Channel Hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 12:00am

With the CSI franchise's recent expansion to Miami and New York taking some of the limelight from the original show, the season-five finale (AXN, Wednesday at 10pm) offers an opportunity for members of the Las Vegas squad to prove they're still top dog in the forensics world. And with guest director Quentin Tarantino calling the shots behind the camera for a thrilling double-bill, they

do just that.

The big-chinned auteur is such a fan of the show he has friends send him tapes while he's away shooting movies. CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker no doubt regards this as a major boon, especially when you consider his first meeting with Tarantino was on a less than equal footing. It was about 10 years ago when Zuiker was a porter at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas and Tarantino was riding the crest of a wave as the Oscar-nominated director of Pulp Fiction. Apparently, the big-hearted film geek tipped Zuiker US$20. One would imagine he received a rather larger slice of the pie this time around.

Tarantino adds a signature dose of action and against-the-clock tension to the clue-led shenanigans and extreme close-ups that fans have come to expect from the show. Titled Grave Danger, the season closer begins with CSI Nick Stokes (George Eads) answering a routine call after a pile of entrails is found in an alleyway off the Strip. Events quickly spiral out of his control and he finds himself in the clutches of a madman with a grudge against the CSI department.

While the team, led as ever by the meticulous Gil Grissom (William Petersen), scrambles for clues, a package arrives. Unsurprisingly, it's not good news. Inside the envelope is a link to a webcam that shows Stokes buried underground in a Perspex box and a tape of the ominously ironic song Outside Chance by the Turtles ('You can try to please me/But it won't be easy/Stone walls surround me/I'm surprised that you even found me'). No, it's not a pitch for a new reality TV show, but a demand for a million-dollar ransom. So begins a frantic pursuit of the kidnapper and a desperate search to locate Stokes' subterranean tomb. As the clock ticks on their colleague's oxygen supply, the mettle of the CSI team is put under the microscope in what turns out to be their most explosive and shocking case yet.

From mad men, we move to Deadly Women (Discovery, Wednesday at 10pm), the first instalment of a three-part series on female serial killers. Mixing forensic fact and period drama, this series proves beyond a reasonable doubt that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned (or even a woman mildly irritated).

This episode begins in 17th-century Slovakia with a real-life vampire, Countess Bathory. In a 40-year killing spree, the sociopathic socialite is thought to have murdered up to 600 of her servants, drinking and bathing in their blood in the belief it would retain her youthful looks. And you thought your boss was bad.

Also featured are Madame Lalaurie, the New Orleans lady of leisure who conducted gruesome medical experiments on slaves in her attic, and Dr Linda Hazzard, the Washington state physician whose bedside manner left a lot to be desired. Hazzard starved her patients to death over the course of several weeks at her countryside 'health retreat', letting them waste away on two meagre portions of watery broth a day. It makes the Atkins diet look positively humane.

Perhaps most alarming of all is Vera Renczi, who murdered 35 men in Hungary in the early 1900s and kept them preserved in zinc coffins in her basement. The psychotic spinster would use all of her feminine charms to woo men (many of them married) to her home before whipping up a light dinner of arsenic and oblivion. It's a tale that will make most guys pause for thought before cheating on their wives or girlfriends - or at least make them think twice before hogging the remote control.