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Cops rock: Ranking this week's procedurals

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csi_miami

Image Credit: Ron P. Jaffe/CBSThe seasons have ended for the cops on ABC, NBC, and Fox, leaving only the CBS procedurals as the last men standing. This week, we saw the season finales of NCIS and its West Coast kid brother, CSI: Miami and its brooding Manhattan cousin, and Criminal Minds. How times change. Long ago, in the early ’90s, NBC was the Cop King, with the original Law & Order, Homicide: Life on the Street, and JAG. In hindsight, NBC’s choice to cancel JAG after just one season, which led to its pick-up at CBS, has turned out to be the broadcast-TV version of the Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees. By my estimate, NBC has another 70 years to go before the curse wears off.

You couldn’t miss the symbolism. In the same week L&O 1.0 left television with quiet grace, CBS threw five cliffhanger finales in our fat faces and demanded we watch until our eyes bled with happiness. To extend the baseball analogy, this week was like watching Cal Ripken walk off the field, instantly replaced by five steroid-pumped reptile mutants with .400 batting averages.

Still, one reptile-mutant stuck out from the rest… and it wore a handsome pastel suit.

Winner of the Week: CSI: Miami

The Sunshine Spinoff has a reputation as a kitschy delight, but on a good week, it conjures up an addictive neon fantasyland of sexy crime and hunky punishment. That was especially true of the ninth season finale, which kickstarted with a deeply spooky act of crosscutting. In the CSI offices, mysterious envelopes arrived for all the CSI officers, containing puzzle pieces. In a suburban kitchen, a housewife hummed to herself as she did the dishes. The CSIs put the pieces together. The mother hummed. On the soundtrack, scary demon children sang “Ring Around the Rosy.” The CSI’s finished the puzzles. It showed a woman in sniper crosshairs. A sound of cracked glass, and Mommy fell down dead.

The ensuing plotline was a fun potboiler about university ethics and attractive people, featuring immoral grad students and professors desperate to make tenure. (Bonus: Stanley Milgram got his second shout-out of the month.) But what carried the day was the show’s relentless eye for color-splattered visuals. The final montage, which showed all the team members but Horatio and Delko collapsing from poison, was awesome. (It was also a slight nose-thumbing to its CSI brethren: “Oh, you’re both gonna end your season finales with the fate of one cop up in the air? Well, we’re gonna poison our whole fricking team! Everybody’s fate is up in the air! Caruso: 1, Fishburne and Sinise: nothing!”)

This week’s Criminal Intent in a nutshell

Russian mob? Underage lover? Nope, ambitious subordinate!

This week’s Law & Order in a nutshell

Pedophile terrorist? Psychopathic student? Nope, disgruntled teacher!

This week’s NCIS: LA in a nutshell

Boom boom! Bang bang! Sister sister?

MVP of the week: Jethro Gibbs

There are plenty of believable TV cops. And there are plenty of TV cops who are wonderful, even if they seem to originate from an outer moon of Neptune. (Looking at you, Goldblum.) But Mark Harmon’s Gibbs could incinerate an entire precinct of pretender TV cops with nothing more than a cold blue stare. This week’s NCIS began with an extended back-and-forth between Gibbs and a drug cartel queen with a vendetta: he killed her father years ago.

The Drug Dame had Gibbs captive in his dusty fatigues. They were talking in her plantation house. He was surrounded by guns, defenseless, without any backup. She quoted Tennessee Williams, offered him a whiskey, and threatened to kill him. Gibbs: “I don’t usually drink whiskey.” She talked vengeance. She made it clear that she could kill everyone he loves, slowly. She threatened his father. She threatened his former mother-in-law. Gibbs, cocking one gray eyebrow: “Doing me favors now?”

Anti-MVP of the week: G. Callen

The awe-inspiring existential charisma of Gibbs looks even better when compared to his hoodie-preferring counterpart in the LA office. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of things to like about the first season of NCIS: LA. Linda Hunt has turned what could have been another crusty old boss into a fiendishly flirtatious fairy godmother. LL Cool J has the most adorable Arabic accent. The west coast NCIS office resembles a tropical hotel: I keep expecting Hetty show up double-fisting a caipirinha and a mojito.

