Sugar Water: The Original Crime Scene Investigator

Written by Current Events, Sugar Water, Television

Last week I discovered that David Caruso has more fans than I could’ve ever imagined. To borrow a phrase from a recent episode of his hit show, CSI: Miami, he’s a huge “cyber-lebrity.” Caruso also attracts his share of non-fans who think he’s a bad actor, but they seem more interested in his string of ex-girlfriends and ex-wives and his past struggles with alcoholism.

I regret mentioning in last week’s post how the actor’s appearance has changed noticeably over the past few seasons of CSI: Miami and then guessing that it’s because he’s in his 50s now; I was merely making an observation about Caruso looking different as his character, Horatio Caine, has become more peculiar. Rob McKenzie of Canada’s National Post said last August that Horatio has “a dash of the supernatural,” and thanks to one of the people who left a comment last week, I found the New York Post‘s recent Page Six gossip item about Caruso, in which a CSI: Miami “insider” said that Caruso “once asked the director of photography to make it seem like he was flying to the crime scene, explaining that Horatio is actually a mythical superhero. For real.”

I realize that’s supposed to make Caruso sound like a nut job, but to me, it just reinforces that he “gets” what the show is these days — a live-action cartoon with candy-colored cinematography and a lead character who wears the same dark suit and sunglasses week after week much like a comic-book character would. (I did see a second-season episode the other night on A&E in which Horatio was wearing an olive-green suit and didn’t put on his sunglasses once during the last 20 minutes. CSI: Miami hadn’t become a cartoon yet, and although Horatio was already addressing suspects while standing at a 90-degree angle, he did eventually turn toward them and make eye contact for more than 1.4 seconds.)

You could also call his performance self-parody: Caruso gets the last laugh at his own joke, but like I said last week, the joke can wear thin since I know he’s capable of much more as an actor, which is one reason why CSI: Miami is just empty calories. Still, I can’t look away when he’s playing his superhero robot ghost cop.

But since I said “It’s just that his face seemed to fall so freakin’ fast” in a reply to a reader’s comment, and that reply was then used in an anti-Castro — sorry, anti-Caruso — blogger’s own post, may something similar happen to my timeless beauty. In fact, I’ll offer up a curse myself: may all my hair fall out by the time I’m 35. Oh, wait, that already happened. Okay, here’s an alternate curse: may all my back hair fall out by the time I’m 35. That seems fair.

It is a cheap thrill, though, to be quoted out of context on someone’s all-Caruso, all-the-time blog, so I’d like to see if I can make it happen again. Caruso player-haters, please take the following bait:

It may seem like DAVID CARUSO’S life is fabulous these days, but let’s FACE facts: LOOKS can be deceiving, and life can very easily get REALLY REALLY BAD.

Now, find the key words in that quote and string them together on your blog. Don’t you love receiving free content this way? It’s win-win all around!

In a CSI: Miami rerun I saw recently that’s either from the first or second season, one character tells another that she’s wanted to work in forensics for as long as she can remember, and recalls watching Quincy, M.E. as a child. Quincy (“M.E.” stands for “medical examiner”) aired on NBC from 1976 to 1983 and is the original CSI in many ways. But while CSI: Miami knows it’s fluff, Quincy took itself verrrrry seriously. With episode titles like “Who Speaks for the Children?” “Dying for a Drink,” and “Guns Don’t Die,” how could it not?

From what I’ve read, the early seasons were fairly normal for a crime show, with Dr. Quincy, played by Jack Klugman, noticing “somethin’ ain’t right” with a corpse he’s examining during an autopsy, then alerting the police, who think he should leave well enough alone, then solving the case himself using forensics and his own special criminological methods. But the later seasons, which are currently airing in syndication on Me TV in Chicago, have an agenda of various social causes that find their way into the show week after week. (Klugman was never credited as a producer on the show, but I get the feeling he had a lot to do with its moral crusade during the later years.) Kids with Down syndrome are being shunned by other kids and their parents and even doctors? Quincy’s on it! Young girls are following an author’s dangerous diet advice? Quincy’ll see about that! An oil refinery is polluting the air with toxins that are killing emphysema sufferers during a smog alert? Quincy’s gonna tear you a new one if you don’t give a damn about air quality!

Just kidding — Quincy never gets violent. But he does shake his fist and point his finger — a lot — and say things like “Something’s got to be done about this before it’s too late!” I used to think Joe Flaherty’s imitation of Quincy-era Klugman on SCTV was hilariously over-the-top, but after seeing these Quincy reruns on Me TV, it turns out he was right on the money.

