- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

ATLANTA

Thank goodness that nice-guy criminal investigator Greg got pummeled on “CSI” last week.

After several weeks of watching very bad things happen to some of the strongest, most competent female law enforcement characters on TV’s major crime shows, it was nice to see some equal-time punishment finally being meted out.

Not that it’s really equal, of course. Whereas Greg’s (Eric Szmanda) beating seemingly could have befallen any good Samaritan — male or female — who tried to stop an attack on a stranger, many of the plot twists in these shows are designed specifically with female characters in mind.

The message being sent about powerful women is at best mixed: They’re smart, all right, but they also can be exploited in ways their male counterparts can’t.

For example, someone laced Las Vegas police forensic investigator Catherine Willows’ (Marg Helgenberger) drink with a date-rape drug in a club on the season opener of “CSI”; the next morning, she awoke alone, confused and possibly post-coital in a strange motel room. Meanwhile, NYPD Detective Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) was stalked by a murder suspect, kidnapped from her own home and dangled from the ceiling by her wrists in an underground hideaway on the season premiere of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

The following week on “Numbers,” shrewd FBI agent Megan Reeves (Diane Farr) was taken hostage by a suspect and bound to a pipe in a motel room.

For anyone who protests that forcible wrist-binding is non-gender-specific, consider this: Those weren’t Miss Eames’ and Miss Reeves’ male partners whom we saw wriggling about in their tight tank tops as they struggled at length to free themselves. Nope, those guys probably were busy watching FBI agent Elena Delgado (Roselyn Sanchez) risk life and lissome limb in a dangerous criminal investigation that required her to wrap her skimpily clad body around a stripper’s pole on a recent episode of “Without a Trace.”

It’s as if those procedural dramas, after spending years putting female crime victims through the wringer (and inside locked cages and under floorboards) have run out of ideas and moved on to harassing female crime fighters instead.

Yet it’s also the case that many shows — facing softening ratings after many years on the air or tougher time-slot competition — are attempting to inject more personal story lines into a genre that once regarded them like germs in the crime lab. That was before “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and other shows that feature almost nothing but personal story lines (especially female-centric ones) came along to captivate audiences.

Still, it can be a dicey business rejiggering the formula at this late date.

“From the beginning of our fanship, there’s sort of been a split,” says “CSI” star Jorja Fox, whose show goes head-to-head with “Anatomy” on Thursdays at 9 p.m. and has lost the ratings race to the hospital drama three out of four weeks this season.

“There’s been about 50 percent of the audience who would like to know more about the characters and about 50 percent who would really rather stick to the stories.”

But what percentage simply resents seeing proficient female investigators turned into glorified victims to goose ratings? As impressive as it was watching Miss Helgenberger’s Catherine use her own make-do rape kit on herself in that “CSI” motel room or the petite Miss Eames of “Criminal Intent” eventually free herself through a combination of brains and brute strength, you couldn’t avoid feeling the shows had taken advantage of the women — twice.

Both shows ended with arrests; unfortunately, it will take more time to erase the overall impression that was left of these crackerjack cops as vulnerable women first and skilled professionals second.


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