19 April 2020
In light of all the mandatory sitting at home by ourselves that’s happening right now, I decided to try something I’ve never done before: I actually watched all those cookie cutter crime shows that TV networks renew for decades on end and grandmas watch during daytime reruns for some reason. I often say I “watch everything on network TV except the acronym shows” well NOT TODAY! I tried my hand at one episode each of all the network procedurals on my dvr. Below is my official report on CBS’s long-running and recently wrapped Criminal Minds.
Criminal Minds is BRUTAL. Kristen Baldwin from Entertainment Weekly recently named it her pick for worst show of the decade, not because it’s badly made, but because it’s disgustingly violent in a destructively normalizing way, specifically against women. I watched the penultimate episode of the series which involved a serial killer targeting prostitutes AND wealthy men (twist!), severing various parts of their bodies (the ears are the most gruesome) and dangling said body parts from an emotionally significant tree *groans*
Since this show is set in the Behavioural Analysis Unit of the FBI (like Mindhunter but modern and boring), our heroic team of diverse beauties and also Joe Mantegna came up with a profile based on the killer’s patterns (it’s always a young white guy with mommy issues). The twist here was that the killer was prone to fantasies so there were multiple sequences that took the plot in a somewhat interesting direction only to backtrack and reveal that it was all in his head. The most intriguing of these took place at the climax of the episode when a pretty soon-to-be victim pulled what seemed like a move straight out of Phantom of the Opera‘s great final scene and convinced her tormenter she loved him in order to save herself. Alas, turns out the hero just shot the guy and saved the lady and she had no agency whatsoever.
As a Mindhunter fan, I definitely see the fascination in a show about the psychology of killers but, 323 episodes in, I was expecting something a bit less standard. It seems to me that Criminal Minds uses the shock factor of the brutality of the crimes themselves to mask the lack of interest in the actual psychological profiling element that is ostensibly the premise of the show.
The cast is great (Aisha Tyler! Adam Rodriguez! Paget Brewster!) but only Matthew Gray Gubler’s character is both somewhat interesting and somewhat believable (Kirsten Vangness’ hyper-quirky computer gal is basically a cartoon and no one else seems to have a personality of any kind). There are too many characters and just plain not enough for them to do. Remember on Bones– or, like, Scorpion– how every person on the team had a very specific skillset and function within the scope of the case? That’s how you do team procedurals; only Vangness’ character has a clear role here. We should make it illegal to waste Aisha Tyler.
The episode ended with the re-introduction of someone I definitely was supposed to recognize from the previous 15 seasons of Criminal Minds that I did not watch. He appears to be some approximation of a series-wide big bad, or as series-wide as someone can be in something as procedural as Criminal Minds, and his ultimate defeat was surely the centrepiece of the series finale. That’s good, it’s important to raise the stakes beyond monster-of-the-week for a final episode. Was it good? Kidding, I definitely don’t know anyone who watches Criminal Minds. Could you ask your mom if it was good and get back to me?
Also, there are multiple scenes set on a private jet. Do FBI agents fly in private jets? Is that a thing? Yet we’re underfunding the CDC. Cool, it’s ok, we’re all gonna be ok! Don’t ever watch Criminal Minds please.