The "classic" cast.
"Concentrate on what cannot lie — the evidence."CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
— Gil Grissom
(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 story lines. 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
), CSI NY
and the newly ordered CSI Cyber
. As of end of the 2013-14 season, there are 746 total episodes of CSI
, CSI: Miami
), 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:
open/close all folders
- Creepy Twins / Sibling Yin-Yang: The Gig Harbor Killer, unemployed and lived alone on a boat, and his wealthy real estate wiz brother (they were adopted by separate families). It's implied they were already partners for the GHK murders and that the wealthy twin is using the "copycat" crime scenes to spring his brother. Additionally the elaborately staged crime scenes have hidden Gemini symbols (spots of blood and threads made of human body parts form the constellation, two crimes scenes are on properties belonging to sister companies named after Castor and Pollux).
- Cut Apart: The fifth season finale uses this trope to deal a Your Princess Is in Another Castle moment to a rescue operation.
- Dark Secret: Often the motive for many of the crimes.
- 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 embarrassment when this is revealed.
- 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.
- In "Long Road Home", a body is hidden in a gera box containing a set of drums and dumped in alley.
- 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.
- Death Dealer: The first Victim of the Week in "Last Woman Standing" is killed when his throat is slashed open by a thrown playing card.
- Death in the Clouds: "Unfriendly Skies".
- 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.
- Disappearing Box: A woman seems to disappear for real in "Abra-Cadaver".
- Do Not Call Me Paul: D.B. Russell. Nobody calls him Diebenkorn. And Julie, who prefers 'Finn', which is short for Finlay.
- Double Aesop: Frequently done with a guest character, to apply the moral of their story to a longer-running established storyline and/or to one of the main cast.
- Downer Ending: "Alter Boys", "Homebodies", "Fracked", "Let it Bleed", and of course "For Gedda". Really, any episode where they can't prove the suspect did anything wrong could be considered this.
- "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..."
- Mad Doctor: 'Doctor Jekyll'.
- 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.
- Manipulative Bastard: The online "partner" of a troubled kid who shoots up the LVPD who turns out to be a cop who had had enough of both her (allegedly) abusive cop husband (she sets it up so he's the first one shot) and her (allegedly) stalker-y "SWAT" lover (she used his computer to frame him as the "partner", plus he'd kill the kid). Ironically they came into contact because the kid's mom wanted to help her son after his only friend was shot by cops and signed him up for (among other things) an LVPD youth outreach program.
- Man on Fire: "The Book of Shadows" opens with a student shooting a video in his high school corridor which is interrupted when one of his teachers comes running along the corridor on fire, before falling the ground dead.
- Married to the Job: Both Sara and Grissom.
- Midlife Crisis Car: Lampshaded.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Doc's wife, when a body turns up in her bed. It was really a set-up, with a wrong place, wrong time kind of feel.
- The Mob Boss Is Scarier: An episode had a hitman refuse a deal to name the man who hired him in exchange for not facing the death penalty, figuring he'd live longer on death row.
- Mood Lighting: To the point of absurdity; autopsies and lab work are often performed in near total darkness!
- Monster Fangirl: Nate Haskell's "fiancée" in "Targets of Obsession".
- Monumental Theft: In "Stealing Home", the CSI team investigate when an entire house is stolen.
- Ms. Fanservice: Catherine and, briefly, Riley. Wendy might also count.
- Ronnie, Sara's swing shift partner, in "The Chick Chop Flick Shop."
- Mulder Moment: "Fur And Loathing". The normally sexually-open Catherine is weirded out by the Furries while Grissom is typically intrigued.
- The Murder After: Warrick and a stripper who is found dead in his car.
- Murder by Mistake:
- In a particularly nasty example, a woman grief-stricken by news her teenaged daughter had been killed in a drunk-driving accident, slipped into the hospital and murdered the young woman who'd been driving the crashed vehicle. Turns out it was her own daughter whom she'd killed, as the two near-identical girls had both suffered disfiguring facial injuries, had swapped outfits and driving duties that evening, and her daughter had borrowed her friend's fake ID to buy booze.
- In "The Lost Reindeer", the murderer planned to kill the man hired to play Santa at a Christmas party. However, the Santa left early and one of the other guests put on the costume.
- Murder.com: Nick's plight in "Grave Danger" is broadcast live over the Internet.
- Murder-Suicide: Generally played straight, though it was inverted in one episode where a stalker attempted suicide in his crush's house, resulting in three people dying.
- My Card: The investigators will often give a witness their card and say "call me if you remember anything."
- Myth Arc:
- The "Miniature Killer".
- The Bathtub "Suicides".
- Dr. Jekyll.
- Nate Haskell.
- 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.
- Necro Cam: Done multiple times in every episode.
- 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, unlike Sara, 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.
