CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (sometimes unofficially referred to as CSI: Las Vegas when differentiating the shows in the franchise, mostly abroad where CSI: Miami made the franchise popular) is a highly successful TV show (2000-present) about a group of graveyard-shift crime scene investigators in Las Vegas led originally by enigmatic scientist Gil Grissom, then, following his departure, by ex-stripper and single mother Catherine Willows, and now, by quirky scientist DB Russell. Initially touted as a show where the evidence was the main character and the actual characters were little more than flat stereotypes with "quirks" added almost as an afterthought, the series has progressed over its thirteen seasons to make the characters a little more rounded and include more of their personal lives and histories in the storylines. It has also moved on from a fairly straightforward forensics approach to more high-tech approaches that aren't necessarily possible in real life, requiring some degree of suspension of disbelief from the viewer. CSI runs into the Road of Trials (Part of Hero's Journey) many time throughout the series. CSI as a forensic/ mystery show has continued for many years, holding on very strongly and getting more interesting as time goes by.Influenced a great many subsequent programs; most directly, it inspired its producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, to try and replicate this success with Without a Trace and Cold Case (both in the same verse). It also followed in Law & Order's 'franchise' footsteps, with CSI: Miami (Yeeeeeeeaaaahh!) and CSI NY. As of the 2008-2009 season, there are over 600 total episodes of CSI, CSI: Miami (Yeeeeeeeaaaaahhhh!), and CSI NY, not including books, comic books, and video games related to the franchise. Please note, however, that it is not the oldest of the current crop of forensic shows, a title held by British show Silent Witness.Gil Grissom's frequent one-liners right before the opening credits or an ad break are a well known example of a Quip to Black, although Horatio Caine's versions are perhaps the best known - mostly due to the heaping layer of cheese added to them. Pretty much established the Necro Cam, which it uses as a device to re-enact for the viewers every single gruesome detail that can be extracted from a crime scene, and every theory it spawns.The uncanny effectiveness of the show's Applied Phlebotinum has caused some to suspect that it's not actually set in the present day, but, rather, Twenty Minutes into the Future (on-screen dates, though, put it in the Present Day).The show (and its spinoffs) have given rise to what legal professionals call 'The CSI Effect': the necessity of compressing what would normally be months worth of delicate and time-consuming lab work into a 40-minute television episode causes similarly unrealistic expectations in potential real-world jurors. As a result, the uninformed juror will assume that what they see on the show is happening as it actually occurs, as opposed to being fabricated and accelerated for television.
This show provides examples of:
Absentee Actor: William Petersen's absence in a series of episodes brought in Liev Schreiber as Petersen took a break from CSI while he starred in a play called Dublin Carol, a twist on Dickens' A Christmas Carol in Providence, R.I. The episode "Gum Drops" was changed when Petersen left town due to a death in the family. The focuse of the episode changed from Grissom to Nick being certain Cassie was alive. "Genetic Disorder" was changed from a Nick-centric episode to a Greg-centric one when George Eads left town for his father's funeral.
On "Gum Drops", given what Nick himself had been through and how he could empathize with her plight, was probably an improvement. "Genetic Disorder" becoming Greg-centric can be seen as an improvement as well, as it shows how much Greg has matured as a person and as an investigator over the past decade. He ultimately refuses to jump to conclusions, waits to get offical results, and calls other characters out for assuming Doc Robbins is guilty of something (Hodges and Brass). Compare to a season 1 episode where Greg actually does jump to a conclusion about a couple, and he is found wrong about it.
Accidental Hero: Witnesses who unknowingly obtain or provide useful evidence have made life infinitely easier for the CSIs on multiple occasions.
Actor Allusion: In a throwaway line A/V tech Archie mentions that he was going home to watch a variety of surfer movies. The list includes Local Boys, which is a film his actor starred in.
Grissom informs Sara that he loves baseball when she tries to call him out on not liking sports. As any common male reared in the North Side of Chicago tends to be, Petersen is a life-long fan of the Chicago Cubs, usually stopping by Wrigley every season to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", and narrated a documentary about the team.
In 1x08 "Anonymous," Grissom turning to his reflection and "speaking to" the killer is reminiscent of a scene William Petersen had in Manhunter.
A Date with Rosie Palms: A teenage girl disappeared, and while investigating the house, the team discovers one of her nightgowns is covered in her brother's semen. They suspect that he had something to do with the disappearance until Nick takes the boy aside and privately asks him about this trope. Turns out, the brother was doing the deed in the bathroom and simply grabbed the first item on the top of the clothes hamper, leading to his embarassment when this is revealed.
Adult Fear: One episode had two boys who went missing and the main suspect is a pedophile. It didn't help when the team had to enlist his help to try to find the boys and he began to describe in detail to Grissom how he would lure a child to him by gaining their trust. Another suspect was one of the boys' abusive grandfather. Imagine you were the father of that man, forced to leave your son with him because the grandfather was the only one available to look after your son. And failed.
Affably Evil: Doctor Dave, the serial-killing dentist from the episode "Sweet Jane". He has a pleasant chat with Catherine about loving his work (dentistry, not serial killing), and how he especially takes care to make a child's first trip to the dentist the least frightening and painful as possible. And when she confronts him about his crimes, not only does he never once deny that he is, in fact, a murderer, he describes the killings in the same affectionate tone that he just described trying to make a trip to the dentist less scary for kids. Ned Beatty's note-perfect performance was a complete blend of utterly friendly and utterly scary-creepy.
To push this even farther, when Catherine is trying to mix the putty for his dental impression, he remarks that she's not quite doing it right and does both the mixing and the impression himself; again, as politely as one could possibly be while fessing up to being a serial killer.
Alien Autopsy: Subverted in "Viva Las Vegas", when the "alien" was identified as a costumed human with a medical condition that made him look a bit like a Grey.
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Nate Haskel despite the numerous women he's killed and raped has fairly large group of women obsessed with him, even he acknowledges that he's a chick magnet making him an in-universe Draco in Leather Pants. His harem even go so far as to breaking him out of prison after stabbing Langston and after being found guilty for all his past murders.
Greg Sanders: No matter how hard you work to get big, there's always someone bigger.
Sara Sidle: It could be what keeps them going. Like Freud said, "Anatomy is destiny".
Greg Sanders: What do you think Freud would have to say about one of these being the murder weapon?
Episode "Fur And Loathing"
Grissom: Well, Freud said that the only unusual sexual behavior was to have none at all.
Episode "Lab Rats"
Hodges: Freud's theory on the uncanny raises the point that as children we want the doll to come to life. But as adults, we are terrified by the idea. The doll could represent the uncanny that is feared. The Sandman."
Episode "King Baby" had a victim with an infantilism fetish (a fetish for pretending to be a baby and being nursed). At the end of the episode we meet the victim's mother, who mentions she never breastfed her son, believing it would make her soft.
Ambiguous Disorder: Gil Grissom is all sorts of quirky and odd, a bit too literal, not exactly social, but not exactly unsocial either, kinda fumbling...how much so, it just depends on what the script calls for.
And Starring: Paul Guilfoyle gets an "And", Robert David Hall a "With". Laurence Fishburne - because he is, well, Laurence Fishburne - goes first in the order. Ditto with Ted Danson.
Artistic License - Biology: The series plays fast and loose with various aspects of biology, particularly on the subject of fingerprints, which aren't necessarily left as easily or on as many surfaces as the show would have one believe.
