I've started dipping into ''CSI:NY's'' first-season DVD, and I keep thinking that the box should have a big label saying ''We're Not Like This Anymore.''
That first season started with a blue color scheme and a lot of darkness -- though less in actuality than what stuck in memory. CBS thought viewers found it too much of a downer so now, in the show's second season, the look is brighter, there's more sunlight and things move faster. If the first season was NYC as seen by its worst critics, the current season is something more tourist-friendly. Yes, some of the characters have an attitude bordering on rudeness, but that's part of the NYC of mass imagination, too: the swagger of someone certain he lives in the greatest city on earth and helps make it so. In other words, the attitude of a Yankees fan.
I'm more willing to give the new version some attention than I did the first-season model. The new one feels as if it is allowing me to use my escape time wisely. And as intense as the ''CSI's'' can be, they are fundamentally light entertainment. They may make you think a bit, but they're mostly there to give you a way to spend an hour that takes you out of your world but doesn't make you feel stupid for doing it.
Case in point: A recent episode of the original ''CSI.'' It tracked two cases, one involving murder among Laotians, the other the death of ''the next Brad Pitt.'' (His demise, as one character noted, instead made him ''the next River Phoenix.'') The serious subtext, underscored by the frequent use of split screen and by a nifty sequence moving up the floors in a casino, was that the huge economic and cultural divide between the characters still took them to the same place -- a slab, and a CSI investigation.
But while that message was there, the reason to keep watching was the whodunnit, and the howdunnit, and the way the coolness of the investigators lets us have an emotional distance from the deaths onscreen. Yes, we occasionally get emotional reactions to cases -- ''CSI:NY'' has had quite a bit lately -- but we're still seeing everything through the eyes of people who deal with death daily. They have found a way to be emotionally removed, and then we are, too. And all that death is simply the basis for our amusement.
I suppose somewhere here I should talk more about ''CSI: Miami,'' but I haven't watched it in some time. I'll probably catch an episode this season, since I try to watch some of every show on the air, but I won't do it eagerly. There have been some good things on ''Miami,'' but they come in the context of David Caruso, a once-interesting actor reduced to a mannered stoicism.
Look at the ''Miami'' episode that set up ''CSI:NY'' and look at Caruso vs. ''NY's'' Gary Sinise in scenes. It's pretty clear who's doing the better job. In fact, I find myself watching ''NY'' and enjoying moments where Sinise is simply thinking. He's that interesting to watch.