- This said, it is quite common for them to enter a possible scene with weapons drawn... ahead of the actual cops.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hilariously averted in volume 6 of IDW's tie-in comics. The story ends with them carting off Greg Rucka for the attempted murder of Joe Quesada.
- No Sell: Agent Ryan doesn't flinch when a sadistic criminal has a gun to her face, nor does she bat an eye when he slashes her arm with a knife — in fact she suggested he use it instead of the gun because it would be more "his thing" as a sadist (actually she was protecting the cops who were about to bust in and the slashing added years to his sentence).
- Non-Actor Vehicle: Justin Bieber guest-starred as anarchist teen bomber Jason McCann in two episodes.
- 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.
- Not Proven: If an episode wants a Downer Ending, this is usually the way it goes about.
- Obfuscating Disability: "The Two Mrs. Grissoms".
- Occam's Razor: In a rather bizarre instance, Grissom brings this up in one episode to suggest that the killer was...the Nazi Mad Scientist Evil 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.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with David Hodges and David Phillips.
- 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.
- Once per Episode: DB will mention his wife. Or call her. Or both.
- Only Known by Initials: D.B. Russell.
- Open Heart Dentistry: In "Willows in the Wind", Doc Robbins (a pathologist) has performed impromptu field surgery on Catherine, cauterising a gunshot wound with a curling iron.
- Orifice Invasion / Orifice Evacuation / Chest Burster: Rats seem to like getting inside corpses in this show.
- 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.
- Papa Wolf: The occasional suspect, especially in the case of an Asshole Victim.
- 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.
- Some of the fathers involved in the cases qualify.
- 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.
- Paranormal Episode:
- 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.
- Perp Walk: Almost at least Once an Episode.
- Pet the Dog: A posthumous one for Millander, as his son has only happy memories of his father, especially of his father's (though he didn't know it at the time) special effects shop.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Greg Sanders is an excellent example of this trope.
- 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.
- Police Are Useless: A major wallbanger happens in Season 11's "Cello and Goodbye". Ray catches up to Nate Haskell at a carnival, both men have guns drawn. Haskell is raving about how Ray's ex-wife is still alive, wielding his gun all over, yelling at the top of his lungs, and just seven feet away. Cops catch up to Ray and... arrest Ray. They somehow miss the screaming madman on a nearby platform with a big gun.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: CSI did this to launch CSI: Miami, which in turn launched CSI NY.
- 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 ) 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.
- The "Cybercrimes" episode definitely felt like a pilot... and it was ordered to series as CSI: Cyber.
- The Professor: Ray.
- 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.
- Quip to Black: The CSI examples are famous.
- 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.
- The Rashomon: Rashomama where the truck full of evidence was stolen by a suspect's boyfriend, leaving the team to construct a case using only their memory.
- Real Men Get Shot: Brass and his "injury date" tattoos.
- "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.
- 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!"
- Rasputinian Death: The episode "Ending Happy" - played for comedy!
- Real Song Theme Tune: "Who Are You", by The Who.
- 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
- Ripped from the Headlines:
- "Unfriendly Skies", inspired by the Jonathan Burton case and aired only months after the incident.
- "Anatomy of a Lye", based on the Gregory Biggs case.
- "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.
- Rule-Abiding Rebel: Investigating a death during a high-stakes poker game, the heroes discover that the waitress put eyedrops in the victim's drink as payback for him being a lousy tipper. She'd meant to give him diarrhea and force him to leave the game early, but he died before they kicked in.
- Run for the Border
- 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.
- Sarcasm Failure: When Grissom doesn't do the Quip to Black.
- Scary Black Man: Several of these have been suspects over the years.
- An amusing subversion came from a black teenage gangbanger and Smug Snake, who tried to use this trope to intimidate Warrick. Warrick, of course, wasn't the least bit impressed.
- Science Hero: Grissom and, later, Ray.
- 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.
- Seeker Archetype: Grissom again.
- Serial Killer: The Miniature Killer, Doctor Jekyll, the Blue Paint Killer.
- Season 1 alone had three: Paul Milander, the I-15 Killer and the Strip Strangler.
- Serial Killings, Specific Target:
- 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.
- Series Continuity Error: Sara says in one ep she has a brother, then in season 12, she says she was an only child.
- 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.
- Serious Business: Among others, the Furry Fandom, Scrabble, eating contests, and vampires vs. werewolves LARPing.
- 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.
: 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".
- The "How can I help?" scene (see above for details).
- 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.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: " Fracked", essentially. Just when the team think they've figured out what's going on, Ecklie randomly forces them to close the investigation for no real reason. Particularly infuriating because the team have been allowed to proceed with investigations in which they had much less evidence than this one.
- 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.
- In another episode, a missing woman is found with a Serial Killer at a place called Black Mesa.
- Hodges' cat is called Kobayashi Maru.
