channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 February, 2007, 12:00am

In a tumultuous world, it's comforting to know some things never change: a cold beer on a hot day always tastes like nectar, feeling cool grass beneath your bare feet is always soothing, mum's chicken soup always makes you feel better ... and CSI is always CSI. Given it has just entered its seventh season and now has the New York and Miami franchises - not to mention a host of imitators - to compete with, it would be easy for CSI (AXN, Wednesdays at 11pm) to overstretch itself and lose what makes the show so great in the first place - or to simply run out of steam.

Thankfully, the writers seem to realise that coming up with ingenious ways for the team to solve puzzling crimes is the key to keeping this show ticking along in the way most viewers know and love. Last week's opening double episode, for example (which is repeated today at 1pm and 10pm on AXN), featured one of the show's most intriguing crimes to date, with a startlingly exact miniature replica of the crime scene found beside the body. A murder at Cirque du Soleil, meanwhile, offered the opportunity to create a visually arresting and quintessentially Las Vegas opening sequence in the first episode.

This is not to say, however, there is no character development. The romance between Gil Grissom (William L. Petersen) and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) at the end of season six was an interesting, if not altogether surprising, development, and one that seems to have divided fans on internet forums. Admittedly, imagining Grissom involved in amorous exertions is a little creepy, but, hey, it's about time the guy got to indulge in pleasures that don't involve tinkering with insects.

More shocking still were the events surrounding Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) in the first two episodes, the repercussions of which stretch into this week's instalment. This episode also delivers an unusual twist on the normal narrative structure, being from the perspective of five strangers and chronicling how each made it onto the slab in the crime lab morgue.

Another notable show that began last week is Suburban Shootout (BBC Entertainment, Sundays at 10.20pm). This offbeat sitcom is set in the picturesque, fictional English town of Little Stempington and follows the fortunes of Joyce Hazel-dine (Amelia Bullmore; Jam, I'm Alan Partridge) and her husband, Jeremy (Ralph Ineson; best known as Chris Finch in The Office), as they attempt to settle in after moving from London. The idyllic sheen of the town hides a dark underbelly, however, and Joyce soon finds herself involved in an organised-crime syndicate run by local housewives and caught in the crossfire of gang warfare played out between ladies who lunch.

Absurd as the premise is - middle-class housewives toting Uzis and running ruthless protection rackets in a quaint, sleepy enclave - it soon clicks into place, and while it is played for laughs, the comedy is very black indeed. When asked to shake down the local librarian for a bigger cut of overdue book charges in this week's episode, for example, Joyce inquires what she should do if her mark refuses. 'Shoot her in the tits,' comes the frank reply.

Featuring many faces that will be familiar to fans of subversive British comedy, including the excellent Anna Chancellor (Tipping the Velvet, Spooks) as crime queenpin Camilla Diamond, this show is wonderfully original and often laugh-out-loud funny while paying homage to the likes of Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. Wicked fun.

Finally, reality TV heavy-hitter The Apprentice (TVB Pearl, Saturdays at 8pm) returns this week for a sixth season, with 18 ambitious hopefuls vying for a dream job working for Donald Trump (above with the contestants). This season differs from its predecessors in that it is set, not in Trump's usual stomping ground of Manhattan, but in Southern California. Another change to the show's format will see the team that wins each challenge getting to live in a luxurious mansion that week while the losers have to camp out in the mansion's back garden with basic facilities. If only all reality television was this watchable.