Monday, 5 September 2011

CSI: Miami "Wheels Up" Review

The only thing the CSI series is more famous for than showing 'graphic forensic content' at dinnertime is exploiting subcultures (furries, kinky people, you name it) to make murder investigations even more exciting. CSI tends to go for research over understanding, which in the case of roller derby representation, might actually be a good thing, because one of the most common complaints about derby in popular culture is factual mistakes. As promised last week, we're going to discuss the episode today.

Copyright CBS
So, how did CSI: Miami do? "Wheels Up" features the team attempting to find the killer of roller derby jammer Wrath of Connie. Along the way, they bump up against players, refs, boyfriends, brothers and an announcer who won't shut up - the typical roller derby crowd.

First, the pros of the episode: derby is shown fairly accurately. As you can see in the picture above, they have the gear seemingly right (see the pivot helmet panty?). They show players getting up in the penalty box (which looks like a prop in an exotic dancer club, but more on that later), they don't purely show derby as wrestling on skates. Players have individual personalities and back-stories. They even show a player who was seriously injured in a bout, leading to life-changing consequences. The representation of derby often doesn't get past the rink or address the fact that roller derby's sexy danger can have consequences, so it's heartening to see CSI doing so.

One particularly good aspect of the episode is an emotional explanation of what a 'derby wife' is, namely a fellow player you count on as your special derby buddy, your skate-sister, the person who gets in the ambulance with you. I know the derby wife phenomenon isn't popular with every player (more on this later in the week), but it's an aspect of derby often glossed over and in this episode, Wrath of Connie's relationship with her derby wife is one of the healthiest connections depicted in the hour.

Also, it's a bit of a True Blood reunion. Lindsay Pulsipher, who plays Crystal on TB, plays an injured derby player here. Todd Lowe, who plays the amazing Terry Bellefleur, plays a complete jerk here, albeit one on a motorcycle, so if that's your thing, watch this. Also, someone punches Ryan, so it's a good hour in television history.

Copyright CBS
Now, the cons: the show heavily relied on roller derby stereotypes to get its foot in the door. The official tagline from CBS publicity was "When the CSIs investigate a murder at a roller derby match, the only thing shorter than the girls' skirts are their tempers". You know, the usual. There are catfights. The girls are largely aggressive, even threatening, but almost never unsexy. A key plot rests on metal-reinforced elbow pads which would never pass WFTDA regulations and I strongly suspect would cost a player their spot on a team if discovered. The spirit of roller derby is still misunderstood here, I think.

Their "Sin Bin" isn't regulation (it only has room for one skater), but it's in keeping with the sexy vibe the show is going  for. Also, helmet hair is often suspiciously absent. Personally, I like my derby girls realistically gross, but the show apparently disagreed. The largely male CSI team dealing with the girls at the match and commenting by saying things like "I don't whether I'm scared or turned on" might be a deconstruction of the role of the male gaze in derby, but I doubt it. Largely, the team is there to get frightened and turned on , as is the viewership of CSI (let's be honest here).

Ultimately, the episode "Wheels Up" isn't bad. I was pleasantly surprised, even. But will someone tell the writers Corey Evett and Matthew S. Partney not to bother raising the spectre of the obsessive, potentially lesbian desire-fueled room-mate?  The only lesbian panic I want in my roller derby is being shocked to find we don't have enough of them and going out to get more.

1 comment:

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