One CGI montage in "Grave Danger" shows fire ants injecting venom through their bites. Real ants only bite to get hold and then inject venom through their abdomen stings, like bees and wasps.
Autopsy Snack Time: Given a Take That when Doc Robbins irately says of a long retired coroner (who missed something in the original autopsy of someone who was to be exhumed) that he "held a scalpel in one hand and a hot dog in the other."
Be as Unhelpful as Possible: When a member of CSI intimates that the husband is always the first suspect when a wife is murdered, the husband's response is typically "You think I did this? This interview is over!" - inadvertently doing the pragmatic thing. (But again, Truth in Television; police expect ordinary people to get angry when accused of crimes they didn't commit.)
Beastly Bloodsports: "Lying Down With Dogs", where a wealthy humanitarian was found dead and then found to be involved in dogfighting.
Big Eater: Deconstructed in an episode where the team investigates an obese man that apparently ate himself to death. What looks like a silly comedic episode at first gets a really sad ending when it is revealed that the victim was a mentally ill person with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes insatiable hunger among other symptoms, and that he had been let loose by an irresponsible caretaker who wanted to use him to win an eating contest.
Bitter Almonds: Subverted: a big show is made of only 20% of people being able to smell cyanide, and there is another, more useful, symptom. So many forensic miracles on this show, and yet this trick doesn't work!
Black Blood / Alien Blood: In Season Eight's "The Theory of Everything", a number of dead people wound up with avocado-green blood.
Black Comedy: Pretty much a given in a show about police officers and CSIs dealing with death on a daily basis.
Brains and Bondage: Grissom's one-time potential love interest Lady Heather was an intelligent woman who ran an S&M club.
Brain Bleach: Common throughout various characters, be it core cast or those involved in the cases. Nick and Ray seems to want some when they find out just exactly WHAT those vacuum-packed panties were after seeing one show attendee demonstrate in Season Ten's "The Panty Sniffer".
Definitely a few people's reaction to the episode "Blood Drops". Anyone who has seen the episode knows why, anyone who hasn't should consider themselves lucky.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: At least half the cast is messed up in some way or another despite being generally competent at their job, but the title has to go to Hodges, who started out so mentally unbalanced that not only would he never be allowed to work with law enforcement in any capacity in the real world, he probably wouldn't even be allowed outdoors without some kind of supervision. He has settled down somewhat as time has gone on, but he still has his moments.
Call It Karma: A low-budget porn director slashes the throat of an actress that had been revealed to be HIV-positive and thus unable to make more porn films. Her blood spills all over his face, some of it getting inside him through the eyes, and he gets AIDS himself as a result.
Canon Immigrant: Sqweegel, who originated in Anthony Zuiker's digital novel "Level 26".
Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Catherine visits the Highball after work once. Naturally, a murder occurs there, and she gets chewed out by everyone for failing to mention that she went there for a drink until they haul a Smug Snake suspect in and he recognizes her. Her daughter and mother also join in the shunning, and the episode ends with Gil giving her the silent treatment, followed by a curt lecture on how an 'act of omission' makes her just like a common perp.
Can't Get In Trouble For Nuthin': In one episode, the Victim Of The Week in the B plot turns out to have been a homeless man. He tried to get sent to jail (for free food and shelter) by punching a police officer. Said officer realized what he was doing and left him handcuffed, apparently failing to realize this would lead to his death.
The Case Of: Found in the season eight episode, "The Case of the Cross-Dressing Carp".
Cast the Expert: David Berman, who was a real life coroner before playing 'SuperDave' Phillips, the coroner's assistant.
Celebrity Paradox: In an episode of the early seasons, we can see the MythBusters making a cameo as extras. Fast forward to season 11 episode 2, there is a character exclaiming "What am I one of those Mythbuster guys? I don't know."
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Detective Sofia Curtis was a recurring character during seasons 5 and 6, and actress Louise Lombard was a main cast member in season 7. But come season 8, Lombard left the series and, two seasons later, Sofia's disappearance has yet to be explained.
Color Motif: The original CSI has a lot of brown that evokes the desert setting of Las Vegas. CSI: Miami has a lot of orange and yellow to evoke the bright, sunny semi-tropics of Miami. CSI NY has blues and grays to evoke the gritty nature of the big city.
Comatose Canary: Used straight on the original show; subverted on CSI: New York.
Consulting a Convicted Killer: Langston seeks the help of his nemesis, serial killer Nate Haskell, to catch the "Dr. Jekyl Killer". He isn't really that helpful and mostly just messes them around. His actual plan was to goad a guard into shocking him as to fall and break his own glasses... and using the broken arms from said glasses to stab Langston through the bars of his holding cell.
Well, he pointed them to the restaurant where they found the link between all of the murders and from there were led to the actual killer, so in that sense he was very helpful. But after that he just strung them along waiting for his chance to attack Ray, and milking his apparent knowledge for all it was worth.
Dead Man's Chest: In one episode, a spurned lover stuffs his ex-boyfriend's body in a trunk, which is kept in private storage. Problem is, the body won't fit, so he cuts off the head and leaves it in a car which is then stolen.
Deadly Road Trip: It involved a particularly dead-eyed gang of juvenile delinquents who beat up tourists For the Evulz, knowing that as juveniles they would face relatively short sentences if caught.
Deadpan Snarker: Count on one (or more) of the cast members making a pun right after the discovery of the body and just before the opening credits.
Defective Detective: Hardly anyone on the cast doesn't have some personal demon: Grissom's nerdiness and hearing-loss scare, Sara's mother killing her abusive father and ending up in an institution, Catherine's work keeping her away from family, Brass' estranged daughter, Warrick's gambling addiction, etc.
Dirty Cop: Vega, McQuaid, and one other FBI agent.
"Bittersweet" had the culprit turn out to be a surviving victim from a serial killer that was imprinted on by her violator and ended up murdering her victims in the same fashion.
Just five episodes later, in "Crime After Crime," it's revealed that fairly major recurring character Detective Vega has gone Vigilante Executioner, and he commits Suicide by Cop.
"Trends With Benefits" seemed like it was heading this way The rapist professor's victim didn't want to press charges and the other students he had sex with consented but somehow word gets out and the professor is suspended.
Dying Dream: Working Stiffs: "I knew it wouldn't work..."
Enhance Button: They once used a reflection in a young girl's eye in a photo to get an image of a location of where the picture was taking at (a boat).
A particularly egregious example happened when they showed off a 3D crime scene scanner. Such a device does actually exist, using a laser to create a 3D image of an area, but they then used the computer to lift the body off the bed to look at the stains on the sheets underneath it. It's the equivalent of taking an ordinary photographic image and being able to "strip away" the skin and muscles to get an image of not just the structure of the person's bones, but what color they are.
Theoretically, this could work, if they'd separately scanned the pattern of bloodstains into the computer, then had it apply this pattern onto the sheets of the 3D simulation. If so, it's a legitimate way to demonstrate how the stains were distributed underneath the body, once the sheets had been removed as evidence.
Enemy Within: Ray, and his struggle not to give into his dark side.
Everybody Did It: "Unfriendly Skies", though it was actually self-defense; the delusional victim was trying, probably unintentionally, to bring down the plane.
Everybody is Single: Or at least, almost everyone. Gil and Sara are now married. Warrick was married but the marriage fell apart. DB is married and mentions it at least Once an Episode. Doc Robbins is also married, as is his assistant, David Phillips.
