could offer a bit of advice to people who do the post-editing for shows… DON’T DO THAT! It looks awful, cheap, and gimmicky. Between the crappy visualizations of events like the tracing of IP addresses and the glitchy transitions that make it look like VLC just shit itself, the editing and direction of this episode is almost as bad as the paper thin characters, though it still isn’t as bad as the plot itself. At least the editing never came off as being accidentally racist, unless I missed a burning cross hidden in one of those visual artifacts. The cinematography also borrows a page from Lie to Me, by constantly showing us what happens to be catching Patricia Arquette’s attention during conversations. These moments are implemented with much the same tact and grace as anything else in this episode, which is to say that I felt like I had received a Boeing to the face.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Since every CSI series needs a theme from The Who, Cyber went with “I Can See For Miles.” I wonder how many spin-offs away CSI is from using “Squeeze Box” or “Pinball Wizard.”
- Unlike previous CSI series which operated within the confines of a particular location such as Miami or Las Vegas, Cyber is a federal unit that will seemingly be traveling to different locations on a weekly basis much like Criminal Minds. I think I speak for all of my home city when I say that “We don’t need them to visit here.” If I see the show fail to understand how both technology AND New Orleans work, then I think I’ll have an aneurysm.
- It occurs to me that I didn’t use the title of this episode yet. I simply referred to it as “the pilot.” Its name is Kidnapping 2.0…. WE GET IT! YOUR SHOW IS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY!
- Patricia Arquette really felt like she was recycling her character from Medium, except with more severity and less motherly affection. In other words, it’s her character from Medium without anything that made her character from Medium even remotely interesting.
- Did I mention that there was an assassin sniper who burnt his fingerprints off?… I didn’t…. Oh, well that was in there.
- It’s odd. Before watching Kidnapping 2.0, whenever I heard the term “Accidental Racist” I thought of NCIS: Los Angeles. I guess now I’ll know to think of CSI: Cyber.
I didn’t really expect to like CSI: Cyber, but that is simply to say that I approached it with a sense of apathy. I didn’t expect to actually hate it, and yet Kidnapping 2.0 is such a vile episode that I can’t help but wonder what the hell is going on at CBS. It’s like the bizarro Person of Interest, where every nuanced and intelligent aspect was replaced with the worst tropes of CSI. This is a show where WizNerds run rampant, which is to say that any character who can so much as place their hands properly on a keyboard is automatically a technical god who holds sway over the lives of all those luddites running around like ants. This is so frustrating in its stupidity that I can’t even recommend it as so bad it’s good. Skip it and delete.
It is possible that I am being too charitable by giving this show a full star. It isn't as painful a show as Work It, but it's incompetence is staggering. Still, I don't give zero ratings and I can't say that every second of the episode was agonizing... so one star.