One of my TV Firsts: CSI and Sara Sidle

You never forget your first “grownup” show. Though you may still watch shows made for teenagers, it signals your arrival to the world of primetime network dramas or comedy. For me, at least, it was also my introduction to TV fandom. It gave me my first ship and my first character to look up and relate to (who shares a remarkable number of similarities to my favorites today). Though I stopped watching the show long ago, it will always hold a special place in my TV history so today I’d like to tell you all about my early love for CSI.

I didn’t start watching CSI from the beginning. In fact, I don’t even remember why I started watching at all. For whatever reason, I watched the second season episode “Chasing the Bus” and I was hooked for the next several years of my life. I went back and watched all the previous episodes on DVD and started watching live in the fall of 2002. Before the days of DVR and online streaming the next morning, appointment TV was much more popular than it is now and this was must-see-TV for me. Friends knew that they were not to call me while it was airing because I didn’t want to talk to them. Everyone who knew me knew this was my show and I was so enthusiastic about it that I got several other people watching as well. I got fingerprint powder and lifting tape for my birthday in 2003 and I owned more than one book about the forensic science behind the show. I was part of the generation of teenagers who grew up watching the show and who were inspired to learn more about the field.

CSI introduced me to Sara Sidle, the first character I have felt fiercely protective over. She wasn’t great with people (a trait that my teenage self greatly related to), she had some huge emotional walls that she didn’t often left people cross (again, something I related to), she cared deeply about getting justice for victim’s families and the victims themselves, and she was a really good CSI. She was also deeply unhappy and all I wanted was for her to find some happiness in her life. Her demons constantly haunted her and did until she left the show in season 8 in an attempt to figure out her life and what she needed.

She was my reason for watching the show and her final (at the time) episode was my final one as well. But her influence over me and the fictional characters I love continues to be seen in my current life. So many characters I love struggle with opening up to people. Kate Beckett, Emma Swan, and Cristina Yang are probably the best current examples of that. And I recognize that’s not strictly because of Sara. It’s because it’s something I struggle with, therefore I relate to characters with the same problem. But Sara was the first who made me believe that it was something I could improve on. She did open herself up little by little before she left to take care of her own mental health. She grew and she found happiness and she made me feel proud.

Speaking of her happiness, it was her relationship with Grissom that introduced me to the world of shipping. From the moment their characters were reunited on the show, it was clear there was something special between them. There was flirtation, moments of prop/music-related subtext, protective moments, and heartbreak as each explored other relationships. The moments may not have been frequent but they were looked at and analyzed over and over again. The connection and caring between these two very private, very emotionally closed off people spoke to me at the time and was a relationship that I was very invested in.

It was a ship that taught me patience. It took 4 seasons for Grissom to admit his feelings for Sara. It took another season for Sara to open up to him about her past and start the process of letting him fully in. It took another season still for them to officially be shown as a couple. It was another season before anyone else in the lab knew about their relationship. Then finally Grissom proposed the next season in season 8 and Sara left 4 episodes later. All in all, it’s not the most satisfying ship I’ve ever had but it was my first. Even if I recognize why they didn’t work out in the long term, knowing that they went through all of that only to be broken up off screen still hurt. That was how much I loved this show and this ship. Six seasons after I stopped watching, I was still disappointed to hear they had divorced.

I haven’t watched the show in years but I still like knowing that it’s still on. It’s a reminder of such a large period of my life and some very happy fandom memories. There’s something special about firsts and that’s exactly what this show is in so many ways.

I want to hear about your TV firsts! Tell me about any of the firsts that make you the happiest – first show, first ship, first favorite character, first fandom experience or any other first I’ve forgotten about.




8 thoughts on “One of my TV Firsts: CSI and Sara Sidle

  1. My pre-teen self had a serious fangirl awakening. I would record reruns of Lois and Clark The new Adventures of Superman on VHS while I was at school and watch them while I did my homework. At 12 I started my own website dedicated to Bill Pullman (I had a serious obsession with the movie ‘Spaceballs’). During the summer I could pretty much recite the entire programming schedule of every single TV channel. But the one fandom that truly defined my jr high and high school experience was ‘The X-Files’.

    I came into the fandom around Season 6, when most people felt like things were heading down hill, but I caught up fast and went all in. I even had quite the fanfiction addiction back in those days, and I am pretty sure i owe most of my sex education to fanfiction forums, which I think it actually terrified me into virginity way more effectively than any flower sack baby did, but that’s another topic…).

