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Crime and Pun-ishment: The Art of the CSI One-Liner

I caught an episode of CSI: Miami last night and I am ashamed to admit that I had forgotten the cheesy power of Horatio Caine and the Sunglasses of Justice. I suspect that, isolated from each other, neither would be of note but, combined, they are unstoppable. Sure, some may question the ability of lead actor David Caruso, but I think it is a breathtaking performance. If he is a wooden performer, he is fashioned from rich mahogany. If he is two-dimensional, he is a Looney Tune of two-dimensionality. If he is a bad actor, he is the Marlon Brando of bad actors. And, in fairness, are you watching for anything other than the one-liners?

Raising Caine...

Raising Caine...

Don’t get me wrong, CSI is trashy television. About as trashy as it comes. But it is (generally) solidly entertaining trash. Each member of the family has its advantages – the original CSI has its high production values and very solid cast; CSI: NY has Gary Sinise and it’s lovable off-the-wall weirdness; CSI: Miami has the so-bad-it’s-good-ness and the one-liners. I’ll concede that the other shows feature witty wordplay in bad taste, but David Caruso is the undisputed king of delivery. There’s a fantastic Youtube video that has eight minutes of him delivering one-liners as testament to his ability, and here are just some of my favourites:

  • A guy has been impaled on an ice sculpture at a wedding. The coroner gives Horatio the set-up (“Shot in the light of day in a house filled with people? That’s cold blooded, Horatio”) and our sunglass-wearing sleuth knocks it out of the park with, “Yes, Alex. It’s as cold… as ice.” Cue The Who shouting “YEAHHH!”
  • A guy is killed in an alleyway outside a speed-dating club. Once the sheriff has explained to him (and those out-of-touch members of the audience) what speed dating is, Horation offers some advice: “What he didn’t know is that sometimes… speed kills.” Cue The Who shouting “YEAHHH!”
  • An assault rifle is found near the body of a dead bank robber in the tailbank of traffic as citizens of Miami flee the massive tidal wave heading to the city. Horatio observes: “… looks like the wave isn’t the only thing about to hit Miami.” Cue The Who shouting “YEAHHH!”
  • A man in a crowded courtroom draws a gun and refuses Horatio’s offers to help him (“You’re a dead man!”), only for Horatio to cold-bloodily shoot him in the face with no warning and (while shrugging) remark, “Join the club.” Cue The Who shouting “YEAHHH!”
  • Who can forget just how Horatio Caine parks his car? Notice how he stops in the bomb-rigged car to remove his sunglasses, only to put them back on as he (slowly) walks away from the resulting explosion. The cherry on the cake? His delivery of the line “Burn baby burn.”

Hell, even when his material isn’t the best, Caruso manages to break out the old dramatic pauses to make us forget that. It really doesn’t matter if he’s hitting on you (“I have… dinner plans.”) or introducing himself (“My name is Horatio Caine and I know this much… in Miami… we never close.”). I’ll confess that last night’s opening one-liner wasn’t fantastic (despite a murder at the race track, Horatio didn’t open with “… and we’re off” or “looks like somebody was gambling… with their life“), but Caruso manages to manage a Shatner-style dramatic power that perhaps even trumps the legend himself. Shatner would wring every… possible… second of drama from a script, but Caruso seems able to generate his own where the script makes no effort to provide them.

I was astounded when it was announced that CSI: Miami was the most-watched show in the world, but I think I’ve figured out why that is. Even with his red hair thinning slightly and the sunglasses feeling a little worn, Caruso is still a captivatingly DRAMATIC (with all caps) actor. You know you should look away and you know it isn’t good for you, but you are powerless to resist. It’s also – if you can suspend your good taste long enough to get into an episode – just plain fun. And it isn’t because of the horrible writing, or the derivative plots, or the other less-willing-to-embrace-the cheese actors on the show. No, it’s anticipating the next brilliantly horrible pun or over-the-top line reading.

And, for that, Caine is your main man.

One Response

  1. You blew the lid right off the main reason why I tune in to “CSI: Miami”: to hear the zingers. Which don’t necessarily qualify as zingers, since most of them aren’t terribly clever or insightful or original. There’s just something about the Horatio Caine delivery, though, that keeps me coming back…

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