CSI: Cyber Is an Incoherent Techno-Paranoid Diaper (In a Good Way)

Illustration for article titled CSI: Cyber Is an Incoherent Techno-Paranoid Diaper (In a Good Way)

CSI: Cyber is not a good television show. It is hackneyed and paranoid. But come on. You already knew that. This is the kind of show that uses unironic Hackers-style web 1.0 pixelated graphics to represent the digital world. Here's something else you should know: It's kind of like a diaper. Unequivocally full of shit, yes, but also likely to be remarkably popular among the elderly, and comforting for a certain set of people.


It's not comforting for actual babies, though. The first episode is basically a paean to creative ways to snatch lil guys using the internet.

The pilot is sponsored-by-Arby's levels of hamfisted. It takes less than a minute for some lady to start screaming "THEY TOOK MY BABY!" Turns out, there's an online baby auction situation and people are stealing babies by hacking into their natal monitors. It's all insanely convoluted, hysterical, and gloriously unrealistic, but the least realistic aspect is the supertroop of cyber-investigators are on the case.

The characters are a network-exec-friendly amalgamation of stale tropes more than anything recognizably human- the tough-talking ladyboss, the reformed bad boy, and the wisecracking generically handsome fellow. The narrative reads like someone scanned a Wired article from 2011 and then filled in a regular CSI (or CSI:Miami or CSI: Gary Sinese) script ad-libs style with techno-nighmare-crime.

We meet the team, which includes Oscar Winnerâ„¢ Patricia Arquette as aforementioned ladyboss Special Agent Avery Ryan with a personal vendetta against hackers (they stole her secrets "at the beginning of the internet," her words not mine). She gives sick instructions to her team like, "Find the computers. Get into them."

Then there's James Ah Dawn Wahnt, Ur Lahf Van Der Beek as gamer named....Agent Elijah Mundo (a very real name that someone would totally have) and Shad Moss aka the Artist Formerly Known as Lil' Bow Wow as a former black hat hacker forced Frank Abagnale-style to make good with the law, and apparently also forced to wear very terrible vests. We know he is a dope hacker because he uses the power of rap to guess a 20-character password on the first try.

There's also "the best white hat hacker in world," a caricature of a neckbeard played by Charley Koontz. We know he is Good at Computers because he's like "What's wrong with your source code?" at one point.


Peter MacNicol is also there, and he haaaaaaaaates cybercrime.

But what a spongy piece of a cheesecake. You know how Ice-T acts as an audience surrogate on SVU and says the really obvious stuff, spelling every plot point out so even the ladies in the back can hear? Every character here is Ice-T.


For a show ostensibly about technology, it's written for Luddites with AOL accounts. Actual line of dialog: "There's a bad guy out there who's found the weakness in your source code and he set up his own online shopping network for babies."

They basically throw around concepts like remote access Trojans hoping whoever is watching will be satisfied with the fact that the term evokes cybercrime but without, you know, making sure the supposedly tech-driven plot makes sense or the tech people use looks real.


Just like McDonalds is really not good food and is bad for you and probably bad for the world for a wide variety of reasons, CSI: Cyber is a formulaic, corporate-spit-shined, bland piece of crap that is nonetheless immensely comforting and entertaining that'd probably be a welcoming respite if you stumbled upon it in an airport. If you find the banter and paint-by-numbers mysteries of network investigator dramas soothing, this is like the Platonic ideal of cheesy procedurals.

Contact the author at kate.knibbs@gizmodo.com.
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CSI is horrible. As a prosecutor, I routinely have to fix unrealistic expectations about what my crime lab can and cannot do, all thanks to "scientific" crime procedurals like CSI where magic machines wrap up crimes in less than 24 hours doing complicated tests that in a lot of cases aren't real, but in some cases (in reality) take days, if not weeks, and don't provide the level of certainty that they do on television. Television and the media has done us a solid in making sure everyone has a rudimentary-as-hell understanding of DNA, but now everyone expects it on every case, just as they expect us to be able to lift fingerprints off of every possible surface. I wish it would just go away.