    I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was lucky enough to have a local paper that had a weekly X-Files column called ‘X-Cursions’ that was written by two of the paper columnists that were huge fans of the show. Not only did I get to read a weekly analysis about my favorite show, they also had an online message board where fans could discuss their thoughts and feelings, and many times that discussion helped shape the column for the next week. At 14, I was definitely the youngest person that posted on the board. Most were in the mid to late 20s and 30s and older. But they were all welcoming, and they became my extended family in a way. It was a daily ritual to check in with them. They were such a part of my life, that when I turned 16 and took my drivers license test, the first people I told were not my friends from school, it was my message board family. When I graduated high school and the X-Files ended, I lost this online family. Life got busy, TV became less a part of my life, and while I wouldn’t be me without being completely obsessed with something at all times, I was mainly alone in my obsessions. I have to say that ‘OUAT’ has been the first time since high school that I have been so involved with an online fandom. It’s been great and I obviously have Katie and the rest of you to thank for that. Thanks to the Internet, nobody has to fanboy/fangirl alone, and I am rediscovering how much fun TV is when you have other passionate people to share it with!

    1. I love your X-Files fandom story. I love that your paper had a column on the show that led to such a great community of people. The people on message boards really do become like family and people with whom you want to share significant moments of your life. My first fandom (that I participated in) came at a much later point of time in my life than yours, but the feeling of finding a group of people with a similar interest is the same.

      I’m glad you found Katie and are such a strong participant in her weekly discussions and our Twitter TV club!

  2. I love so many things about this post. I love reading your thoughts about Sara because you put so much thought, introspection, and care into the way you write about her. It’s always interesting to trace our history of favorite characters to see what they say about us, and I love that your favorites can all be traced back to Sara. It’s a huge deal when we find characters we truly relate to, and it was beautiful to read about how much Sara meant to you.

    I also love that you and I have the same feelings about “TV firsts.” Yes, there are TV shows I watched and cared about before the show I consider my first “grownup” show, but there’s something special about the show that opened your eyes to all that TV could be—something to make you feel, something to make you think, and something to talk about with other people who love it as much as you do. And that first show for me was Alias.

    Alias gave me all of my big TV firsts. It gave me my first real favorite character—the kind of favorite I would defend until my face turned red from my emotions, the kind of character I spent hours crying over because I just wanted her to be happy, the kind of character I both related to and wanted to be. Sydney Bristow was a phenomenal television character. She was allowed to be both physically tough and emotionally vulnerable, steely in her nerves but warm in her heart.

    I really fell in love with Alias during its excellent second season. I was 14 at the time, and I was struggling with trying to hold on to the core of who I was in a high school environment that caused so many people I knew to lose sight of who they were in the quest to become who everyone else told them to be. Sydney inspired me in so many ways, but the biggest way was perhaps in her ability to hold onto her sense of self in a world that always asked her to put on an alias—to act like somebody else. Sydney had a good heart, and she never lost that; she never lost that innate warmth that only Jennifer Garner could give to a super spy. And that desire to remain a warm person in a cold world is something that continues to inspire me today, and it’s something that many of my current favorite TV characters—from Snow White to Leslie Knope to Cosima—are defined by.

    Alias also gave me my first real taste of the world of TV shipping—in all of its ups and downs. When I see fans today complaining about the angst between TV couples or the banality of forced love triangles, I always want to tell them it could be worse: You could have been a Sydney and Vaughn shipper in the dark days of Alias’s third season. But for all of the unnecessary angst and even the struggles to keep the chemistry alive after Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan broke up in real life, some of my happiest TV memories remain Syd/Vaughn moments. They were the first TV couple that kept me up too late because I couldn’t stop thinking about them. They were the first TV couple to drive me to read (and write) fan fiction. They were the first TV couple to help me see what I wanted (and still want) in my own life: A partner who has my back, a person who I can be my complete self with, a man who respects my strength and helps me grow even stronger.

    Alias was such a foundational show for me in terms of its influence on the way I watch TV now. It showed me that the most interesting relationships on shows don’t have to be romantic. (Jack and Syd) It showed me that female friendships matter, and shows suffer without them. (Francie and Syd) It set the bar for my expectations for great acting (with Garner, Victor Garber, and Lena Olin teaching me what stellar talents can really do). It gave me my first “bad boy” crush. (Sark) And it gave me the first TV episode to make me cry so hard I couldn’t breathe. (“The Telling”)

    “The Telling” was when I went from caring about Alias to obsessing over it. It was the first time I’d ever cried over a TV show not because I related to it but because I cared so deeply about a character that their pain became my own. After it aired, I needed to talk about it, to theorize about it, to know I wasn’t alone in my pain and confusion. I found message boards, fan fiction websites, and fan videos (that I downloaded to watch over and over because there was no YouTube back then) to make the summer after that finale more bearable, and I never looked back. The Alias fandom—even if I was mainly just a message board lurker—introduced me to the concept of closely analyzing every part of a TV show. It introduced me to the idea of having a group of people to share your passions with. And it introduced me to the kind of family that can grow among fans of a TV show.

    Everything about the way I watch TV comes back to Alias. And I can’t think of a better show to have as my first.

    1. Hearing about people’s first fandom has this wonderful magic that’s a mix of love and fond memories and that is so evident by this comment.

