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'CSI': Safe but dull formula

D.B. Russell (Ted Danson), left, and Catherine Willows

D.B. Russell (Ted Danson), left, and Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) search for clues, on CSI on the CBS Television Network. Credit: CBS/

THE SHOW "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 10 on CBS/2

THE NEW GUY With that famous sweeping leonine mane -- still pure white -- and almost equally famous jawline, Ted Danson joined "CSI" this fall as D.B. Russell, the new leader of the Las Vegas PD's CSI night shift. (Ray Langston, played by Laurence Fishburne, left at the end of the 11th season after dispatching his arch-nemesis, the Dick-and-Jane Killer.)

HOW'S HE DOING? Actors, like doctors, are bound by one simple rule -- first, do no harm. Don't showboat your way to an Emmy, or bruise egos, or abuse writers, or otherwise ruin what is or could be a good thing. "CSI" has been a good thing to a lot of people -- fans included -- for a lot of years.

Danson, I can reliably report, has done no harm. He's a pro and knows when to leave well enough alone. His D.B. Russell -- Moonbeam, as Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) colorfully dubbed him in an early episode -- has become part of the scenery, as opposed to the star monster that devours it.

Now the bad news: Moonbeam's boring. Watching-the-paint-dry boring at times. Because the new gig required Russell to go to Vegas, he had to leave a college-sweetheart spouse back home in Washington state to whom every phone calls ends with an "I love you, too!" Son Charlie (introduced last week) gets stern lectures about basketball practice. Sure, Russell's smart but smart in the way the guy who does your taxes is smart. ("Hmmm, maybe you overlooked this?")

There are no dark places in his well-lit soul, no mysteries, no sexual tension with any character -- male or female.

Whom to blame for this attack of the dulls? Not Danson, who can be a wonderfully eccentric and inventive actor. My guess is the show itself: Seen by an average 11 million this year, "CSI" continues the slide toward its inevitable end. As such, the formula is now the star -- the star's not the star. It sounds cold and uncreative, but this is network TV. It can be that way.

GRADE C+ (so far)

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