Evil Counterpart: Grissom used to hold fellow entomologist Dr. Mark Thayer in high esteem, and they even co-authored a scientific paper once. Since then, however, Dr. Thayer has become what Grissom describes as a "hired gun", selling his services to the highest bidder. When Thayer's testimony for the defense threatens to derail a high-profile murder trial, the D.A.'s office asks Grissom to try and refute Thayer's findings. Grissom eventually discovers that Thayer deliberately doctored the evidence to get the results he wanted to present, which would have given the jury cause for reasonable doubt. After Grissom explains his findings on the stand and destroys Thayer's testimony, an enraged Thayer comes up to him and accuses him of attacking his integrity. As they're arguing, the D.A. comes up to them and orders Thayer's arrest on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
To a lesser extent, Gil's counterpart on Day Shift, Conrad Ecklie. He tended to choose the "convenient" answer rather than the correct one and was more interested in advancing his career than finding justice.
Extra Y Extra Violent: Referenced in one episode; a couple knows their son has this condition and constantly treats him with suspicion because of it. When their daughter accidentally kills their other son by pushing him down the stairs, she claims he did it on purpose; this is what actually turned him violent.
Faking the Dead: DB and Catherine come back to the morgue in body bags to escape the hitmen who are after them.
Fatal Flaw: Warrick's gambling problem. Grissom's hearing impairment also counts, though that was corrected with surgery at the end of Season three. Ray's inherited violence tendencies.
A Father to His Men: Grissom's markedly paternal leadership style, most visible with Greg, Nick and Warrick especially right before Warrick gets killed, and afterwards. DB is getting into this now. His group meetings are "family meetings".
Finger in the Mail: One episode featured a man who had found the cut off index finger of his mistress in her apartment. Later, they find the body and it is revealed that it was the man himself who had killed her. To avoid suspicion of the murder, he staged it as a kidnapping gone wrong.
Food and Animal Attraction: Exploited in one episode; a woman going through a messy divorce wipes bacon grease on her hands to spite her husband after agreeing that his beloved dog would live with whomever it "chose". He then proceeds to attempt to sneak in and replace the dog with another, so she shoots him. The sound of the gunshot causes the replacement dog to go berserk and tear her throat out.
From The Latin Intro Ducere: It had one when Grissom investigated the death of a man who had Down's syndrome. After catching the murderer, Grissom calls back to an earlier conversation where the murderer called the victim a "retard" (Grissom corrected him, of course) and informs him that "retard" means "to hinder", so the killer's life "just got retarded".
GPS Evidence: Often. As an example: in the season five finale, "Grave Danger", Grissom, Entomologist Extraordinaire, determines Nick's location from the ants in his box, since fire ants can only be found in nurseries in Nevada, which means that the soil... you can figure out the rest.
Punningly used in the episode "Fracked", with literal GPS data.
Happily Married: Gil and Sara, though it's a long distance marriage. D.B., the first CSI to start on the show with a wife and family.
Hard Work Montage: This show does this to show the characters doing the hard work of forensic investigation at the lab. In the episode "I Like to Watch", they do some Lampshade Hanging: Hodges looks forward to a certain test, as he thinks it will be good material for the documentary crew currently in the lab. Nick points out that the test takes six hours, to which Hodges remarks that "When they cut it together, it'll only take thirty seconds." It takes thirty seconds. Also known as "Microscope montage".
Heel-Face Turn: Although he was originally introduced as an antagonistic character, Conrad Ecklie has since undergone considerable Character Development (especially in season 12, in which his estranged daughter moves from L.A. to join the team) and become a much more sympathetic character.
Heroic Bystander: Civilians have helped the CSIs on multiple occasions either by finding evidence that helps break a case or even by catching the criminals in a chase.
Hoist by His Own Petard: A woman that was planning to poison her boss and ex-lover with ricin accidentally spills it over her pens. Not bad, if it wasn't for the fact she had an habit of biting her pens...
Hollywood Nerd: EVERYONE. One of them is even supposed to be an ex-stripper!
Hollywood Science: Never take anything presented as science on any of the episodes as even remotely factual unless you verify it first. In fact, the illusion of accuracy in this manner is causing some issues...
In the earlier seasons, the show prided itself on portraying science relatively accurately (though Miami didn't); even the seemingly-nonsensical "acoustic archaeology" that solves the case in "Committed" has factual basis. This changed in later on, the most egregious example likely being a computer program that can apparently delete things out of photographs to see what's behind them.
Imagine Spot: In the Season 13 premiere, we see DB imagining his granddaughter and Flynn in the morgue, him killing McKeen (the corrupt cop who orchestrated his granddaughter's kidnapping), and his wife getting fed up with his disturbing job and leaving him.
Incessant Music Madness: One case involves a garotted musician. Turns out he was killed by an angry neighbour who couldn't stand the noise.
In the Blood: Langston fears he may have a genetically inherited violent streak from his father, which is the toned-down version of his original backstory where he fears he may become a serial killer. In an interesting subversion, the person he tells the story of his father (minus the In The Blood part) is the adopted son of the infamous serial killer Judge Mason/Paul Millander, to show that being a serial killer isn't passed down to people who are neither related to nor shown that kind of behavior, despite what his weary mother fears.
Played straight with Haskell: His father has been killing for years and his victims include Haskell's mother.
The Intern: Greg, when he decides to leave behind life in the lab to become a CSI.
Interservice Rivalry: Regular LVPD vs the crime lab. The LVPD often see the lab team as a bunch of science nerds. Even Brass was not happy being assigned there in the beginning.
The baseball ep had the LVPD playing another group.
It's Personal: Seasons often start and/or end with an "It's Personal" episode.
In the episode "Random Acts of Violence", Warrick is processing the scene of a suburban drive-by shooting, at which a young child has been shot and killed. Upon discovering that the child's father is a close friend (known to be an admirable and honorable person generally), Warrick does his best to comfort the grieving father. Aware of this connection, Grissom arrives and checks on his colleague:
Grissom: You going to be able to handle this?
Warrick: ...I want this case.
In early seasons, even if there weren't a direct relationship between the investigators and the criminals the nature of the crime would often make the investigator take it personally themselves. For instance: domestic abuse, or overall violence towards women? Sara would sympathize. Broken marriages, or mothers (especially the working kind)? Catherine. Damaged childhoods? Nicky. Grissom himself explicitly stated that drug dealers and people who harm children make him furious.
"You prey on innocent children, and you think we came all the way out here to bust you for possession, you dumb punk?!"
It Works Better with Bullets: In "Forget Me Not", Ronald Basderic attempts to shoot Sara only to find that Detective Crawford had swapped the clip from his gun for one loaded with blanks when he searched him earlier.
Karma Houdini: A typical CSIDowner Ending will likely involve one of these, the most horrifying examples being Kelly James from "Homebodies", a robber and rapist who not only walks, but murders the only person who could finger him; the gas company from "Fracked", who drove an old farmer to suicide after poisoning all his animals; and Gina from "Bittersweet", who served five years in prison as an accessory to murder, only for new evidence to come to light that she was the dominant partner, and she's protected by double jeopardy. She's suspected of being the episode's killer, and not only is it not her (it's her traumatized last victim), but the Papa Wolf of one of her victims goes to jail for beating her half to death.
