Though "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" is only in its third season, the debut run of Jerry Bruckheimer’s forensic crime series in 2000-01 was a sizable enough hit to warrant this boxed set, which compiles all 23 episodes on six discs. The key to the show’s success isn’t its cast of characters——the five main investigators, led by William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, are barely more than thumbnail sketches——but rather on its elaborate cases, which are methodically unfurled with a battery of high-tech gadgetry over the course of each 60-minute episode. The lack of solid characterization, combined with some occasionally leaden dialogue, does leave some episodes feeling unbalanced, with the strength of the storyline undone by the bland scripting. And it’s not as if the cast can’t handle stronger material——Petersen (playing a more eccentric version of his character in Manhunter), Helgenberger and Paul Guilfoyle (as their police contact) are all solid performers, and relative newcomers George Eads, Gary Dourdan, Jorja Fox and Eric Szmanda each fill their sliver-thin roles as the rest of the team.

But again, the core of the show are its cases, and creator Anthony Zuiker and his fellow producers (including Petersen) provide some formidable puzzlers that should please armchair detectives of all stripes. What’s more, Zuiker isn’t afraid to shy away from the gooier aspects of forensic science——corpses in every state of decomposition, and dismemberment are laid out before viewers in unflinching detail (weak stomachs should rely on their fast-forward buttons). Among the more macabre highlights are a serial killer who forces his victims to tape their own final words ("Anonymous"), a headless corpse stowed away in a stolen car ("Evaluation Day"), a case of grave robbery ("Friends and Lovers") and a murder that takes place on a plane ("Unfriendly Skies").

CBS/Paramount’s boxed set is lavishly packaged and offers fully animated menus on each disc that give the viewer a tour around the CSI labs as they select episodes. The sixth disc offers brief character bios and a talking-head style promo piece on the series that features interviews with the cast and producers. Engaging stuff, if occasionally lightweight, but definitely a solid alternative to summer reruns.

Episode Grade: B+

DVD Grade: B+