By Phil Plait | April 16, 2009 11:00 am

Not to offend anyone who likes it or anything, but I personally have tried watching CSI once or twice, and found it slightly less appealing than 8-week old cabbage allowed to sit under a layer of used sweat socks that have been in a cool, damp environment for a similar length of time.

But that’s just me.

Still, I may have to watch the one airing tonight: it’s all about a murder of the star of a beloved science fiction shows called Astro Quest (hmmm) at a scifi con.

It looks like it’ll be kitchy and silly, and I hear it was written by some Battlestar folks. Make of that what you will.

Funny, too: looking at that clip, I can tell you that the scenes at the con don’t ring true. I’ve been to a zillion cons, and the costumes simply never look like that. Of course, it’s not the show’s purpose to portray stuff like that accurately, but that’s not my point. It’s just funny, I could tell you right away that’s a staged scene and not from a real con. Those costumes and makeup look like what a Hollywood makeup artist would think a con would look like, not what it actually does look like! I’m not sure exactly what it is, but if you scan through my own shots from Dragon*Con and Comic Con you’ll see a lot more variety, care, and even love in the costumes.

Well, it hardly matters anyway since I’m in Canada giving a talk when the show airs, so I’ll probably miss it. But feel free to comment below about the show if you saw it!


Comments (63)

  1. Paul

    CSI always sensationalizes their portrayal of subcultures. Things are more entertaining that way. You should hear the furries complain about the episode that featured them. 😉

  2. Meh. I’m waiting for the House episode about the outbreak of Rigellian Kassaba fever.

  3. Worth looking up is the episode of “Diagnosis: Murder” about the cancelled sci-fi series. Some really priceless moments in that one.

    However, as far as staged conventions for fictional TV series go, one really cannot beat Galaxy Quest.

  4. PeterC

    I’ll reserve judgement, but judging by the usual CSI approach to anything not incredibly boringly mainstream, they’ll make all sci-fi fans out to be dangerous socially inept geeks who are all just powderkegs waiting to lose track of reality and kill people. Ban this filth now! Won’t somebody think of the children?


    Their depiction of those who actually enjoy computer games wasn’t exactly sympathetic, after all. But we all know that video games of any kind are basically murder programmers, turning people into crack-shots who want to go on rampages. Ban this filth… children! etc.

  5. Canada Jeff

    Phil – It will air at 10:00pm local time on chanels 3 and 12 if you’re back to the hotel in time.
    Thanks for coming up to Calgary!

  6. Numbers also featured a terrible Comics Con. Didn’t CSI also mock a furry con at one point?

  7. sorry ‘Numb3rs’

  8. mk

    Those costumes and makeup look like what a Hollywood makeup artist would think a con would look like, not what it actually does look like!

    Some folks might think that the fact that they didn’t know what an authentic “con” looked like was a nod in their favor! ;^}

  9. Mooney

    Wow. That doesn’t look *quite* as bad as the recent Numb3rs that featured a not-quite-Alive A.I. killer computer, complete with voice- and retina-keyed security doors and a T1 connection to the internet that any dork with a laptop could hack into, but it’s certainly close.

  10. Daffy

    Phil: “…8-week old cabbage allowed to sit under a layer of used sweat socks that have been in a cool, damp environment for a similar length of time.”

    If I am not mistaken, you just gave out the recipe for Kimchi!

  11. I don’t watch either, but a medical textbook that I worked on “Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare” is supposed to appear in either the April 30 or May 7 episodes.

  12. MrMud

    The fur and loathing episode was pretty funny. So i expect this one could be too.

  13. «bønez_brigade»

    Those costumes and makeup look like what a Hollywood makeup artist would think a con would look like, not what it actually does look like!

    You’d think TV & movie producers/directors/otherfilmpeoplez would have a better clue about what sci-fi cons look like, since their people are always at them.

  14. «bønez_brigade»
  15. Sticks

    It won’t allow us to see the clip in the UK

  16. Being a fan of both NUMB3RS and CSI:TOS (and hating both spinoffs of the series), I have some information.
    The Comics Con in #s included Wil (Phil’s Man Crush[TM]) Wheaton as a guest star, with Penn Jillette guesting in the “Magic Show” episode. Personally, I would love to see actual Mathematician/Actor Danica McKellar guest on the series.
    CSI did have a Furries episode, many have some ‘weird fandom/group’ such as the ‘Little People’ episode, there were several others, that seems to be part of what they are using to ‘pull in viewers’.
    The #s episode with the pseudo-AI was titled, FYI “First Law” – I think everyone knows THAT reference.
    Considering how many American ***hole/SitCom/Cop-Doctor Soap Operas there are on the Idiot Box, I can forgive CSI and #s for their flaws, just to get some real science on the air.

    Now, if someone would come up with a ‘debunking woo’ series to battle Ghost Hunters Intergalactic, etc…..


