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"CSI": Aeschylus, Martin Luther and "Astro Quest"

By admin Published: April 16, 2009

The greatest comedic tribute to "Star Trek" is, of course, "Galaxy Quest." But tonight's "CSI," which I watched in a sort of double bill with last week's episode, was very well done, mimicking not only the costumes and the cheeseball sets but the dialogue, the rigid postures in the acting and the lustfulness -- all while being, like "Star Trek," an allegory for something else, in this case "CSI" itself.

"CSI" has done a lot of brooding this season, in the lead-up to Grissom's departure and Stokes's sorrow in the Taylor Swift episode, to some of the solemnity that Langston has about him. But "CSI's" history is loaded with humor, even if it is humor with a lot of blood and body parts included, and the last couple of weeks it has brought that more to the forefront. In last week's episode, it was Greg Germann's very funny turn as the religious and acquiescent George, not to mention the way the solution to the case came down to Langston's citing Aeschylus -- and expressing shock that no one else had read him.

Tonight's show contained the much hyped homage to "Star Trek" in the form of "Astro Quest," a vintage series which a just-murdered producer has been trying to re-release and modernize. Not only does that remind one and all of the upcoming big-screen "Star Trek," it also -- as Sepinwall pointed out -- involved a number of veterans of the most recent "Battlestar Galactica," which also faced the trials of a show trying to reimagine a cult fave. It worked admirably on that score, and I grinned every time Wallace Langham and Liz Vassey populated Hodges' feverish imaginings of himself and Simms in "Astro Quest" episodes. Very nicely done, and a reminder not only that Langham has a strong history of sitcom but that Vassey knows her way around silly costumes. (See "The Tick.")

But there was more going on that some merry pranking about sci-fi series and fans. The episode also worked as a commentary on what "CSI" itself has been going through this year, reinventing itself because Grissom has gone, and Langston is in, and the dynamics have to change because the people are different, and some fans are out there muttering, "It's not the same, it's not as good, and we liked our heroes the way they were before."

As tonight's episode, and last week's, show, "CSI" is doing just fine in its newest form. Granted this is not a total reinvention; it is still a mystery set in Las Vegas with plenty of grisly crimes and sorry lives to deal with. But "CSI" is also a very smart show, and not only because it name-drops Aeschylus and Martin Luther and philosophical constructs. It is smart because it knows that a show cannot simply plug someone new into the mix and expect the formula to be the same. So it has tweaked it here and there -- Langston only reads the Greeks, he watches "Astro Quest" -- and is still making shows that its old fans should admire.

Now, if only Hodges and Simms had kissed...

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