In the sixth-season episode “Guns Don’t Die,” a stolen handgun is used by a junkie, a gang member, a couple of lowlifes, and a battered housewife over the course of a few weeks as it passes from one recipient to another. (Robert Altman produced a short-lived series for ABC in 1997 called Gun that had a similar premise.) Eventually all of the gun’s users are apprehended and the gun is returned to its original owner, a suburban husband and father who lost the gun when his family’s house was robbed several years earlier. When he happily tells his wife the gun’s been found by the police, she frowns and says she’s not sure she wants it in the house again. He assures her everything will be fine and that they need a gun to protect themselves and their children. Naturally, the final scene shows the couple’s young son discovering the gun in their bedroom closet, pointing it at his little sister as if it’s a toy, and pulling the trigger. Freeze-frame on the gun after it goes “bang,” flash the executive producer’s credit for a few solemn seconds, and we’re out! See ya at the Emmys, everybody!

I have no problem with TV shows that want you to use your brain (not every show needs to offer the comfort food of CSI: Miami) or shows that have a social conscience (many people say HBO’s The Wire is the best show in the history of the medium), but when they start to preach the way Quincy does, they become laugh-a-minute comedies rather than sobering dramas. Quincy often feels like a show written and produced by a half-dozen cranky white guys in their late 50s who’ve hired a half-dozen cranky white guys in their late 50s to play their alter egos on-screen. I hate how obsessed the entertainment industry is with youth in this era, but Quincy is a show that desperately needed a character from the 18-to-34 demographic back in the early ’80s to offer some dissenting opinions. Anything to shut those cranky white guys up!

For music lovers coming of age during that time, the peak of Quincy‘s preachiness was probably the seventh-season episode “Next Stop, Nowhere,” in which the good doctor determines that the violent message of punk music, not to mention the genre’s lack of Lawrence Welk-style musicianship, is leading its young listeners to stab their friends in the mosh pit at concerts. The entire episode (guest-starring a young Melora Hardin of The Office as a sensitive punk-rock chick) used to be available on YouTube in seven separate segments; it’s gone now, but you can click here for the 30-second “teaser.”

Quincy, like countless other shows then and now, is set in Los Angeles, and “Next Stop, Nowhere” feels like it was written after Klugman and the show’s cranky-white-guy writers read a newspaper headline about a fight breaking out at a Circle Jerks concert. They then started commiserating about how their damn neighbors’ kids play that awful punk-rock music so damn loud and how the damn lyrics are just a bunch of “I hate this” and “I don’t believe in that.” Fer the love o’ Pete, why can’t those damn kids listen to somebody like Tony Bennett? Or, as Quincy says in the episode’s final scene while dancing with his lady love: “Why would you listen to music that makes you hate when you can listen to music that makes you love?” Because the music that makes me hate helps me blow off steam I’d otherwise bottle up and eventually use to kill people like you, old man!

Yesterday I read an Associated Press story that said Klugman is suing NBC Universal, “claiming the studio is lying about [Quincy, M.E.‘s] profits and owes him money…. His 1976 contract with NBC entitles him and his company, Sweater Productions, to 25 percent of the show’s ‘net profits,’ according to the suit filed in Superior Court. Klugman claims his copy of the contract was lost when his agent died, and NBC has refused to provide a copy.”

Go get ’em, Klugger! But you turn 86 next month, so you’ll probably need some help digging up your former agent’s coffin and searching for that lost contract in his pants pockets. If you can’t find the contract, however, I have a plan I’d like to propose — how do you feel about filming new episodes of Quincy? I can write them for you! Sure, I’m only 32, but people tell me I’m already a curmudgeon. And who doesn’t want to see an octogenarian solving crimes on TV? Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, and Diagnosis: Murder fans have been feeling awfully neglected lately. (Well, the ones who are still alive, anyway.)

“I recently heard that they made $250 million and it’s still on TV in Germany. I don’t want their money. I want my money,” Klugman said. “I worked my tail off. I got up at four in the morning and stayed at the studio. I did rewrite, I edited.”

Ah, so you were involved in the writing process for Quincy. I knew it. But take my advice, Jack — you’re not going to receive a single dime of those so-called net profits. What you should’ve asked for were gross profits, but I’m not here to play “coulda shoulda woulda” with you. You don’t need that. What you do need is a hit show that’ll earn you the millions of dollars you didn’t make the first time around. Are you with me?

The older crowd isn’t down with the three-headed CSI monster. I know because I asked an 89-year-old man in my apartment building what he thought of David Caruso and his response was “Huh?” These people want Quincy and they want it bad.

Just think of all the current hot-button topics you could tackle: terrorism, global warming, immigration, religious fundamentalism, girls running for president, wars built on one lie after another, and — worst of all — rap music. All I need from you, Jack, is a seven-season commitment so we can make sure you get your fiscal revenge on NBC in a way they’ll never see coming.

I’ll have my lawyer/friend Dave-o send over a contract tomorrow. Sort of like how Quincy’s first name was never revealed on the show, Dave-o has never revealed his last name to me. He says it’s part of the attorney-client privilege except the privilege only works in his favor.

But that’s okay with me. I don’t need to know everything about everybody, whether it’s Dave-o’s last name or the details of David Caruso’s secret affair with actor Jeff Daniels. Just knowing that the sky is blue, the sun is gold, and Caruso’s hair is orangish is enough for me.

Spoon, “Quincy Punk Episode” (from 1998’s A Series of Sneaks)