Everything you need to know about... CSI: New York

Five, Saturdays, 9.20pm
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The Independent Culture

What's the back story?

Now in its fifth season, CSI: New York is back on terrestrial television. For those who've missed previous outings of this slick crime drama, it's a Manhattan-based series that follows forensic investigators who use cutting-edge scientific methods to clean up the streets.

Although it follows the same format as the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which was set in Las Vegas, none of the original actors appears in this spin-off. However, in Anthony E Zuiker, the two series share a creator.

To give you an idea of how popular the original and its spin-offs are, let me take you back to November 2004 when a CBS news producer was sacked for interrupting an episode of CSI: NY with a bulletin reporting the death of Yasser Arafat. And, for diehard fans, the CSI: NY franchise has extended to comics, a video game for PC, and a novel by Stuart M Kaminsky based on the series.

Inevitably, life is imitating art in the US and the ubiquity of CSI and its spin-offs (there is another series based in Miami) has led to the identification of the "CSI effect" whereby crime victims, jurors and even criminals have heightened expectations of what forensic science can achieve. However, for those of us aware that what we are viewing is simply the glamorisation of a difficult and painstaking job, CSI: NY does well to stoke interest in an otherwise hidden and misunderstood process.

Who's who?

Each hour-long episode follows Detective Mac Taylor (played by Oscar nominee Gary Sinise), a dedicated crime-scene investigator who believes that everyone has a secret and that things are invariably connected. He is focused, driven and relentless in his pursuit of justice – but likeable. His partner is Stella Bonasera (Melina Kanakaredes), a bright, implausibly attractive but equally diligent detective, whose work ethic is driven by her orphaned childhood. Together, the pair lead a crack team of experts who sniff out the truth behind a remarkably high body-count in the city. The team includes Danny Messer (Carmine Giovinazzo), an investigator with a troubled family history. Personally selected by Mac to join the team, he struggles with the pressures of that responsibility.

They are joined by the smooth Dr Sheldon Hawkes (Hill Harper) and the quick-witted Detective Don Flack (Eddie Cahill) whom some will remember as Rachel's love interest Tag in Friends. Completing the team is Lindsay Monroe (Anna Belknap), who's young, hard-working and (but of course) very attractive.

The show's pedigree

Premiering on 22 September 2004, the series is a descendant of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which was the most watched show on American television in 2002. The show has done well, having been nominated for 12 awards, including three Emmys.

So, is it a winner?

It's pretty addictive. And while its gritty storylines, sustained character development and impressive production values keep most viewers hooked, the show is still capable of pulling out the odd snippet of light "comic" relief.

There's been some sniping. Some of the female talent seems to have been selected for their lustrous heads of hair rather than their acting skills. Entertainment Weekly describes Kanakaredes's performance as "like a pretty placeholder for some more-interesting actress".

The show has also been the target of complaints concerning the suitability of its graphic content for younger audiences. Indeed, when the CSI franchise extended its reach into the toy market with a line including a board game and a CSI Forensics Lab, the American organisation Parents Television Council claimed that "this so-called 'toy' is a blatant attempt to market CSI and its adult-oriented content directly to children" – which, of course, it is.

But while its viewing figures – the first episode on pulled in 2.8 million for Five, beating ITV1's Saturday night offering – remain as high as its body count, CSI: New York must be doing something right.