  17. arkonbey – I think it was actually Bones that had that bad mock Comics Con, if I remember right.

  18. Mort


    it ain’t possible for a TV show on a budget (more or less) to put as much effort in several dozen of costumes as dedicated fans do.

    As you noted, a LOT of care (and work) is usually put into a costume you are wearing to an event you really want to attend (and why would you be there otherwise?).

    A TV show cannot do the same for what are basically throw-away-costume designs, only really used in the background of a couple of scenes. Those will always look cheap (and bland, unimaginative), unless its a big movie with a decent budget. (Even fairly popular TV series have only a very small budget for each episode, compared to movies. They usually spend most of their budgets on their cast. Leading actors or actresses just cannot be allowed to leave after a few seasons, unless you want to take a serious rating dive. )

    I don’t think it has much to do with ‘misunderstanding’ people who attend sci-fi/fantasy conventions, but rather a simple production value issue…

  19. Dude

    I share your sentiments about all the CSI spinoffs and iterations, Phil! Last night, I happened to be flipping through channels, and decided to stick with the show Bones for a few minutes, mostly as an experiment to see what kind of “hot new garbage” they’re showing on networks. Well, to my surprise, the entire plot revolved around the disappearance of a theoretical physicist who happened to be contributing to work on the LHC. Weird, huh? Well, it didn’t take them long to work in the black hole propaganda, as well as a pretty boring string of side-stories… but I just thought it was funny, the one time I decide to watch a network show, and they get all quantum on me.

  20. BJN

    I thought I saw Jeri Ryan — Seven of Nine from the Star Trek Voyager series.

    CSI is science fiction itself, what with all the impossible technology and spendy toys the show employs that no real forensics agency can even dream of.

    Since I’d never come within transporter range of a “Con” as a participant, I really don’t care how accurately the cult(ure) is portrayed.

    It is good to see Cowboy Curtis in charge of the Vegas CSI. Maybe Pee-wee will do a cameo some time?

  21. Mount

    SG Atlantis did the exact opposite thing too. It was the second to last episode, 5×19. It starts off with Sheppard in Las Vegas investigating a series of Wraith victims. The directing is completely CSI in style.

  22. Leon

    “…found it slightly less appealing than 8-week old cabbage allowed to sit under a layer of used sweat socks that have been in a cool, damp environment for a similar length of time.”

    Come on now, Phil–I *like* kimchi! (CSI I’m more indifferent toward, but will take it over “reality” television any day.)

  23. Joe Meils

    I sure hope their legal department got clearances from the author of “Bimbos of the Death Sun.” The similarities seem a bit too close.

    Bet you doughnuts that it turns out to be a cannon obsessed fan, who kills the star for not knowing every little detail about the series…

  24. Since I’d never come within transporter range of a “Con” as a participant

    40,000 km? 😉

  25. Brian

    Sure, it doesn’t look at all like a con. But I’ll let you in on a little secret…take a closer look at the next restaurant scene, office scene, or hospital scene. They don’t look like the real thing either! You are just used to the Hollywood way of looking a those. Seeing a con on a TV show is novel, so it’s more easily noticed that it is fake.

    Oh, and I don’t get CSI either.

  26. Come to Halifax once in a while, dagnabbit!

  27. Delta

    I see a Cylon! (0:27) And right after that I hear a “dammit!” reminiscent of another Cylon…

  28. Wes

    Well, it hardly matters anyway since I’m in Canada giving a talk when the show airs, so I’ll probably miss it.

    Instead, you could watch the Canadian spin-off: “CSI: Yukon, eh?”

    It consists of thirty minutes of two guys ice fishing and mumbling, “&%$# it’s cold out here!”

  29. What little I’ve seen of CSI never impressed me too much with its concern for accurate representation of…well, anything much. (One episode involved a power tool that had had its grounding plug cut off as part of a murder plot. Most power tools I’ve used lately are polarized and double-insulated and don’t even have grounding plugs.) But if people wanted reality, they wouldn’t watch television.

    Who has time for TV, anyway? It’s all I can do to keep up with the fifty or so blogs that I read!

  30. …and I thought your post title was “CSI: Terms Of Service”, an investigation into someone committing crimes by circumventing online rules. Star Trek, the original series, will always be Star Trek to me. Everything else needs a modifier.

  31. Mena

    Um, Canada does get US networks and their shows…

  32. Winter Solstice Man

    As we all know, those who investigate crime scenes are young and hot looking, plus have really cool flashback scenes.

    And they also have all the latest scientific equipment and funding they need to solve the crime.

  33. Davidlpf

    @ Derek Colanduno. Numb3rs did do a comic con episode with Wil, Bones could of too but do not get to see it that often.

    I like CSIs and the new geek cop shows even with there errors.

