Apr 23, 2009, 06:05 AM | by Ken Tucker
I want to be careful how I phrase this, because I don't want you to think I'm knocking Laurence Fishburne, an actor I admire. Here's what I'm wondering: Do you think he's been a good fit for CSI since taking over for William Petersen?
I'm a regular CSI-watcher, and for the past few episodes now, I've felt as though Fishburne's Dr. Ray Langston isn't quite gelling -- even when Langston is one of the central figures, such as the March 12 case in which he and Riley Adams (another character CSI doesn't seem to know what to do with) were held hostage. Really, my problem has little to do with Fishburne himself, but rather with the way his character is being written. I understand that you have to ease a new regular into this tight-knit ensemble slowly. Langston can't, three episodes in, suddenly be all chummy and super-knowledgeable. But enough time has passed now for us to have a fix on Langston, to understand how he thinks. So far, however, I never get any sense of his opinion of anyone on the CSI team. Yeah, it's been established that he knows Hodges is kind of a jerk -- who doesn't? -- but do you get any vibe from him how he feels about, say, Catherine Willows or Nick Stokes? I don't.
Partly this has to do with the fact that Dr. Langston is an academic, and one prone to be reticent, cautious. But if the producers wanted an outsider who'd be a new way for viewers to learn about CSI technique, well, the aura of dignified observer is not an especially exciting one for the center figure in a weekly TV drama. Petersen's Gil Grissom was aloof, but Grissom had a wryness to him, a warmth glowing beneath his icy exterior, that made the character intriguing. And he had it from the show's very start. (I looked at the debut season's first few episodes recently.)
So far, CSI's ratings have remained strong, and I wish Fishburne nothing but the best. But he also deserves the best -- in this case, a better delineation of Langston's character: a few quirks, a few more flashes of humor, perhaps. The April 2 episode contained a nice moment when Langston got angry at the cosmic injustice of the murder of someone he knew and, off-camera, kicked or hit something in frustration. That was interesting; in fact, it was one of the moments that made me think, hey, why don't we see more of Langston's behavior, at one extreme or another? Let's flesh this guy out a little.
What do you think? I'll bet you're still missing Grissom, but are you also enjoying Ray Langston?