Karmic Death: A divorcing husband and wife are arguing over custody of his beloved pet dog. He gets an identical dog and tries to sneak it into her house. She catches him in the act and shoots him, but that's not the karmic part. That would be when the new dog turns out to have been abused, goes berserk at the sound of the gunshot, and rips her throat out.
A scammer that made a living selling the same exhausted mine once and again kills a man that knew too much and decides to disguise it as a mining accident. He fails to leave before the fuse burns down and gets a splinter stuck on his brain.
Later seasons have made more use of the other lab rats - David Hodges (Trace), Archie Johnson (Audiovisual), Mandy (Fingerprints), and Wendy Simms (DNA). The show has given them two Lower Deck Episodes with the appropriately-entitled Lab Rats and the hilarious "You Kill Me".
Unlike most Lab Rat characters on the CSI shows, Hodges is quite content to remain indoors and hates going into the field.
Lampshade Hanging: After ten long years, they finally poke fun at their periodic explanations of how a test or piece of equipment works for the benefit of the audience, even though there's no good reason for, say, Sara to be telling this to Nick in the course of everyday work.
Lampshades were also hung about being a forensics series in "I Like to Watch".
Last Name Basis: Grissom (even by Sara, his girlfriend/wife), Hodges, Brass, Ecklie, McKeen, occasionally Russell. Julie prefers 'Finn', short for her last name, Finlay.
Lawman Gone Bad: The team investigates a series of killings related to the murder of a mob boss many years before. It's mentioned that a patrol officer called in the car crash/body but mysteriously vanished along with the ill gotten gains and the possibility of this trope is discussed. It turns out that the corpse that was thought to be the mob boss's was actually his; killed in order to serve as a decoy.
Left Hanging: "Bad to the Bone". Six or seven subthreads, none of which were even close to being resolved.
Pretty much every season finale since season 7 has been this way as well. They love their end of season cliffhangers.
Lethal Klutz: One episode features a guy like this. He accidentally kills his wife and somehow decides that the best thing to do was bury her in fresh cement at a construction site... where he gets stuck. It gets worse when they delve into his backstory. Some characters find his antics funny but Grissom is just disturbed.
Limited Advancement Opportunities: Avoided. Though the cast has remained more or less constant, their relative rank and internal structure have been adjusted, including Brass's handing over the department to Grissom (and going back to being a detective), the race between Warrick and Nick to achieve CSI 3, and Ecklie's breakup of the team into two different shifts, which prompted the promotion of Catherine Willows to supervisor, and made room in the ranks for Greg to go from lab tech to field agent. Later on, Nick gets promoted to Catherine's right-hand man and Ray has progressed rather rapidly from starting out at entry level.
A particularly nice touch in Greg's case was Grissom making sure he really did want to make the lateral (and downward!) jump from Senior Lab Tech to extremely junior Field Investigator, reminding him that he'll be taking a substantial pay cut and that it will take quite a while to get back to his present level.
Long-Runner Cast Turnover: Since the original premiered in 2000, its later seasons have seen the departure of three of its leads (Grissom, retired, and Catherine, new job, and Ray Langston (who replaced Grissom), forcibly resigned), two of its secondary leads (Sara, quit from PTSD but now Commuting on a Bus, and Warrick, Killed Off for Real) and a number of its recurring supporting roles (Wendy, Sofia, and the very short tenure of Riley, meant to replace Sara). Most of the departures were of the "actor wanting to move on" variety, but contract disputes and in Warrik's case, personal problems, also factored.
Luke, I Am Your Father: Catherine's dad was a recurring casino owner who regretted not taking responsibility sooner, although the two were very close. This soured when Catherine found out that he had someone (probably a bunch of someones considering it was old Vegas) murdered; they managed to patch things up a little before he was murdered and she now refers to him as "my dad".
The Main Characters Do Everything: Literally every possible police-related duty except handing out traffic tickets. It practically feels like the CSI team is an entire police department comprised of a dozen people.
This show is pretty bad about this. In real life, CSIs simply go from crime scene to crime scene collecting evidence; they don't lab work. Right off the bat, a CSI's job is combined with a forensic scientist's job. They especially don't interview, interrogate and arrest people, even cities where the CSIs are police officers, they don't interview and interrogate people. Even Captain Jim Brass, the only actual main character with a badge, wouldn't be doing investigative work. The rank of Captain is a management rank, he'd spend most of his time at the station performing administrative duties.
The combination of the CSI and forensic scientist jobs is due to California Doubling. The real-life criminalist(s) who were involved in the development and consultation of the show in its early years mostly worked in Los Angeles, where most criminalists both collect evidence from crime scenes and do lab work.
Somewhat justified as the showrunners say they simply do this to keep the main cast involved without tailspinning into Loads and Loads of Characters. Fans of the show usually let this go by keeping the mantra in mind.
Mama Bear: Catherine "Don't mess with Lindsey" Willows.
Nausea Dissonance: In one episode, Catherine sends the rookie officer escorting her out because of this trope (she doesn't want vomit contaminating her crime-scene). The suspect turns out to have been hiding, and attacks her.
This doubles as a Call Back when Warrick berates the officer for not clearing the scene because "[They] lost a CSI 2 years ago because of [that]." He's referring to the first episode, in which he was the one to leave another CSI alone at a crime scene.
The show is also notable for its gory body-dives, in which the camera flies around inside somebody's body (often tracing the path of a murder weapon), accompanied by all sorts of icky Foley noises. This is commonly referred to as TMI Cam.
Need a Hand, or a Handjob?: Inverted when Catherine, while being evaluated by Grissom, complains about her lack of social life (and sex). "How can I help?" Grissom asks, and has to clarify that it's not THAT kind of help when Catherine raises her eyebrow at him.
Another episode has Sara ask Grissom "Do you want to sleep with me?" Grissom has a Beat of WTF (this is before their Relationship Upgrade, but went along with all the Ship Tease they were having) before she reveals it to be a sarcastic offer, as Grissom had stated disbelief that she was having nightmares, and she says that he should be there to see her wake up screaming in the middle of the night in order to make him believe her.
Never Suicide: Subverted in one episode where an investor shoots himself at a party. It originally looks like a staged suicide since he's still holding the gun, which usually doesn't happen as the muscles relax after death.
Another variation: The villain of an early story-arc staged identical suicides of men who were born on his father's birthday, the same date as and manner in which his father was murdered - up to and including a faked recorded suicide note. He did all this to prove his father's murder wasn't a suicide. This was eventually subverted as Millander, who it turns out was born on the same day as his father (and Grissom, incidentally), killed himself in the same way he had killed the other men.
Inverted in another episode: a man is found in the woods with all the evidence initially pointing towards murder. It actually turns out to be a suicide designed to look like a murder so his wife would receive his life insurance money.
Subverted yet again in another episode, when one man throws himself in front of a car. The entire episode runs like an ordinary investigation, the suicide letter being the final twist revealed only seconds before the episode ends.
Ironically, this ended up turning into a murder, as the driver that hit him had been drunk at the time and, rather than admit to hitting someone while intoxicated, hid the still-living man in his garage and tried to dispose of the body the next day.
One double subversion, when a Sherlock Holmes impersonator is found shot to death. Like the above example, the episode runs as a murder investigation, until the team discovers the gun tied to an elastic in the chimney, revealing that when the victim shot himself and let go of the gun, the elastic snapped it back into the chimney. Then we find out that the real murderer, in a reference to one of Holmes' later cases, had set the whole thing up to look like a suicide that had been set up to look like a murder, as an appropriately Holmesian mystery. Yes, a murder, made to look like a suicide, made to look like a murder.