  34. Caleb

    My problem with CSI-type shows isn’t merely that they create this picture of superior investigators using tests/methods portrayed as fool-proof despite there being very real limitations in real life to those same tests/methods. That’s fine. It’s science-fiction afterall (plus it makes for a good story).

    My problem with CSI-type shows is the show itself but rather the people who watch it and can’t seperate the science from the fiction.

    Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences published a report that found ‘serious deficiencies’ in the nation’s forensic science system. Basically, they feel that there needs to be some verifiable, scientific standardization to evidence presented in court. For the most part, the science used is sound, but the fact that it is not methods are not nationally standardized nor verifiable makes these evidences (not unreliable) but just less reliable than they could be.

    Again, this wouldn’t bother me so much except for the fact that in the US you are judged not by the expert witnesses, but by a jury of your CSI-loving peers.

  35. Caleb

    Wow, I should have proofread that before posting. 😉

  36. The fun of CSI was Grissom finding his tortured way through a world not of his understanding. With Grissom gone it’s another Grand Guignol of sample cuvettes , dead meat, and SOP psychopaths. Penn and Teller would be a wonderful pair doing bizarre things to unwholesome people and, as a corrupt public official is indicted for the crimes, quietly blur and rise out of frame background internally unnoticed.

  37. Pieter Kok

    What does “TOS” stand for?

  38. justcorbly

    “Astro Quest”? It’s about the Jetsons’ dog?

    I like CSI:TOS. It’s one of the few shows I try to remember to watch. It does seem to me, though, that the show’s portrayal of society’s wacky groups is done very much tongue in cheek.

  39. justsomeguy

    That has to be the most dimly lit con I’ve ever seen.

  40. nicknameNick

    “the video is not currently available in your country or domain”

    I’m very distrustful of this trend
    the whole point of the internet is that anyone on the internet can talk to anyone else.

  41. Pieter Kok: “TOS”, in this context, means “The Original Series”, and is a reference to the 1960’s-era Star Trek series. The term is used to distinguish it from Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the other Star Trek movies and television series.

  42. MarkH

    I can’t believe that no one has mentioned that “Morpheus” is the new investigator. I always liked the original CSI, the two spin offs are junk. And if you think the CSI gadgets are high tech… Bones has a 3D holo projector?

  43. Kevin

    I don’t watch any of the CSI’s, but I’m watching this tonight (right now, in fact). OMG, it’s frakking hilarous!!

    What a great sendup of Trek, plus a couple of BSG cameos.

  44. David Bruggeman

    Yeah, blink and you miss Ron Moore. And the actress who plays Wendy had a small part in a Next Generation episode back in the day.

    However, two of the Astro Quest scenes that play out in the episode are just a little too close to two original recipe Star Trek episodes for comfort. Names and species are changed, synonyms substituted, but it blurs that fine line between homage and plagiarism. Since the episode’s writers each worked on a Star Trek spin-off, I’d think they’d know better.

  45. TheWhitePhoenix

    Hey Come on guys we know this stuff is not real. Don’t try to analyze everything. You know the old saying, ” If you get too close to the opera, it will spoil the show”. I have watched CSI for years and enjoyed it. I do prefer Grisom over the new guy, but he’s not that bad. I find it funny how it takes one 12 hour work shift to solve a crime with just a few lab rats and investigators where as it would take a staff of over 100 people to do in that time period. Who want’s reality anyway.

  46. Now I don’t feel alone; I never have made it through a whole episode of any CSI program for similar reasons. I know it’s enjoyed by many and I even know a few people who were inspired to make career changes because of it, and that’s great.

    Now, NCIS is probably my favorite show running on broadcast TV today. What’s interesting is that it’s one more time when Donald Belissario appropriated someone else’s premise and made something good, much as Airwolf was a superior show to the TV adaptation of Blue Thunder, although that’s easy to say because the latter was so wretched and a complete affront to the original film. I’m not calling CSI bad, mind you, it’s just something that’s less my style.

  47. I like CSI:TOS and thought that episodes was very well done. I LOL’d. As a BSG fan who hated the finale, I’m not too upset to see the Ron Moore substitute get a good smack in the face either. 😉

    As well as Moore and Kate Vernon, was that Grace Park in one of the crowd shots?

  48. David, I am no expert on US copyright law but I think there is a fair bit of leeway for parody as a fair use. To use your song example from the Tribune post, Weird Al and Saturday Night Live cannot be and do not get sued for copyright, for instance for satirising songs even when the music and some lyrics are the same.

  49. Pieter Kok

    Thanks Harold.

    When CSI:TOS (!) first came out it was highly innovative (for TV, anyway); they started the high-contrast colours, they had a cool modern soundtrack, and interesting albeit somewhat far-fetched murder stories. But what clinched it for me was that they were the first to make the heroes proper geeks (not all of them, but Grissom, Sarah, Doc, and Greg definitely) without apologies and not in a comedy setting. That should count for something.

