Is David Caruso Too Good to be True?

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As a fantasy, however, "Miami" had gone nationwide. Proof came the same week that CSI: Miami premiered. The first episode aired September 23, the birthday of Euripedes, Mickey Rooney, Ray Charles, and Julio Iglesias; the same date Gene Tunney shocked the world by defeating Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight title. There was a full moon that night, and the barometric pressure was definitely dropping. Hurricane Isidore squatted over the Yucatan like a fat tropical sumo wrestler taking a soggy dump; Tropical Storm Kyle staggered off Bermuda like a drunken sailor.

But that week, it wasn't Miami in the news; it was Norfolk, Nebraska, a small Midwestern community of 23,516, set 75 miles southwest of Sioux City. As marching bands from all around the Elkhorn River Valley region readied for the coming weekend's La Vitsef fall parade through downtown, all hell broke loose. Four men stormed into the U.S. Bank branch on South 13th Street with their guns blazing. Within 40 seconds, five people were dead, each with a shot in the head.

A day later, Nebraska State Trooper Mark Zach realized he had stopped the gunmen four days before the bank robbery and could have prevented it all if he hadn't jotted down the wrong serial number of a stolen 9mm gun one killer was carrying. He decided he couldn't live with his guilt. He blew his brains out with his service revolver.

Nebraska, not Miami.

A week later, TV viewers across the nation witnessed the start of the deadly drama along the tree-lined highway exits of Virginia and Maryland surrounding the nation's capital, where a sniper with a modified Chevy would terrorize the public in a three-week-long shooting rampage that left ten dead and three wounded. Petrified people were bobbing and weaving while they pumped their gas, and stations -- one of the sniper's favorite targets -- draped tarpaulins over their pumps to shield patrons from view.

Washington, D.C., not Miami.

They were horrific events supporting Caruso and Caine's shared philosophy. "In my opinion, that is a manifestation of evil," Caruso says. "He [sniper] has absolutely no feeling for any life around him. And when man degenerates to this very primal, basic state of fear, that's when evil's powerful."

Still Miami is the rest of the country plus style and sex. As Les Moonves joked in July, you couldn't have a CSI: Toledo. "You have to locate it in a city where you can believe these things can happen," says St. Petersburg Times television critic Eric Deggans. "Miami still has the reputation of being a crazy place where crazy shit does happen."

It may be almost twenty years later, but the Miami Vice image remains seared into the world's consciousness. Miami is Gomorrah to Vegas's Sodom in the minds of Middle America. Hell, we don't even speak the same language. Which Horatio Caine himself noted in the pilot episode, when he roasted a Fed who couldn't understand what Caine and Calleigh Duquesne were saying to each other in Spanish.

"What did she say?" the bewildered Fed asked.

"She said you need to learn the language," Caine spit back.

That's actually one of the things that makes Miami so alluring as a setting -- that out-on-a-foreign-fault-line chic that Caruso loves so much. He's a cheerleader for his new hometown, some say to the point of wanting to shift principal shooting back here. Licking his wounds after Michael Hayes failed, Caruso came south in 1998 with his wife Margaret and was "welcomed in a way that I had never experienced before. And it made me want to do everything in Miami." They immediately bought a million-dollar condo on South Beach within walking distance of Lincoln Road and the family-run Italian restaurant where they eat so often "it's embarrassing." Then in March of this year, the couple teamed with friends to open Steam, an eclectic, high-fashion men's and women's clothing-and-accessories boutique with a deliberate St. Tropez feel, in the shadow of Sunset Place.

"It's the ultimate American city," Caruso says. "It's part Europe, part America, part South America -- truly international ... I believe it represents the future."

Miami, naturally, imparts a unique feeling to the show, but it's also yet another indestructible link between Caruso and Caine: "Miami is a very sophisticated, complicated city," he says. "Horatio Caine is riding the wave of all that [complex] energy."

So somehow, almost magically, the show has captured Miami's modern essence, its real-life bizarre plot lines -- planes down in the Glades, Colombian necklace bombings, bodies in sharks, and the whole "wet foot/dry foot" immigration debate -- but in a straightforward, thoughtful way that for the first time since Miami Vice doesn't mock the city. Its creators want to promote deliberation and discussion, without taking easy "moral" sides. Which is another reason, Zuiker concludes, why Caruso -- who has given so much thought to Miami, Caine, and the dilemma of real vs. fictional evil -- has proved so critical to CSI: Miami's success.

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Matthew Alman