Show of the Day: Criminal Minds

20 Mar

They use their minds to find criminals

I’ve watched the first episode of every network show the past couple of years (I’m still working on this spring, but I’ll get there) and I’ve seen many of those that existed before, but there’s still quite a few on the air that I’ve never gotten to.  I’ve seen bits and pieces of Criminal Minds over the years, and probably even a 20 minute segment or two, but I don’t think I’d ever seen a full episode.  That is, until bonding with my dad over an episode recently.  Criminal Minds is a favorite of my dad’s, a fairly loyal viewer of CBS procedurals; other favorites include NCIS, Person of Interest, and his new top choice, Elementary.  Every once in a while, I try to suggest a show that I like, that I think my dad would like as well, like Dexter, and sometimes he gets around to them, and sometimes he doesn’t.  When he put on Criminal Minds, I was at first tempted to tell him there was some sort of sporting event I wanted to watch at the time (I don’t remember if there was, but probably), but I decided to see it instead as an opportunity to check off one more currently airing show from my list.

Like any good police procedural, Criminal Minds features a team of do-gooders, in this case, working for the FBI”s Behavioral Analysis Unit.  The two hooks that separate it from just any ol’ CSI rip off is that first, instead of just solving any ol’ homicide, they focus on tracking serial killers.  Second, rather than typical police focused on forensics and evidence, the Criminal Minds team is more focused on profiling, figuring out the murderer by tracing the pattern of behavior.  In addition, rather than being tied to any one city, the BAU travel throughout the country to wherever they’re needed.  The cast appeared to me, at least in this one episode, as a true ensemble without any one or two characters standing far above the pack.  The cast has also changed throughout the series; in my episode, Season 4’s “Conflicted” the core team was made up of Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Paget Brewster, Joe Mantegna, and Kirsten Vangsness.

“Conflicted” featured the case of male frat boys in Texas being raped and killed at hotels during spring break.  The team flies down, seals off the scene, and brainstorms a variety of different possible scenarios, trying to figure out who they’re looking for.  The doer is referred to as the unsub, and I don’t know if this is the case in every episode, but they must have said the word unsub at the very least 20 times over the course of the episode.  Matthew Gray Gubler as once child prodigy Dr. Spencer Reid seems to be the chief theorist, positing first that the killer is a woman, and then later on, after that theory didn’t quite fly, that the crimes were committed by a male/female team.  Throughout the episode, we get a couple of flash forwards, which serve to needless confuse and attempt to add suspense, but are, like many flashforwards, pointless at best, and contrived at worst.  Kirsten Vangsness plays the computer-technology expert, mirroring the Pauley Perette character Abby from NCIS.  Aside from Vangsness and Gubler, it was unclear what the singular specialties or traits of the other main characters were.

The super crazy twist in this episode was that the unsub was two people, and was not two people, at the same time.  How, you ask?  It was an unsub (I’m gong to keep using the word to give you a sense of what watching an episode is like) with multiple personalities, a kid Adam with a troubled past, who had a dark female personality who was the one behind all the killing.  The worse part was that, even though everyone agreed he/she was nutzoid rather than criminally liable (nutzoid is a legal term), the events forced the good Adam personality to be trapped below the evil female personality.  Matthew Gray Gubler, who thinks about these things deeply and has a soft spot for the mentally ill, as his mother is schizophrenic, continues to come back and visit the boy, we see, long after the events of the episode are over, hoping he can one day goad the kid’s good personality to the fore.

I don’t see within this episode any reason to elevate or demote Criminal Minds in the pantheon of crime procedurals.  I suppose the presence of deranged and psychotic serial killers, over workaday murders with regular motives, ups the stakes significantly.  They apparently slowly move forward with bits about the personal lives of the characters, but those were largely not in evidence in the episode I watched.  Like most procedurals as well, it was eminently watchable; if it was on at an airport TV, I’d probably try to follow along.  I can’t say I greatly enjoyed my hour viewing the show, but nor did I feel bad about it afterwards.

Also, randomly, this episode was directed by Jason Alexander (He’s also directed a Mike & Molly, a ‘Til Death, and a Franklin & Bash in recent years.  He appeared in an earlier episode and must have enjoyed it so much that he wanted a shot behind the camera.

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