Rob Zombie’s CSI Miami: L.A.

Usually television shows employ ‘gun for hire’ directors who are expected to not so much have their own vision, but carry on the style, spirit and elemental energy of the show overall for tonal consistency. Every once in a while they’ll deviate though and hire a renowned artist for an episode’s departure into their own specific style, or a melding of both for something that feels fresh, exciting and unmistakably ‘that director.’ This allows for my periodic enjoyment of a particular show’s window of escape into something creative beyond the weekly slog of predictable monotony and let me tell you, CSI:Miami was the worst show monotony. Thankfully Rob Zombie not only peppered his unique, pop-art retro baroque elements into the scheme but the the network also decided to shift the episode’s action from Miami over to LA, flying in David Caruso’s Caine and his term of regulars to interact with a host of fresh new characters, all casted from the Zombie pool of underused cult and character actor icons. Caine & Co have travelled to LA on the trail of a shady pornographer (Paul Blackthorne) who was tried and acquitted of killing his wife and an additional girl back in Miami, prompting them to join forces with a no nonsense LAPD Captain (the great William Forsythe) and interrogate various sideshow suspects who range from cooperative to obstinate. Michael Madsen is in slick tough guy mode as the amoral former football star turned bodyguard for the porn kingpin, Sheri Moon Zombie is relaxed and down to earth as ever playing a good natured photographer with key intel on the case, and other Zombie troupe regulars briefly show up including Kristina Klebe and Jeff Daniel Philips. Perhaps the least cooperative person involved is a nasty, scumbag defends attorney played to the absolute scene stealing hilt by the unmistakable Malcom McDowell at his devilish best. It’s terrific seeing these kind of underground, Midnite Movie type faces all together in the same episode of a glossy, otherwise blandly routine piece of cable TV fluff, and I wish they’d gone this route more often and hired distinct, auteur talents to augment the proceedings. This is a terrific episode laced with dark humour (thanks to McDowell), moral ambiguity (Madsen is a real snake in disguise) and genuine pathos for the victims (Forsythe’s cop shows striking empathy and compassion in his actions). This episode (which almost feels like a standalone mini-film) also reinforces what some people refuse to admit about Zombie: he’s a smart, versatile, adaptable artist who is more than capable of calibrating his toolset beyond the raucous, rowdy and raunchy aesthetic sandbox he’s used to playing in and doing something different with his boundless creative spirit, which admittedly he doesn’t often do, but this is a terrific example of.

-Nate Hill