"Trends With Benefits" starts out looking like the real-life suicide of Tyler Clementi (see Ripped From The Headlines), but it turns out the victim's death was accidental.
Never Trust a Trailer: The 300th episode "Frame By Frame'' was promoted as featuring a return guest appearance by Marg Helgenberger, reprising her role as Catherine Willows. Some TV Guide entries even claimed that Catherine returns to assist the CSIs in a cold case. In actuality, Catherine only appears in flashbacks (newly shot, mind you), and the character never actually appears in the present time.
The previous episode's trailer had Greg saying he's going to leave the CSI (after he had said in the last episode that, unlikeSarah, he'd never tire of the job); actually he's afraid he's going to be forced to leave if it's proven his negligence put an innocent man in jail for a decade (it was actually a rookie cop who unwittingly contaminated the crime scene)
Night Swim Equals Death: Too many episodes to list. It's usually signaled by finding the body floating in the swimming pool.
Nice Character, Mean Actor: In-universe and for a Top Chef-esque reality TV star: the show's producer was going out of her way to make him look like a nice underdog because he and another chef were her college buddies — and then she found out they were the ones who raped her sister (I think). She turned him into four fancy dishes and poisoned his buddy with almonds (actual almonds (well, almond powder), not the bitter kind).
No Badge? No Problem!: CSI gets Flanderized into this in parodies but it's not as prevalent as it's made out to be. While the CSIs tend to do things that the police would be the ones to do in real life (like interviewing suspects or capturing them, though the latter tends to happen only when someone they plan to just speak to runs away), Grissom often reminds civilians he isn't a cop, and at one point was told to leave the scene by Brass when it became apparent that a suspect was still there.
Noodle Incident: DB and Finlay's past. Something caused them to become estranged for years. Probably not an affair, seeing as DB's family wants them to get along. Turns out Finlay went to extremes to prove a VIP was guilty and DB was forced to fire her despite believing in her.
Occam's Razor: In a rather bizarre instance, Grissom brings this up in one episode to suggest that the killer was...the Nazi Mad ScientistEvil Twin of the man they thought was the killer. That was the "simplest explanation" he offered (he was right, of course, but still- hardly "simple").
Offing the Offspring: One woman was so devoted to her son that she used her gangster boyfriend to murder her adult grandchildren and nearly her great-grandchild when she learned her granddaughter had evidence her son had molested them (his children, not the great-grandchild). Her excuse for being able to kill her own family so easily was the fact that she had given birth to and raised her son while the other three may as well have been strangers. For bonus horrible points the gangster thought the grandson was one of the robbers who raped his niece; it was actually the killer he hired. Sadly this was ripped from the headlines (and before you ask: yup, Florida.
Omniscient Database: Revolutionized this trope. They have demonstrated databases on blood, hair, rope, wire, shoe prints, tire treads, tire rubber compositions, and even clown makeup patterns. There was a Lampshade Hanging in a sixth season episode, in which Hodges sarcastically suggested searching a database to discover the brand of a hot dog.
To be fair, the clown makeup database belonged to a clown guild in Las Vegas, which is Truth in Television. Each professional clown is required to wear a unique make-up that is registered in the guild. Wearing another clown's make up us punishable.
One episode featured a database that allows one to find where a picture in New York was taken by measuring the skyline in comparison to a reference height (while the technique is sound, there is no such software).
An early Season Ten episode features a database on gangs, including cases related to each gang, their territory and their known members.
In fact, it's when CSI avoids the trope that it can be jarring. A reoccurring scene is the local trace evidence guy naming a compound, and the CSI identifying the compound's common name, and its uses, including the more arcane (say, Jeweller grinder lubricant) on the top of their head. Said arcane use are always the key to cracking the case. This gets jarring because there ARE databases to identify the most common uses of chemicals.
The Only One: The Crime Scene Investigators (and Brass) are the only law enforcement personnel who care about getting the criminals. The DAs only care about getting convictions, even if it is a wrongful one. Judges are at best unhelpful or helpless, at worst are corrupt and seek to hinder the CSIs in any way possible. Other cops just don't care. Parole boards are more focused on bureaucracy than on doing their job of making sure bad people stay in jail. Fire Departments are ridiculed for destroying evidence, and the never-seen day shift CSIs are a bunch of lazy incompetents.
For the "other cops" part, subverted quite impressively by part-time Miami character Aaron Jessop, who apparently had the observational and mental skills to be a CSI himself. Pity he tripped a booby trap and got blown up.
The Other Darrin: Ellie Brass, who was played by two different actresses in 'Ellie' and 'Hollywood Brass' plus 'Bang Bang'. Also Lindsey Willows, but hers is probably a bit more justified since she was a child and growing up fast and the earlier actresses may not have been available.
Our Ghosts Are Different: In one episode, four recently deceased people talk about how they died and what they'd been doing till then. One of the "ghosts" was an Iraq war veteran who just returned home only to be killed trying to stop a robbery. The other three remark that it must have been the saddest day of his life, but the 'vet said for him it was the happiest, because he got to see his newborn son for the first time.
Outranking Your Job: Brass spends a surprising amount of time kicking down doors for a police captain. Averted by Ecklie, who rarely investigates a crime scene himself, as befitting his supervisory role.
Grissom also gave Catherine's abusive ex-husband an Oh Crap moment when said ex tried to bully Catherine.
In fact, Grissom tends to go Papa Wolf whenever his team are at risk of harm, for all he usually comes across as emotionally distant.
D.B. now. Do not mess with his family.
Ecklie has his moments of this when it comes to Morgan. He's not pleased when he finds out that Morgan testified on Hodges' behalf at a hearing for his possibly-a-Green-Card-scam engagement, and he punches a guy in the face when he won't admit to knowing where a kidnapped Morgan is. As he doesn't really have quite as much of an opportunity to go out and investigate things as the others when Morgan ends up in danger (as he's the Undersheriff/Sheriff), he doesn't get as much Papa Wolf behavior as the other examples here, but it's still very obvious that you do not want to be around him and be someone who's hurt her.
Paper-Thin Disguise: By the Diabolical Mastermind in "Living Legend". It's not so much that they don't see through his disguises (after all, he's been missing for 30 years), it's that no one notices that the disguises all look like one another.
Had an episode with a psychic helping the CSIs. He died before we could find out if he was a fraud, though all his predictions did come true.
"Toe Tags", which had the stories told from the corpses' perspective, like they were ghosts.
The Perfect Crime: In "Working Stiffs", a lowly office drone makes a seemingly perfect get rich quick scheme. He manages to get the unbreachable safe open, but is crushed against the wall by a piece of it that comes flying at him. Upon seeing he actually succeeded in doing the impossible, his last words are "I knew it would work..."
Played straight whenever they don't get the perp, though special mention goes to "Alter Boys" ( the team knows for sure that the actual killer is not the man arrested but his Evil Twin, yet every bit of evidence points to the former), an ep with one of the most remarkable Downer Endings in the show.
Before both of these was "Organ Grinder", in which the perps were a tag-team of Black Widows who would go from state to state, one of them marrying wealthy men for their money and the other poisoning the husband, with the roles flip-flopping every other kill. They would then meticulously destroy all evidence so that the only thing investigators would have on them would be their own testimony... and then each flip on the other, forcing the authorities to let them go. They end up being the first perps on the show to get away completely scot-free (not counting Millander, who is brought down later on). In an interview, the episode's writer said she realized this was a huge Anticlimax, and if she had the chance to write it again she would've had one kill the other and go down for it.
