Patricia Arquette’s Oscar win last month for her supporting role in “Boyhood” made many people happy for a variety of reasons.
It is always gratifying to see a hard-working performer rewarded mid-career, and Arquette has always been an interesting woman. Her acceptance speech in which she called for equal pay for women sparked an invigorating post-telecast conversation about feminism, sexism, privilege and the political role of celebrities.
But surely no one was as happy as the good folks at CBS, poised to launch her as the star of “CSI: Cyber,” which premieres Wednesday. The series is the third spinoff of the Crime Scene Investigation franchise.
Introduced in a two-episode backdoor pilot on “CSI” last year, Arquette’s Special Agent Avery Ryan is a psychologist and head of the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division. Like virtually every modern TV detective, she is dedicated to the point of obsession, motivated by professional devotion and personal experience.
Though one is reluctant to use the word “benefit,” “Cyber’s” opening in the wake of the Sony hacking scandal is certainly fortuitous. Cyber crimes, and the ancillary sleuthing, have been part of detective fiction since the dawn of the Digital Age, but rarely have they been taken to the level of terrorism.
Not that “CSI: Cyber” is limited to hacking. Unlike her “CSI” colleagues, who are, for the most part, limited to their location, Ryan has a digitally defined jurisdiction.
“Any crime involving electronic devices is by definition ‘cyber,’” she says in the pilot.
So that’s pretty much every crime not limited to someone knocking over a liquor store — that is, in which there are no electronic devices.
Creator Anthony Zuiker and his team make this very clear with the pilot, which opens with the kidnapping of an infant. If nothing else, the episode guarantees a collective parental freakout over baby monitors.
Soon Avery and her team have been assembled, and what a team it is. For supervision, she’s got Simon Sifter (the always welcome Peter MacNicol); for field action, her second in command Elijah Mundo (the always adorable James Van Der Beek); for down ‘n’ geeky insight, there’s Daniel Grummitz (Charley Koontz, late of “Community”); and as the young hacker with potential, there’s Brody Nelson (Shad Moss).
Each of whom will thrive or fall depending on their chemistry with Arquette. And she is, even with the current concerns about cybercrime, the reason to watch the show.
Avery is a role that Arquette, who won multiple awards as lead of the mystery drama “Medium,” could do with her eyes closed. Fortunately, she doesn’t.
One of Arquette’s most admirable qualities as a performer is her ability to bring characters to the screen who are fully alive in the moment but also infused with the life they’ve already lived, the good days and the bad.
This character is no different. Although forced to do the predictable things leads must do in shows like this — look at screens and rattle off orders amid reminders that “we’re running out of time” — Avery is personally intriguing, clearly more than a sum of efficient and insightful parts.
Like its mother ship, “CSI: Cyber” runs on plot, but as television drama grows deeper and more diverse, a successful show needs to constantly balance the procedural with the personal.
It’s a tougher job than it seems. But Patricia Arquette? She can do anything.
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)