But for the life of me, I just can’t warm to Chris O’Donnell’s Callen. I get the idea: turning a former teen idol into a troubled action hero worked for Kiefer Sutherland, Rick Schroder, and even The Unit‘s Scott Foley. But there’s just something resolutely unconvincing about the character. The main problem, I think, is that the actor’s natural geniality clashes with the character’s traumatic past. Chris O’Donnell still looks like the kindhearted vet who dated Meredith Grey, but Callen is a sad sack with a Dickensian-orphan backstory. (How Dickensian? Yeesh, he doesn’t even know his first name.)

Most Elitist Thing Said By a Suspect During Interrogation:

“You think I’m a suspect. I’m not stupid. Hello! PhD here!” — CSI: Miami

Subliminal evidence that Dick Wolf’s writing teams don’t like each other

On Law & Order, Lupo was told that a suspect’s website featured underage porn. He groaned dismissively: “Something for the perv unit.” Something tells me Lupes and Stabler don’t get along.

Villains of the week:

Academics. On CSI: Miami, a professor went on a homicidal rampage when he was denied tenure. On Law & Order, a teacher went on a homicidal rampage when he was fired.

Ickiest Pillow Talk Award:

Her: “I’m still just a factchecker.”

Him: “That was your mother’s idea.”

Criminal Intent

Your weekly injection of Jeff Goldblum Free Association

Apropos of nothing, Detective Nichols reminisced about a magazine he and his father shared, which featured a picture of Ursula Andress wearing a brassiere that shot bullets.

Most gleefully deranged murder

On Criminal Intent, the editor of a glossy magazine was killed. The culprit turned out to be his assistant editor and ex-lover, who bashed his head in (with a magazine award trophy!) after discovering he was sleeping with her 17-year-old daughter. The killer begged her ex-husband for help. He agreed to hide the body, because he had fallen back in love with his ex-wife. The body spasmed, probably with rigor mortis, and the ex-husband double-bashed the victim’s head in.

Further evidence that NCIS is slowly turning into a David Lynch movie

In the middle of performing an autopsy on a headless, handless corpse, Dr. Mallard paused to tell a story of a long-ago golf game. To punctuate the story, he took a practice swing with his golf club. After one of his swings, the camera briefly assumed the perspective of a phantom golf ball, and flew up into the air, staring back at two doctors and one gruesome corpse.

Further evidence that Law & Order was slowly turning into The Wire

“Bomb threats are a serious matter. But union lawyers are more serious.” –Faceless Government Bureaucrat

Most terrifying thing I saw all week (a.k.a,, why we’ll miss Ghost Whisperer)

A parade of dead children wearing Eyes Wide Shut masks. When they started jumping on their beds and chanting incantations, I phoned my local congressmen to see what Congress was doing to rid America of the scourge of freaky children. My call went straight to voicemail.

The “And you thought Lost was complicated” award (a.k.a., why we won’t miss Ghost Whisperer)

(Dialogue from the series finale)

Old Man: If you were talking to a ghost, how come I couldn’t see it?

Adorable Child: It was my friend Cassidy. She crossed over. And now she’s a Shiny.

Old Man: That’s who Shinies are? Crossed-over spirits of children? No wonder the Shadows are so interested in child ghosts.

Adorable Child: The Shinies are scared of the Shadows, but they don’t have to be.

Old Man: Why not?

Adorable Child: There are way more Shinies than Shadows. If they ever had a war, the Shinies would win.

An important lesson from this week’s CSI: NY

Never, never, never give an insane serial killer a cigarette. Even if he’s in chains. Just don’t do it.

Elsewhere in Procedural Land:

Criminal Minds had an episode your kids will love

Law and Order taught us all a very important lesson about teaching lessons