THE SERIES FINALE "CSI"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday night at 9 on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In "Immortality" -- parts 1 and 2 will comprise a two-hour series finale -- the whole gang returns, including Gil Grissom (William Petersen), Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) and Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke). For this one, D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) needs all the help he can get.

MY SAY After 15 years nearly to the day . . . after a fictional Las Vegas has been depopulated several times over by serial killers, slashers and mooks of every sado-psycho-masochistic stripe . . . after 300 episodes in which nearly every one of them was caught . . . After all that, "CSI" is finally over. A relief certainly to Las Vegas, fictional or otherwise, but a big deal, too. A very big deal, even though when "CSI" rolls to a final stop Sunday night, that will hardly be apparent. "CSI" stopped changing the world and pop culture long ago, or in the last decade, just after Petersen left. In recent seasons, it's been what the TV trade charitably calls a "reliable performer," with too many viewers to cancel but not enough to attract lavish network devotion. This isn't so much a roll to the finish line as a stumble.

But there was a time when "CSI" commanded attention, or 26 million viewers in the 2004 season alone, a high-water mark that only a few drama giants of the past decade surpassed (among them "ER" and "Grey's Anatomy"). "CSI" will have a final indisputable distinction -- as one of the last surviving major network dramas from an era when most people watched TV shows on a real "TV" and not on some "device" a day or two later.

In fact, "CSI" did once change the world, including the world of the courtroom, where jurors were presumably swayed by a so-called "CSI effect." This meant that they often demanded a loftily unattainable level of forensic proof -- a level that could be achieved only in a "CSI" episode, not in the real world of crime scene investigators.

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Millions of kids also grew up on "CSI." Kids for some reason loved the show. One can only guess or shudder over what this did to their formative brains.

"CSI" wasn't violent as much as gruesome. Much of the violence often took place before the opening credits, or was reconstructed during those grainy shots when Greg (Eric Szmanda) or Nick (George Eads) or Dr. Al (Robert David Hall) finally figured out what happened to the body in its final traumatic moments. The episode titles -- often broad winks -- hinted at the pervasive deviance and horror: "Anatomy of a Lye," "Turn of the Screws," "Monster in the Box."

But you don't last 15 years just by sifting through the viscera, which "CSI" did often and lovingly. You manage that feat with a first-rate production ("CSI" was one of the best-looking shows of the '00s) and with a great cast and memorable characters. One character, in particular.

Few viewers had encountered a Gil Grissom before. All dissonance and discord, his face radiated a Vedic calm, while his words were brutal scalpels of the trade.

Grissom: "A girl, in a culvert pipe, at a highway construction site, in the middle of an alfalfa field. You got anything to add?"

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Capt. Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle): "Nothing as poetic."

Viewers knew Gil loved maggots, but they wondered what else. When he finally succumbed to matters of the heart, and headed off to Costa Rica to find Sara (Jorja Fox) in the ninth season, "CSI" seemed to end, too.

The real end is Sunday. One last case for an old friend. In fact, for a few old friends.