‘CSI: Cyber’ Review: Patricia Arquette Sells CBS’s Latest Franchise Extension

Show’s lead leans not on ghosts of “CSI” past, but on her own brand of charm and award-winning talents

Going into CBS’s newest offering, “CSI: Cyber,” fans of the franchise will first ask what’s Special Agent Avery Ryan’s angle: Does she have the quirky gravitas of William Peterson’s Gil Grissom from the original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” or the reserve of Gary Sinise‘s Mac Taylor (forever Lieutenant Dan!) in “CSI: NY” or the sunglasses of David Caruso’s Horatio Caine in “CSI: Miami”?

Or does Patricia Arquette, fresh off her Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for Richard Linklater‘s 12-year “Boyhood” filmmaking odyssey, bring to the role her special brand of Patricia Arquette-ness — the quiet, maternal calm punctuated by sometimes shrill anxiety her own fans might recognize from her time on “Medium”? Or will Arquette summon that strange, sassy moll Sally Wheet she swaggered around as on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”?

Judging by her turn on this first “Cyber” episode, she’s more Patricia Arquette-like than cast from the mold of any of her “CSI” franchise-lead forerunners. And the producers are clearly banking on her likeability, not to mention believability as a cyber-psychologist in charge of the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division at Quantico, Virginia, to sell the series.

All this “Cyber” world is Arquette’s stage, and all the men and women merely players.

That said, the machine behind this effort needs to invest in even its smallest moving parts whose misfires can snatch a savvy “CSI” viewer right out of the “Cyber” realm; weak performances from bit players, leaps in logic — an opening scene establishes the early hour of the day, so what’s James Van Der Beek’s Elijah Mundo character doing at an arcade? Any gamer could tell you arcades don’t open before 10 a.m. — or just plain by-the-numbers writing à la “This is where we introduce the character by providing some expository dialogue that the lead character will dismiss with ‘You always say that’ in words or actions.”

The pilot starts off with a baby-monitor hack and from there unfolds into a criminal conspiracy. The premise isn’t the strongest step to introduce a new series, but Arquette soldiers on through bombastic raids and a dated theme song from The Who (1967’s “I Can See for Miles”).

Chalk all that up to pilot frenzy in the case of “CSI: Cyber,” however, and allow Arquette at least a few episodes to get her law-enforcement footing. The actress has inspired good TV before, her fans would attest. If the storylines and production design catch up to the whiz-bang “cyber” special effects and solid if perhaps sometimes stiff supporting actor performances, Arquette might just capture that same audience that followed her through seven seasons of “Medium” — even after it hopped over from NBC to CBS.

Filmed in Los Angeles, “CSI: Cyber” also stars Peter MacNicol as Ryan’s supervisor, political maneuverer Simon Sifter. Charley Koontz appears as tech genius Daniel Krumitz; Shad Moss as hacker Brody Nelson, reluctantly working for the FBI in lieu of jail time; and Hayley Kiyoko as rookie Raven Ramirez, who specializes in social media, trends and international relations.

Ryan and her team seek their targets in the “dark net,” a Wild West of online criminal behavior — from murder to cyber-theft, sex crimes and on. The series was inspired by the work of real-life Cyber Psychologist Mary Aiken. It is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Jerry Bruckheimer Television, and executive producers include Carol Mendelsohn, Ann Donahue, Anthony Zuiker, Pam Veasey, Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman.

“CSI: Cyber” premieres Wednesday, March 4, 2015 on CBS at 10/9 CT