TV review: ‘Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior’ goes with its gut
There is, no doubt, a women’s studies dissertation to be written on the recent co-optation of intuition by male crime-fighters on television. Once dismissed as a woman’s poor substitute for fact-based logic, intuition has become the latest super-power. House has it, as does “The Mentalist’s” Patrick Jane. “Lie to Me’s” Cal Lightman is a doctor of it, Richard Castle wields the novelist’s version, and on “Criminal Minds,” the FBI has assembled a whole team of Miss Marples who may throw around psychological tendencies and criminal profiles but spend most of their time looking at crime scenes and wondering, “what was he thinking?”
And now there’s another one. If we concede the need for a “Criminal Minds” spinoff, and I suppose we must if only because the ratings for the original are so high, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” which premieres Wednesday on CBS, does nothing to put the brand to shame. Like its father-ship, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” has recruited a remarkable cast, including Forest Whitaker and Janeane Garofalo, whose characters solve absurdly creepy crimes in an absurdly short amount of time through the use of psychological clichés — “she’s sending a message,” “he’s done this before” — and the keyboard talents of Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), the Computer Who Wore Head Bows.
With a completely straight face, she cross-references registered sex offenders with blue-paneled van drivers and voilà: a registered sex offender who drives a blue-paneled van and works the story-telling hour at the local library. That a library does not appear to have access to the state’s sex offender website is alarming, but no matter, because we’re Moving On.
“Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” has the same rapid pace of the original, a narrative tool that both amps up the action and keeps the viewer from dwelling too much on the gargantuan leaps of imagination that pass for police work. It also works against the show, preventing it from fully making the insightful points it does have.
In the pilot, we meet Sam Cooper (Whitaker) and his team when they are summoned to find a girl gone missing from a wealthy white suburb. When Sam’s No. 2, Beth Griffith (Garofalo), learns that a black girl of the same age also recently went missing, she is outraged by the difference in response. The white girl gets an elite team from the FBI’s feminine intuition, er, Behavioral Analysis Unit; the black girl’s mother is reduced to putting up posters and crashing another abductee’s crime scene.
This is an excellent point of departure for a procedural hoping to be something more, but it is dropped moments after being introduced (though Sam will help find the black girl, especially when it turns out that one crime is simply ancillary to the other). Instead, way too much time is spent on a ridiculous sub-plot involving John “Prophet” Sims (Michael Kelly) who is on probation for killing a pedophile because, you know, pedophiles make him So Angry.
Sam, pained and soulful, is the team’s secret weapon, figuring out what demons drive the criminal by putting himself literally and psychically at the crime scene. He is aided by Penelope’s database miracles, but he is portrayed as a human dowsing rod, wired to understand the criminal mind. The second episode, in which the crime is so creepy it’s silly, offers some hint of character development, with Beth trying to figure Sam out.
It would be a shame to waste the talents of Whitaker and Garofalo in a weekly game of sociopathic “Blue’s Clues,” but they are both actors who can do a lot with a little so maybe it will turn out all right. Given the network’s success rate with spinoffs (two “NCIS’,” three “CSIs”), “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” probably has a lot more time to get it right than actual detectives ever do.
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