It's easy to take shows like the original CSI for granted. (I often hear from viewers wondering why no one makes a bigger fuss over the better procedurals of the day, from Cold Case and Without a Trace to the various incarnations of Law & Order. The simple answer: Glut exhaustion.) Which is why I found Thursday night's "Lab Rats" episode of CSI so captivating. Switching up the formula a bit, adding welcome doses of humor and even a bit of slapstick, while never losing sight of the joy of the puzzle, CSI delivered one of the most purely enjoyable episodes of anything this season.

The idea was to give the lab-bound geeks a moment in the spotlight, taking advantage of Grissom's absence in the morgue to do their own digging into the crime-scene miniatures that have haunted the show most of the season. (The episode was also a nifty primer of this mystifying case for those who might have missed an episode along the way. Which in this age of Grey's Anatomy competition is entirely possible.) The banter among the lab rats was funny-snarky, much of it aimed at Wallace Langham as fussy and perpetually self-impressed trace technician David Hodges. As the episode progressed, each of his colleagues bailed for reasons both personal and professional, leaving him alone (shades of High Noon) to poke and prod to find a connection among these dollhouses of death.

Which he eventually did. Bleach? Whatever. Turns out this really was his lucky day, and not just because his EBay bid for Three's Company memorabilia was accepted. (One of the episode's bigger laughs.) He may drive Grissom around the bend most weeks, but the boss meant it when he said, "Good job, Hodges."

I'd like to say good job as well to Sarah Goldfinger, who wrote the playful script, sharing story credit with executive producer Naren Shankar. I love it when a show like this breaks form, in this case sending the usual regulars off to the messy daily grind and letting us see what the rats are up to while the cool cats are away. In this case, there was an extra rat in the mix: a disgusting creature that burst out of a decomposed body in horrifying Alien style and skittered around the morgue- who knew Dr. Robbins, aka Robert David Hall, who works around icky cadavers all day, could get so skeeved out by a rodent?

This episode is a high point in what, thanks in large part to the "miniature" killer storyline, has been one of my favorite CSI seasons. I'm anxious to see how it all plays out.