- Boomer and her creator look on in horror as a Star Trek expy is given the Darker and Edgier treatment.
- The 2009 season opens with an extended Bullet Time extravaganza, complete with Morpheus kicking an "Agent" through a window.
- "Blood Moon"'s Cold Opening looks and sounds a lot like True Blood's opening titles.
- "Fracking" also happens to be detective Starbuck's second episode and has a direct reference:
: Do you know what "fracking" is? (it's explained here
, which appears to be the episode's inspiration) Langston
: Sounds like a sci-fi expletive.
- Also includes an Erin Brockovich reference to Catherine (she's not Erin Brockovich, but she was a client).
- Several Quentin Tarantino motifs are used in the Season 5 finale he directed and co-wrote: Warrick and Nick have a Seinfeldian Conversation before going to work, Grissom has a rare piece of Lone Ranger memorabilia, there's a Death as Comedy moment, a character gets buried alive for a good chunk of time, and Grissom even gets to say, "On any other day, you'd be 100% right, but today, you're 100% wrong."
- Possibly the accounting firm of Baker, Smith, and Capaldi mentioned in "Angle of Attack".
- The Show Goes Hollywood: "Hollywood Brass" and "Two and a Half Deaths".
- Shown Their Work: More often than you think; it's the editing that turns it into Hollywood Science. All the equipment in the CSI lab are fully operational. There's also the episode involving a not!Star Trek convention, which is filled with references, including the Picard Maneuver. The shirt-tugging one.
- Show Within a Show: 48 Hour Mystery, a True Crime show, having episodes such as "I-15 Killer" and "The Firefighter Imposter", referencing "true" crimes shown in previous episodes of CSI.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Langston had several moments like this with Nate Haskell.
- Sick Episode: Grissom's Divine Comedy
- 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.
- Slasher Smile: Rylan Gauss◊ in "418 / 427".
- Sleeping with the Boss: Grissom and Sara, although much has changed since he left and she left, then returned.
- Snuff Film: "Snuff".
- 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.
- Stage Magician: The Amazing Zephyr from "Abra-cadaver".
- 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.
- The Spock: Grissom.
- 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.
- Subculture of the Week: In many episodes.
- Suicide by Cop: In "Crime After Crime", Dirty Cop Sam Vega is caught drowning someone. Despite being surrounded by cops pointing their weapons at him, he draws his pistol and is promptly gunned down.
- 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.
- Swallow the Key: In "Abra-Cadaver," the killer, a Stage Magician who was perfectly willing to kill his family members for the sake of illusions, does this at the end (although Grissom did think to check his mouth).
- 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.
- Take Five
- 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.
- Time-Delayed Death: Several examples:
- 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 understandably confused.
- Token Minority: Warrick Brown until 2008. This role was then played by Dr Raymond Langston (Lawrence Fishburne). Now, there isn't one (after 2011).
- Tonight Someone Dies
- True Love Is Boring: Grissom and Sidle. After years of UST, their separation just comes somewhat out of left field.
- Trust Me, I'm an X: From "The Theory of Everything":
Hodges: Trust me, I'm an expert.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Nearly every single episode for most of the run. Occasionally the characters will find out halfway through the episode that the crimes they are investigating are tied together. Some episodes pull this off better than others.
- There have been less of them recently for budget reasons - you essentially have to hire twice the guest cast.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Brutally, brutally played with on the Three Shorts episode "Toe Tags". Turns out that the "hot wife" had depression (but no info is given if it was in response to the marriage or not) while the "ugly guy"... well, he pushed his wife off a cliff, stomped down on her fingers hard enough to break bone when she managed to hold on to the ledge (while giving a nice big Slasher Smile to the camera she was carrying and unknown to him captured everything), and then tried to convince the police that she had committed suicide because she was fed up with him, finally giving a Motive Rant that his life had become hell ever since he married her once he's caught, supposedly because of this trope.
- 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.
- Vehicular Sabotage: In "Risky Business Class', the killer sabotages the door seal on a jet, causing it fail while the plane is in flight. This causes the plane to depressurize and crash.
- 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.
- The Verse: In addition to its three spinoff shows, the show has also shares a universe and crossed over with fellow CBS procedurals Without a Trace and Cold Case.
- Vignette Episode: "Toe Tags".
- Villain Episode: "Killer" and "Working Stiffs".
- We Are Everywhere
- Welcome Episode: Subverted in a major way by having a Welcome Episode premiere which ended with Naïve Newcomer Holly Gribbs getting shot dead. This is then played straight when Sara Sidle is brought in to replace her/act as an independent investigator.
- "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).
- Whip It Good: Lady Heather.
- Working the Same Case: Frequently.
- 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!"
- Your Other Left: "Alter Boys"
- Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb
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...
- 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.
- 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.
- Cliff Hanger / Downer Ending: The ending to Fatal Conspiracy.
- 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.