      I love how much this show influenced you and shaped all your future TV expectations. It prepared you for ships that take longer than some people would like and unbearable summers waiting for the resolution of a cliffhanger. I was fortunate enough to have my version of “The Telling” (CSI’s “Living Doll”) in a world with YouTube, it made watching fan videos a lot easier!

      I love the connection you made between Sydney and so many of your favorite characters now. It’s one I wouldn’t have thought of but it’s so accurate. I love that that is something you strive for and admire in people.

  3. I loved reading these so much. I have to say coming of age when I did the big ‘fandoms’ were Twin Peaks and X-Files. I came late to X-Files probably 2 seasons in and liked it, but never fully geeked out. One of my favorite firsts, was the first Soap Opera I got to watch from the very first episode. Growing up daytime soaps were a ritual among my friends and our mothers. All had been on the air for at least a decade before we were born and were handed down almost like a rite of passage. That is why when the new soap opera Santa Barbara debuted it became ‘ours’ before we ever watched an episode. Santa Barbara will probably never be known as more than a footnote for being the debut of Robin Wright’s acting career but for me the trials and tribulations of the Capwell family make me smile as I think about it and it was a first I adored. If I checked I bet somewhere in my keepsake boxes there is still a VHS recording of Eden and Cruz’ wedding saved somewhere. It was appointment television that my friends and I even dressed up for the week it aired.

    However, for all the TV I watched, especially cop shows I have to say the show that made me transition from TV viewer to fan was ‘thirtysomething’. The ABC drama was about couples entering their mid thirties and navigating the trials and tribulations that come with marriage, adulthood and the starting of families. Come to think of it, if Friends had fast forwarded and become a drama it would have been this show. A group of close knit friends who have come together through college friendships, marriages and extended family. I watched in awe of the complexity of the emotions and the flaws of the characters. None were perfect, not by a long shot but the scripts were often emotionally raw and often moving because the stories were honest and often without simple solution. The show gave a suburban/urban setting where the houses were never neat, the lives of the characters inherently messy and the relationships that matter most were candid. I was struck by the fact that all the characters had ‘public’ faces in some form that they wore for their marriage, their job and sometimes just to get through the day. Everything about ‘thirtysomething’ felt real.

    Although it was an ensemble the show navigated most around married couple Michael and Hope and included Michael’s cousin Melissa who was a free-spirited yet neurotic photographer, friends Elliot and Nancy whose troubled marriage was a running plot line. Michael’s best friend Gary whose rocky relationship with Melissa eventually gives way to a marriage with Susannah and Hope’s best friend Ellyn who is single and career driven within the scope of the show. Their friendship was so distinct and special to me because I always felt like the duck who went her own way. As we grew up and my friends sought out the more traditional path of young adulthood, I was always the one who took the path less traditional. They were childhood friends who found a way to grow together in spite of their lives taking them down different paths.

    I related to the need to have those ‘public faces’ because so much of entering and navigating high school is about acquiring a mechanisms when you don’t completely fit in as you try to find your way. That is what I felt about Hope, one of the lead characters. Hope was the writer who was juggling the emotional dichotomy of being a mom and wanting a career. In fact, what I loved most about this show was the interconnections of the women at different stages of their lives, the insecurities that are reaped from societal expectation and actual desire. The women in the show all embodied several crossroads of expectations vs. desire and the consequences on their identity when it comes to being a woman and in particular a feminist. Life is never quite as simple as the ideals we look towards. ‘thirtysomething’ was the first show that allowed the women to be strong but have doubt in their choices, to second guess things like being married and having children, not because they didn’t love their partners and children but because the pull of the road not traveled is always more compelling once you’ve made a choice.

    It is no surprise the show’s creators went on to make My So-Called Life and Once and Again, two shows I also adored. But thirtysomething was special because it is the first time I remember watching a show and being more invested in the characters than the plots they navigated through.

    1. I love this story. I can see why thirtysomething was the show to take you from being a viewer to a fan. It sounds like a great show that was perfect for the time in your life that you watched it. And like something I would completely love, but what else is new? I love that it gave you strong women to look up to that filled a variety of different roles yet maintained connections with each other.

  4. Wow, I was looking for CSI-related stuff on Tumblr and came across this post. I’ve read it with a huge smile on my face, because CSI was my first grown-up show as well, AND my first ship! Also, in my case, Sara was the first female crush I had heh. I couldn’t have written better everything this show meant to me. Your descriptions of Sara and the relationship she had with Grissom…perfect. Ah, and I stopped watching after she left as well, but ocasionally I drop by to see how she’s doing (the episode when she says they’re divorced was really painful to watch).

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know there’s someone out there with the exact same First story as you (without the fingerprint powder, tough, but now I want one!).

    1. Thank you so much for this comment! I love that there’s someone else out there that shares my connection to Sara and the show. It really was a great first show and ship to have.

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