Not so much anymore, now that he's had several serious character arcs (not to mention becoming one of the most experienced CSIs on the team). The role has been taken over by Hodges and the supporting Lab Rats.
And the episode "Hollywood Brass" certainly feels like a PDP. Were they thinking about a Jim Brass spin-off set in LA?
It seemed possible also with the episode "The Thing About Heroes" of CSI NY, which introduced at least one major character from the Chicago police department, but no spinoff was launched.
Rumours circulated for a while about a possible CSI London (although for accuracy, it should be SOCO London, as the real-life CSI equivalents of the British Police are called Scene Of (the) Crime Officersnote The NYPD relies on CSU—Crime Scene Unit'') such that, when Mac Taylor of CSI NY visited London, there was an expectant hush among some viewers... which dissipated almost immediately, since London was just a stock-footage pretty backdrop for a mystery phone call, part of a very definitely American story arc.
Put on a Bus: Inevitably for such a long-running series, this has happened several times.
Sara and Grissom, presumed retired for good, although Grissom did have a cameo in Season 11's "The Two Mrs.Grissoms". Sara returned for a few episodes starting in Season 10, and began Commuting on a Bus starting in Season 11.
Catherine as of Season 12.
Wendy (Liz Vassey) got on the bus in Season 11.
Sofia and Riley also make quick exits even after getting promoted to the titles.
Grissom started the trend, but, to be fair, it was CSI: Miami that took it to a (much cheesier) new level.
Averted in one early episode where Grissom makes a quip, the musical cue for the fade happens, but is suddenly interrupted by Grissom's cell phone, informing him of another case to handle. At that case's location, he makes another quip with the cue, and his phone rings again. At this third crime scene, Grissom doesn't even bother making a quip, and the show fades into the theme.
Reckless Gun Usage: Nick Stokes investigates how a woman got shot with no evidence of a shooter anywhere near. The answer is that there was an idiot who had a gun and made a shooting range in the backyard, in the suburbs within city limits, a big-time city ordinance no-no, and a stray bullet went into the air and struck the woman on the decline. When they arrest him, he protests it was an accident and Stokes contemptuously responds "Well, that's why it's illegal to shoot guns within city limits, genius!"
Redemption Equals Death: Keppler killed an innocent man on the word of a corrupt cop. Guess what happens in the episode that outs the secret?
Regularly Scheduled Evil: Serial-killing dentist Doctor Dave (played with chilling effect by the great Ned Beatty) started killing when he was in his late teens, and only got "the urge" every ten years or so. He doesn't get caught until he's in his seventies. The length of time between murders is one reason it took so long for the police to catch him.
The Reliable One: Back in the days before he was promoted to the main cast, DNA specialist Greg Sanders was this. Once he became a featured player, this position was taken up by David Hodges, much to the surprise of everyone.
Revolving Door Casting: Seems to slowly be heading towards this with the original cast gradually leaving the show and replacements being brought in over time. note As of Season 13, the remaining original cast members include George Eads (Nick), Jorja Fox (Sara, who has been Commuting on a Bus for several seasons), Eric Szmanda (Greg), Robert David Hall (Doc Robbins), and Paul Guilfoyle (Brass).
"After the Show", an almost word for word retelling of the Linda Sobek murder, and specially notable for having been co-written by Elizabeth Devine, a former CSI involved in the original case who is now a consultant to the show.
"Trends With Benefits" is based on the suicide of Tyler Clementi who was outed by his roommate with his webcam, with a twist: The gay college student's death was an accident, him being gay wasn't an issue, and he was the one who was using hidden cameras (he wanted to be the next Perez Hilton), in this case to expose his professor raping a student.
"Burked", based on the Binion murder case. While the key story elements are there, the identities of the killers are different.
Running Gag: Mentioned by name by Hodges in "You Kill Me".
Sacrificial Lamb: The series began with a Naïve Newcomer character who basically served to introduce the various members of the show's cast. With that out of the way, she caught two in the back of the head, turning into the second victim and confirming her status as the New Meat.
Most of the CSIs, really. Rather than bringing in criminals, they catch them using various forms of forensic analysis (blood spatter, facial reconstruction, DNA matching, etc).
The Secret of Long Pork Pies: In "Appendicitement", the owner of a BBQ restuarant was killed by his wife and the cook, who then disposed of the body by cooking it up and serving it to the customers. The flashback implies it was very popular.
In one episode, a comedian dies from drinking a poisoned bottle of water. Then a kid dies from drinking the same brand. The first victim was the target; the killer (a rival comedian who hated his style) says he blames the CSIs for not finding the poisoned bottle in time as he's arrested after confessing out of remorse.
Doctor Jekyll, when finally caught after a season-long killing spree, was in the process of murdering the true object of his rage- his own father. Played with in that every victim was connected to the main target, friends and acquaintances that they admired, so every murder was designed to make them suffer before they died, as well as giving Jekyll a chance to take out his frustrations on somebody.
Sort of with the original bios on the CBS website. Catherine was said to have been born in Bozeman, Montana (likely recycled to CSI NY's Lindsay) and Grissom's father was said to have been involved in smuggling. The first guidebook, covering the first three seasons, has this information as well.
Sex Is Evil: One of the more frequent knocks on CSI is that this is pretty much how it treats any sex practices (regardless of consent) outside of hetero and committed.
This is a common problem with any Crime and Punishment Series, really, as the only time the characters usually encounter alternative lifestyles is when there's a grisly murder involved.
Rule 34a: There's also a CSI episode about it - no exceptions.
CSI tends to be a bit schizophrenic about this, really. While they tend to portray "perverts" of various types as being twisted in various way aside from their sexual appetites, those that weren't involved in the crime of the week, and even some who were, are ultimately portrayed sympathetically for the most part. The best example is Recurrer Lady Heather, a dominatrix who is a tragic and sympathetic character. Admittedly, most of the tragic part is in some way due to her lifestyle, but it is ultimately left up to the viewer to decide whether this is due to her own "sins," or other people's (including her own daughter) reaction to them.
Humorously, ex-stripper Catherine seems to be the most squicked out by alternative sexual practices. Grissom, of course, finds it all very fascinating.
Toyed with in an early episode where Nick sleeps with a woman who is found dead the next morning. As the last person to see her alive, he is automatically the prime suspect in the investigation. Turns out, she was a prostitute who was going to go solo, and her former pimp killed her after Nick left her house.
Shameful Source Of Knowledge: Inverted on an episode which is set over the course of a year. A junkie who Nick helps out at the beginning (and slowly sorts himself out over the course of the episode) recognises the smell of some drugs the murderer poisoned the victim with. However, he isn't willing to reveal what he knows until after he's gone clean, since he didn't think he'd be believed.
Ship Sinking: Turns out Grissom and Sara's very, very, very long-distance relationship was too hard. Also Sara's potential romance with a hook-up: not only was he murdered by the stalker from the diner massacre episode, the stalker taunts her with the fact he had to pay him to see her again.
Ship Tease: Grissom and Catherine playfully flirt with each other and it never goes anywhere. To wit:
Catherine to Grissom:(while helping the latter put on a tie) You need a woman.
