I know it's only been two weeks, but I miss CSI already.
I didn't watch the show when it initially began, it was one of those things that passed me by. But about 2006 I was at a loose end for which DVD box set to rent next from LoveFilm. I thought "I hear CSI is pretty good. It's got the really beautiful brunette with the amazing eyes from ER and The West Wing. I'll give it a go."
I was instantly hooked. The storytelling, the technology, the intelligence of it; It was just wonderful.
But then in episode six a new character turned up and I saw someone just like me on TV for the first time in my life. I was 27 years old and I'd never seen myself reflected on TV before.
Sure, Doc Robbins wasn't exactly like me. He was 30 years older than me, male, and heterosexual. But it was the first time I had ever seen a realistic disabled character on TV.
I've read so many articles in recent weeks about how CSI changed the face of TV. How it brought new life to the American crime procedural and without it we wouldn't have shows like NCIS, Bones and Criminal Minds. I've read about how it changed the face of CBS. I've read about the impact it had on the legal system. CSI changed all the rules, and that included the rules about how disabled people were represented.
When I was growing up I watched a lot of TV. That happens when you spend a lot of time in bed with broken bones. At a very early age I noticed that there was nothing on TV that reflected my lived experience. On TV disabled people were always villains, or heroes, or inspirations, or tragic figures. And they were always played by non-disabled actors trying to pull off an offensive imitation.
There were never any disabled characters who were just normal people that were played by disabled actors.
I'm no terrorist like Samuel L. Jackson's character in Unbreakable. I've never done anything heroic. I'm certainly no inspiration: Really no-one should aspire to be me. And despite the fact that I might be the unluckiest person alive; I'm still not as tragic as disabled people are usually made out to be on screen.
I was lucky in one way; I was raised by disabled parents so I had realistic adult role models. If I'd needed to look to popular culture to find someone like me; I'd have found nothing.
When I was a young telly addict all I wanted to see on TV was a disabled character who was just an ordinary person; and played by a disabled actor. Because no matter what you may think: Non-disabled actors faking it is never realistic, despite all the Oscars they win for trying.
And CSI gave me my childhood wish, even if it didn't happen until I was in my 20s. Here was a coroner who just did his job, happened to be disabled, and it was all just realistic. He was a fully fleshed out character, a little bit odd, but not a single one of the standard disabled screen clichés. CSI was the show I had been waiting for my whole life.
You have to remember that disabled people aren't this miniscule number of people that are being failed by film and TV. In the US 19% of the population are disabled. Yet we had to wait for CSI in the year 2000 to look at the TV and see someone like us looking back. Robert David Hall became my hero overnight.
Since CSI began we've started to see a few more realistic disabled characters on TV like RJ Mitte's Walter Jr. in Breaking Bad and Liz Carr's Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness. Plus recurring characters like Danny Woodburn's Alex Radziwill in Bones. You have to wonder if such characters would have occurred were it not for CSI blazing a trail.
But still far too many shows fall short: Have you noticed how almost all the killers in Criminal Minds have either mental health problems, learning difficulties, or a mobility impairment? Quite apart from the fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators; has there ever been a documented case of a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic serial killer in real life?
With so many TV shows coming back from the dead right now like Twin Peaks, The X Files, and Heroes; I shall live in hope that one day soon we'll be back inside the LVPD crime lab, and Doc Robbins will still be there with his scrapbook of all the famous people that have crossed over his autopsy table. But more than that; I hope that other shows will pick up CSI's baton and start including disabled people in our realistic, fabulous, normality.