    The spin-offs are crap, not just because they moved away from the geek factor, but also for the appalling dialogue. Oh, and I strongly believe that if “Without A Trace” hadn’t been aired straight after CSI the first year, it would not have survived. In the beginning the only reason people watched that was because they couldn’t be bothered to change the channel after watching CSI.

  50. Pieter Kok

    Oh, and the one thing that CSI always hammers home is the primacy of “the evidence”. I think that deserves a nod on this blog, even if the show itself is not to your taste.

  51. Charles Boyer

    “The spin-offs are crap”

    The only lab in the CSI universe that actually looks like a laboratory is the one on CSI:NY. That spinoff gets my nod as the best iteration and is even better than the original.

    After all, how many folks want to do exactly tech work in the dark?

  52. actuator

    In your first paragraph I thought you were trying to describe how to make that Korean dietary staple – Kimchi.

  53. Dagger

    Don’t be afraid Phil. Come to Canada. We have cable. :)

  54. Jim Reynolds

    Charles Boyer- I agree with you on the Best CSI Lab topic – It reminds me of my neice’s (grad student) lab space at Coorado University.

    A Doylist take on the costumes – The cosplayers may have been trying to make costumes that looked like the -shooting- costumes, not highly finished ‘if they were real’ costumes.

  55. Great. The big commercialization of youtube has finally begun. I can’t watch this video.

  56. Gary Ansorge

    Speaking of sensationalizing subcultures,,,

    A couple of decades ago, a news hound was interviewing a DeadHead in the parking lot after a show, asking “What do you call those girls that spin around in circles during the show?” .

    To this inane question, the DeadHead replied, (tongue-in-cheek) “Oh, we call those WIND BABIES,,,”

    Reporter rushes off, madly writing this down while muttering “Wow! This is GOOOOOD,,,”(snark)

    GAry 7

  57. tdhowe

    Since I’d never come within transporter range of a “Con” as a participant
    40,000 km? 😉

    I guess I need to upgrade to the new models as well. Mine only goes across the garage and I spend more money on bug spray than anything else about it 😉

    Seriously, I have enjoyed CSI: TOS even with all of the mistakes and compressed story telling (come on, DNA and tox results in less than an hour?), because at least the science they use is real/plausible unlike so much of the rest of TV (I’m not talking about Sci-Fi), and they stress the evidence over intuition.

  58. Stephen M


    Ironically, up here in Canuckistan, you can most definitely watch CSI of all flavours, but the YouTube video you posted you won’t be able to watch if you are connected to the internet via a Canadian ISP.

  59. Bob from Easton

    “He’s dead Jim.”

  60. Hey, don’t knock sauerkraut! (Although 8 weeks may not be long enough…and it’s generally better if you use floursack towels rather than sweatsocks…)

  61. LAgrip

    As someone who works in film production, I feel the need to defend my fellow bretheren from what I believe is a very unfair characterization of very hard working and talented people by someone who seems rather naive in the subject at hand.

    A typical one hour TV drama shoots in 6 to 9 days. How many costume designers do you think a show like CSI has? How many costumes do they have to put together? How much time can they spend just sitting around thinking about them before they have to start making the costumes for the next episode?

    Is it really reasonable for a scientist to expect that the costumes of dozens of extras at a fake con for a television show that moves on to the next episode in 8 days to look as good as costumes at an actual con, each one individually made by a person who is extremely passionate for that particular character, spending weeks or even years perfecting them?

    Working on a 1 hour tv drama requires incredibly long hours (often up to 16-18 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week) of very hard work at a relentless pace with extreme pressure and with no job security whatsoever in a market where thousands of people keep pouring in, dying to break in and would gladly drop everything to take your job that very day for free.

    “Hollywood” often seems to be at the butt end of jokes and stereotypes of stupid people who don’t do any real work, but this characterization is largely unearned due to the actions of a very small group of highly visible people. If you think making a TV show or movie is so easy… just try it. Let’s see how authentic of a fake con you can put together from scratch in 9 days without using any characters you don’t own the rights to put into a TV show.

    Let’s give credit where credit is due and not pretend like we can all do a better job than the highly talented, skilled, and hard working professionals at the tops of their respected fields.

  62. Rob

    Well, I didn’t see this episode but I was at the talk in Canada and for the beverages and munchies at Moxie’s afterwards… I’m going to say my time was better spent than if I watched this episode. Maybe in re-runs. Thanks again, Dr. Plait… Great talk!

  63. [i]40,000 km ;)[/i]

    In the tabletop hexagon-map wargame [i]Star Fleet Battles[/i], transporter range is 5 hexes, and hexes are 10,000 kilometers across. That would be 50,000 km, wouldn’t it?


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