Grissom, when Catherine returns from Miami in which she helped investigate a case there, "I missed your tush".
There have also been hints towards possible Nick and Sara - Word of God states that Sara's phonecall at the end of "You've Got Male" was originally intended to be to Nick, and they have had moments of reciprocated flirting. Likewise, Catherine and Warrick, to the point where Catherine is upset to learn of Warrick's marriage and even outright comments on losing the dream.
Grissom and Heather could also fall under this as it is never outright confirmed that anything happened between them. Heavily implied, yes, but always in a way that, taking Grissom as being Grissom, could have a perfectly innocent explanation.
There were hints here and there for Greg and Sara as well, especially during her time mentoring him in the fifth season. A notable example comes from the episode "4x4":
Greg: Sara, I just want you to know that when we were in the shower, I didn't see anything.
Sara: Really? Gosh, I saw everything.
Grissom and Sara themselves in the first season.
Sara: Do you want to sleep with me?
Gil: ...Did you just say what I think you said?
Although that was a Rule of Drama moment, as Sara was setting him up for her rationale for taking their current case personally: that if they slept together, then he would know how serious her nightmares were regarding the victim.
Shipper on Deck: DB seems to ship Morgan/Greg, seeing as how he's called Greg her boyfriend on at least one occasion.
Shot to the Heart: Doc Robbins does this in one episode, where a guy revives on his table.
Shout-Out: Hodges and Langston do a very-thinly-disguised MythBusters-style experiment, complete with Plexiglas shield. All they needed was the "3, 2, 1!" part. There is also the experiment conducted by Nick and company with a ballistics gel dummy.
In an earlier episode, Savage and Hyneman make a cameo observing such an experiment conducted by Nick, involving a taser and the flammability of pepper spray.
To make it go full circle, Mythbusters in turn tested the experiment as part of their show. For the results, you'll have to see the episode in question.
Shown Their Work: More often than you think; it's the editing that turns it into Hollywood Science. There's also the episode involving a not!Star Trek convention, which is filled with references, including the Picard Maneuver. The shirt-tugging one.
Side Bet: In one episode, Greg Sanders's replacement eventually cracks from the pressure to be just like Greg and quits. Nick forks over a bill to Warrick. (Who really shouldn't have been participating...)
There's also been a whole episode with a Running Gag about Nick and Warrick having a bet on what happened to the Vic of the Week. Either Warrick can engage in "fun" bets with a buddy without a problem, or, considering this was one of the earlier seasons, the writers were letting their sometimes schizophrenic approach to characterisation show.
Another episode sees Catherine and Grissom make a bet over whether two murder victims' deaths were related or not (they were long lost twins). In the end it turns out they were both right, and Catherine rips a bill apart, handing half of it to Gil. This comes after a very heavy conversation, lending to a tension breaker when Grissom reminds her that doing so is a federal offense.
Sinister Shiv: One episode featured a shanking in a juvenile detention facility with a shiv made from a razorblade melted into the handle of a toothbrush.
Skinny Dipping: "Fracked" opens with three teenagers skinny dipping in hot spring. They discover a dead body floating in it.
Stab The Salad: Used in The Teaser of "Dead of the Class". David takes a knife from the block in his kitchen and slowly and menacingly walks into the bedroom to where his very pregnant wife is lying down. He asks her "Why must you force me to do this?" in a suitably menacing tone ... then proceeds to use the knife to cut the tags off a new dress shirt. They were talking about him having to go to his high school reunion without her because she's too tired to stand.
Stray Shots Strike Nothing: Averted. In one episode a man fired a handgun into the air and accidentally killed a woman who lived miles away. Sadly, it was probably inspired by one of a number of cases in Real Life where people carelessly firing off guns in celebration have killed innocent bystanders.
Streetwalker: The first season has Nick falling for the hooker, Kristy Hopkins, who is indeed killed by her pimp. According to her pimp she lied about wanting to get out of it.
Something similar happens to Warrick in the eighth season, where he was framed for her murder.
Catherine Willows could be considered this, as she is a former stripper. She hasn't been killed, but constantly faces people and places from her dubious past.
Likewise, Grissom's one-time potential love interest Lady Heather could be considered this as she was an intelligent but intense woman who ran an S&M club. She, however, was not the delicate flower in need of nurturing but more of a velvet glove and iron fist in one.
Spanner in the Works: Several criminals are apprehended when other people unwittingly discover their victims' bodies or provide evidence that allow the CSIs to catch them. Children who get chemical burns from the lye used to try and dissolve a buried corpse, panicking teenage girls who steal a car containing a severed head before the killer has a chance to bury it (see Dead Man's Chest above), one of the same girls slapping her hand on a murderer's car and leaving a handprint that proves the killer was there at the time of the murder, or a Heroic Bystander catching a Peeping Tom who also turns out to be a serial rapist, have all given the CSIs invaluable help over the years.
Spontaneous Human Combustion: One episode has a subplot dedicated to SHC. After finding a charred corpse with all the hallmarks of Real Life SHC cases, the characters conducted an experiment; they wrapped a pig's corpse in the woman's clothing, put the corpse on an identical lounger to the victim, doused the pig with liquor, and lit it up, thereby replicating the scene that they found. Grissom, who already knew about the Wick Effect, congratulated the experimenters on a successful experiment, and then told them that this was coming out of their paychecks since it was unnecessary.
Suicide Is Shameful: In the episode "Who Shot Sherlock?", Greg cites the possibility that a relative of the deceased covered up a suicide as a possible explanation for contradictory evidence at the crime scene. In an odd twist it turns out to be a murder staged to look like a suicide which was staged to look like a murder because of this trope.
Super-Deformed: The CSI: Crime City Facebook Game, where you play a new member to the Las Vegas CSI lab, and must not just search for evidence, but also process it to apprehend the killer of each case.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Dr. Raymond Langston (played by Laurence Fishburne) replaces Grissom in Season 9, though not in terms of position. Riley takes Sara's place.
Ray Zig Zags the trope. Being the new guy, he's not the Team Dad that Grissom was, but does take over Grissom's role of the older, sheltered, quiet, intellectual guy.
DB Russell plays it a bit straighter. He's quirky like Grissom, has the Team Dad element about him, and has some of the sense of humor at times.
Sympathetic Criminal: Eventually subverted—the bank robber claims he's doing it for his family, but he's lying.
Sympathetic Murderer: Played absolutely straight in one episode with a guy who is responsible, by complete and total accident, for the death of his grandmother, wife, and next door neighbor, and winds up buried up to his waist in cement for it. The whole thing reads like an extended version of The Far Side, complete with the wife wearing cats-eye glasses.
Then there was the guy from "Lying Down With Dogs" who was an FBI agent undercover in a dogfighting ring who could never get enough evidence to prove what was really going on, and was thus forced to watch innocent animals being abused in every way imaginable without being able to do anything, eventually snapping and killing the head of the ring by subjecting her to every torture she put the dogs through.
Quite possibly Ray, who seems to have killed Nate Haskell by dropping him from the second story of his (Nate's) house after tying him up. Justified in that Nate is a serial killer who murdered Ray's ex-wife's husband and tortured her for days. Either way Ray's not returning next season.
