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Why ‘CSI: Miami’s Sunglasses Moment Will Never Be Replicated in Any Other Show

Even if you have never seen an episode of CSI: Miami, you know. If you’ve never heard of David Caruso’s Horatio Caine, you know. If you think The Who is from Dr. Seuss (or to really date yourself, the one on first base), you still know. It’s a pop-culture perfect, cold open, pre-credits moment, right up there with anything on Saturday Night Live or The Office. Horatio Caine shows up at a crime scene, gets the rundown of the crime, replies with something like “The verdict is in, Frank…”, pause, puts on the sunglasses, and finishes the quip with a fantastic one-liner “… but the jury is out.” Cue The Who’s “YEEAHH” from “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” opening credits. And it’s used to set up an otherwise dramatic crime procedural.

‘CSI: Miami’s Great Sunglasses Moments
CSI: Miami is the first spin-off of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and proved to be just as popular as its kin, running for a full 10 seasons before being canceled in 2012. What works in the series’ favor is having used the CSI template and shifting it to the Sunshine State. But what really sets it apart is its Horatio Caine “sunglasses moments” cold opens. Some are darkly comic, others are not, but it’s the same routine: start to say something, sunglasses, finish saying something, starting every episode like clockwork. So to really understand the rationale behind why they will never be replicated again, one has to appreciate the cleverness of the moments, delivered in a brilliant deadpan that rivals Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin. What follows is just a taste of the best (and many more can be found all over YouTube):

Seems pretty straightforward. The thing is, though, that the moments are lightning in a bottle, a perfect mix. Caruso not only nails the deadpan delivery every time, but he lends the moment just the right amount of gravitas: not so serious that it gets tired quickly, but not so funny that it becomes a distraction. The timing of the sunglasses, too, is perfect, a sweep of the hand to place them on his face, followed by a very slight pause. The choice of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” to play right at the start of singer Roger Daltrey’s legendary scream from the song, is a stroke of absolute genius. It puts an exclamation mark at the end of every quip, much like the “ba-dum dum” that caps off a comic’s joke. To get all of those elements to work again, while not impossible, would be extremely difficult to pull off.

The ‘CSI: Miami’ Sunglasses Moments Have Been Comic Fodder
The moments have also been parodied far too often and far too well for them to have the same effect they did the first time around. Comedians like Jim Carrey have had their fun with them, the internet is chock-full of memes making light of them, and videos of ordinary people doing their own Caruso impersonations are regular social media go-to’s. So not only is it difficult to get the elements in order, but now one has to overcome the comedic stigma that’s been attached to the moments in order to create something that doesn’t draw a direct comparison.

If we agree that the CSI: Miami Sunglasses Moments are unique and can’t be replicated, then it stands to reason that there haven’t been, nor will there ever be, moments that can be pointed to that are identical. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments throughout television history that come close. The most obvious comparison, as far as a cold open that hits the same beats every week but with different content, is The Simpsons. Similar to CSI: Miami (or, more truthfully, vice-versa), each episode has an identical opening sequence, but with something unique often written on the school chalkboard by Bart (Nancy Cartwright), and more regularly a ‘couch gag’ that sees the family enter the screen to sit on the family couch in a unique way. They are moments that are must-sees for the devoted Simpsons fan base.

The Office, too, has cold opens that have taken on lives of their own apart from the show itself. Simply saying, “Kevin’s chili” to a fan of the show brings to mind Kevin’s (Brian Baumgartner) bumbling attempt to bring his renowned chili into Dunder-Mifflin. Other than that, though, there are only a handful of shows with cold opens that have achieved the same notoriety. Similarly, there are only a few characters that share evidence of a “tic” like the repetitive action of Caine putting on his sunglasses. There’s Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) three-knock rule in The Big Bang Theory, and after that the pickings are slim.

The Sad Truth of the ‘CSI: Miami’ Sunglasses Moments
Unfortunately, as popular as the sunglasses moments have become, the sad truth is that by having taken off the way that they have, the sunglasses moments have overshadowed the very show that they sprang from. CSI: Miami is arguably the best of the CSI spinoffs, and on its own one of television’s great criminal dramas. Caruso is a talented actor whose work on the show is so much more than the opening two minutes.

So enjoy the sunglasses moments: they are fantastic. Do take the time, however, to look past the cold-opens, the opening credits, and settle in for one of the best shows to come out of the 2000s. You won’t be… (cue sunglasses) disappointed.


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