When some shows get canned after just one season or even just one episode (we remember you, Osbournes Reloaded), a procedural about crime scenes has stood the test of time. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is unleashing its three-hundredth episode tonight on CBS. Executive Producer Don McGill tells The Daily Beast, “CSI changed television.”
Showrunner and Executive Producer Carol Mendelsohn said the little secret is partnering crime scene investigators, medical examiners, and entomologists with CSI writers to keep the show grounded in reality.
McGill’s favorite episode, “Blood Drops,” for instance, featured Elizabeth Devine, a former crime scene investigator who was then writing under a pseudonym. The episode made viewers feel they were at the crime scene.
“After episode 300 we have a great lineup. And we have a lot of really great guest stars also,” McGill says.
Here’s our version of what makes the cut for the top 10 CSI episodes.
8. Season 4, Episode 12: ‘Butterflied’
When a nurse is found dead in her home, Grissom is unsettled because he thinks the victim resembles CSI’s Sara. Her boyfriend, a doctor, was the prime suspect until he showed up in little bits and pieces in a garbage bin behind the house.
7. Season 8, Episode 1: ‘Dead Doll’
Natalie “The Miniature Killer” Davis kidnaps Sara in the premiere. The killer would create scale models of each of her murders—which ranged from bludgeoning to poisoning to electrocuting her victims. Sara is put under a red Mustang and left to die. She escapes and grabs a mirror from the car and eventually collapses in the desert where Nick eventually finds her without a pulse. But at the end of the episode—surprise!—she’s alive.
6. Season 6, Episode 5: ‘Gum Drops’
A family of four is allegedly murdered, but CSI Nick is the only one that thinks the 10-year-old girl in the family is still alive. Three pools of blood were at the scene. Sara thinks he is getting a bit too close though, given a recent brush with death.
5. Season 9, Episode 1: ‘For Warrick’
Most TV writers will go for a shocking end to a season, but season nine lead with a surprise in the first episode. Warrick Brown was shot and killed outside a Vegas diner and the team is left to pick up the pieces. Little do they know, the killer was one of their own (dun, dun, dun!)
4. Season 3, Episode 22: ‘Play With Fire’
When a woman gets murdered in the press box of a high school stadium, Grissom, Sara, and Nick investigate. The episode delves more into the personal lives of the CSI characters, like Sara, who is struggling with demons after Greg’s DNA lab explosion.
3. Season 5, Episode 1: ‘Viva Las Vegas’
Kicking off season five, Grissom and Greg Sanders work on a nightclub shooting case while Catherine investigates the death of a stripper who was found in a hotel room. Sara and Nick, in what makes the episode absolutely thrilling, investigate an “alien” found in Area 51. Oh, what happens in Vegas.
2. Season 3, Episode 15: ‘Lady Heather’s Box’
The CSI team visits Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke AKA Julie Cooper from The O.C.!) after one of her employees is found dead. Catherine, then to make things more dramatic, has to, casually, save her daughter from drowning in a sinking car. And her husband is murdered.
1. Season 5, Episode 24: ‘Grave Danger: Volume 1’
In perhaps the best season finale yet, the fifth season ended in a chilling episode directed by the maestro Quentin Tarantino. Actor Frank Gorshin guest starred and sadly died two days before the episode aired. The episode starts with the wonderful image of some intestines coiled up in an alley and finishes shockingly, as one of the prime suspects in the murder blows himself up.
“When Quentin Tarantino’s name came up we thought, ‘Wow, that would be the greatest thing ever,’” Mendelsohn says. “He knew more about TV than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Mendelsohn says Tarantino knew everything about the show—and could recall every CSI episode in vivid detail, even more so than the writers themselves. The experience of working with Tarantino, and the amazing two-hour finale the team produced, makes “Grave Danger” Mendelsohn’s favorite episode of all time, and worthy of our No. 1 spot.