Take a Third Option: In the first season, Warrick and Catherine catch a teenage boy who accidentally ran over a little girl. Warrick gives the remorseful kid his number, and tells him to call if he runs into any problems in juvie. In the next season, the kid witnesses a teenage gangbanger murdering his rival. The DA wants the kid to testify, and threatens to extend his sentence if he refuses. On the other hand, the kid knows if he does that the other inmates will kill him. Instead, he calls Warrick for help. Warrick's investigation finds enough evidence to convict the gangbanger without the kid needing to testify.
Team Mom: Catherine for a long time...now Sara's kind of getting into it.
Television Geography: The frequent presence of lush greenery and vegetation, and moderately frequent rain, in desert Las Vegas on CSI (filming in LA, also a desert but heavily watered) is often a source of amused derision by show fans. Also, Geoff Duncan has written two articles on the geographical inaccuracy of two outside jobs, one in "Jackpot" and another in the 2004 season premiere.
Themed Aliases: In "Living Legend", the killer uses aliases that the names of movie serial killers: Michael Myers, Pamela Voorhess and F. Krueger.
There Are No Coincidences: Gil Grissom repeatedly says that he does not believe in coincidences. He even quoted Goldfinger at one point, saying "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy's action." However, in the episode "Chaos Theory", Grissom is forced, at the end of the episode's investigation, to accept that the death and disappearance of college student Paige Rycoff was the result of a series of unfortunate random events that, when taken in sequence, were only connected because, together, they directly led to the girl dying in a tragic accident that merely appeared at first blush, to be murder.
This Bear Was Framed: In one episode, a woman (who was eating human organs to fight off a rare disease) used dogs to attack her victims, so that the deaths at first simply looked like dog attacks.
A man who was punched in the back of the head in a bar fight, who later died of a brain hemorrhage in the bath.
A boy who was stabbed trying to prevent his little brother from murdering their mother's boyfriend tries to walk home, but collapses and dies... right under the tires of a cab. The cabbie then gets beaten to death by a mob who thinks he ran the boy down and was about to drive off, when he was actually going for his radio.
This was the killer, Dr. Jekyll's pattern, he would knock them out and perform surgery on them that would sabotage their body from the inside, thus causing them to die weeks after the incident without them knowing why.
A football coach is savagely beaten about the head while he sleeps; the next morning he wakes up, brushes his teeth, has breakfast and gets the paper while bleeding profusely from his head and mouth. The ME concludes that parts of his brain was just intact enough to "zombie-walk" him through his morning rituals.
A miner gets a long splinter stuck on the top of his head and manages to drive from a mine in the mountains to a casino parking before he collapses and dies in front of a police officer. The cop is undertsandably confused.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: All three series have their fair share of these, but Catherine is the subject of a brutal one from Leo Finley at the end of "A Thousand Days on Earth". Even though he's innocent of murder, Leo's fiance, Norah, now knows he's a sex offender because Catherine dug up his past during her investigation. He explains to Catherine that Norah kicked him out of his own home and got a restraining order, in addition to telling all their neighbors as well as his boss, resulting in him losing his job, and it's all Catherine's fault. You can feel Leo's pain as he calls Catherine a "blonde Nazi bitch" and screams at her for not caring about ruining his life before telling her in a chillingly calm tone that he's thinking about killing himself and that if he does, that'll be her fault too.
Token Minority: Warrick Brown until 2008. This role was then played by Dr Raymond Langston (Lawrence Fishburne). Now, there isn't one (after 2011).
Underside Ride: In "XX", a woman tries to escape from a prison in this way and suffers Ludicrous Gibs from getting caught in the moving parts. Subverted when we find out that she was already dead - the killer was getting rid of the body.
Unfortunate Name: Diebenkorn. Not a punny or risque one, but still one that he'd probably like to forget.
Useless Security Camera: Usually, whenever crimes take place in corner shops, the owner will imply that it's not a real camera (or that it doesn't work) without even having to say it.
Vengeful Vending Machine: Brass once helped a witness's mother get a soda from the lab's vending machine, which had taken her for $2. He rattled its controls in the right way to get it to cough up the stuck can for her.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Presumably Dr. Jekyll's dad. In an interesting twist the dad wanted his son to have a creative career (chef) while the son wanted a more disciplined one (surgeon).
Well-Intentioned Extremist: The "neighborhood watch" guy, who can't move due to the economy and has to see an internet porn business and a crackhouse open up on his street.
Weirdness Censor: One episode that dealt with a murder in a crowded theater referenced "The Invisible Gorilla", one of the most well-known experiments in the history of modern psychology, as an explanation for why a group of bystanders just stood there and ignored a horrible crime happening in their presence: the audience was concentrating so hard on the show that they missed the murder happening right in front of them.
"The Invisible Gorilla" operates thusly: a test group watches a video that featured six people, three in white shirts, three in black shirts, passing a basketball back and forth. The test group was instructed to carefully count the number of passes made from one person to another. Afterward, the test group was asked, "Did you notice the gorilla?" Turns out that at one point in the video, a man in a gorilla costume walks into the middle of the basketball players, thumps its chest a few times, then walks off-stage. In total, the gorilla is onscreen for nearly nine seconds, and no one ever spots (even those people who go into the experiment knowing there is going to be a gorilla tend to not spot it at all).
Worst Aid: Usually averted, but in an episode where Nick finds a missing teen who's sprawled unconscious in a ditch after being struck by a car and knocked down a hill, he turns her head as he's checking her injuries. As it happens, when next she's seen on-screen she's mostly paralyzed, in traction and a neck brace...
Wrong Genetic Sex: In one episode, a DNA sample with female chromosomes turned out to belong to a male character. He was a post-operation trans man and it wasn't known that he had been born female-bodied.
You Need to Get Laid: When Nick jokingly tells his nerdy Lab Rat coworkers they need to get a girlfriend, it backfires both times. David reminds Nick he's engaged, and Archie just scoffs, "You first!"
The CSI video games provide examples of (in addition to many listed above)
Art Evolution: Just look at the graphics for Fatal Conspiracy, and then look back at the very first CSI game. Yeah...
Back Tracking: The amount of times you have to keep going back to a crime scene, or a suspect's place (just to gather more evidence, or get more information) is a little ridiculous and unrealistic, especially when compared to the TV show. The game designers sort of lampshade it though sometimes by having the suspects get really agitated with you everytime you come back to get more info, or look for more evidence.
Brick Joke: Each CSI game comes with 5 cases. For every 5th case, a suspect from an earlier case who was later deemed innocent shows back up again, and usually turns out to be heavily involved with the current case, or is the actual murderer.
Character Tics: Some suspects have these, and they become essential to the case later. One female suspect in one game keeps fidgeting with her fingernails during questioning. It's later revealed because she broke a fake nail, and the broken piece turns up on the victim's dead body.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The very first CSI game had poor graphics, and the characters just barely resemble the actors from the TV show. The cases were much shorter, and in the first two games, Greg did all DNA, print, and chemical matches for you.
Face-Heel Turn: Practically a fleet of police officers and undercover agents in the game Fatal Conspiracy.
The Other Darrin: Marg Helgenberger and Jorja Fox do not voice Catherine or Sara in most of the games.
A Winner Is You: After you beat a case with 100% completion, you usually just get Grissom telling you, that doesn't happen often, and that he's very impressed. If you don't get 100%, he just berates you and tells you to try better next time. To be fair though, it is in character for Grissom to give you such a bare minimum evaluation. In the games made after William Petersen's departure Catherine gives you a more glowing evaluation, making you feel like you really accomplished something. However, she pretty much says the same thing regardless if you get 100% or not.