Criminal Minds Season 2Buy it at Amazon: CLICK HERE!
Studio: Paramount
MSRP: $64.99
Rated: US = Nil, Canada = PG
Running Time: 23 episodes (16 hrs., 47 min.)
Special Features:
• Profilers, Profiled
• The Physical Evidence
• Behavioral Science: Real-Life Criminal Minds
• Meet Kirsten Vangsness
• Gag Reel
• Deleted Scenes

The Pitch

NUMB3RS has a kid brother who idolizes Silence of the Lambs, has seen every episode of The X-Files, and was CSI‘s roommate in college.

The Humans

Mandy Patinkin (I took community theater classes with his cousin), Thomas Gibson (my wife calls him, just him, "Darma & Greg"), Lola Glaudini (for about half the season), Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Paget Brewster (for about half the season)

Can you see that, too? Is my TV telling me to kill Thomas Gibson?

The Nutshell

A squad of FBI agents with the Behavior Analysis Unit go on their private jet to wherever the serial killers are, anywhere in America, and combat them with statistics and encyclopedic knowledge of crazy behaviors. Sometimes stuff explodes. More thriller than drama, more talky than shooty, lots of cross-cutting between workmanlike Feds and unfortunate victims.

Get yer prattle-scoops ready! We found out why Mandy Patinkin backed out of
his contract just before filming was to begin on Season Three!

The Lowdown

I’d only seen ten minutes of this show before I sat down with this set of the show’s second season. So I didn’t know much about these characters or what they do until these stories unfolded.

The back of the box tells us that the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit is made up a bold bunch: The mentor, the family man, the sex-crimes expert, the hunk, the genius geek, computer whiz, and the department liaison. Seriously. These are the nuanced characters we’re given to follow through the show. (Part way through the season they trade Glaudini’s sex-crimes expert for Brewster’s new girl.)

Screw you. You’re not even my real dad!

Ultimately, this is just a symptom of what undermined this season of the show for me: Blandness. Characters are given threadbare identities to bring to life, and unless the scripts contain a lot of really inspirational material, the cast is working above the material. Either Shemar Moore is given the most detailed stage direction in television, or he is the only person working to make his character seem more complicated than the "hunky" action-taker. After being introduced to the character in the season premiere, I could hardly believe a character could be left so vacant, even on an ensemble procedural with a "name" standing at the front of it. A few episodes in, the character finally started to show a little personality. When I heard the episode commentary and saw some behind-the-scenes stuff with Shemar Moore, though, I had to do something I almost never do: blame the writers.

Evil Strawberry Milkshake
Old FBI trick: Buy him a strawberry milkshake. If he drinks like this, he’s
a serial killer. If he teabags it, he’s a "Stage Two."

This is just an example. All the characters have these problems. The "department liaison" (the most boring position ever, and in a genre excitingly based on procedure) is practically transparent when she’s not given a B plot to work with. Strangely, Patinkin’s and Gibson’s characters aren’t given much more to work with. Patinkin’s Jason Gideon had no discernible wants or goals that I could see, until we eventually find that he likes Charlie Chaplin. Okay.

At the end of that first episode, I couldn’t figure out why this was an ensemble at all. Clearly this show should be about the genius-savant-geek with the funny hair, Dr. Reid, who knows everything, has mommy-issues, is the puzzle-solver, and can jump from explosions. Later in the season he even gets tortured (by James Van Der Beek, for which the appropriate punchline is, "Hey, me too!") and develops a substance-abuse problem — all star-quality storylines. Just give him a partner, like the hunky black dude, and the phone number of the computer whiz, and you’re all set. Fight crime.

Later on, the show revealed itself for what it really is, though: a workplace procedural with a roving workplace. (In the making-of doc, a producer tells us Criminal Minds is a thriller, not a procedural. It’s a procedural.) Every week, in theory, the BAU squad will catch wind of a serial killer stalking some American city, fly there in a private jet and solve the case. Before and after, a cast member reads us a relevant quote from a writer or philosopher or Charlie Chaplin. (We used to do this in Vampire books, too.) But the show deviates (heh) from this formula a lot, for better or worse. In this episode the BAU is struggling with whether or not to go and stop a serial killer because they weren’t technically invited by local PD. In another episode, the action begins with BAU agents sitting down in a diner with a strawberry-milkshake-drinking, serial-killing Keith Carradine. Still, the procedure of the job is usually the same, and the show usually follows.

You should see the picture for "Altogether Fucked."

But this all gets tedious because — and I don’t know if I mentioned this — the show’s sort of bland. It’s supposed to take place all over America (in towns with names like Golconda and Mammon), but since it’s shot in LA, the nationwide scope of the show gets boxed in pretty badly. Sometimes they find good cornfields or deserts to use for your Iowas and Arizonas, but it all still feels cleaned up for network television. You can choose to go the route of The X-Files, back in the day, and set your stories in locations that look more like where you’re actually shooting, or you can set your show closer to where you are. I feel like too much energy is being spent making LA look like Chicago and creating a long line of boring local police stations, when that same energy could be spent scouting and dressing around LA. Make the show about the FBI’s Southwestern BAU office or something.

Stuttering camera zooms and swish-pans are used too often instead of texture and gruesome locales. It all ends up feeling more like Copy Cat and less like Se7en. (Understand that I’m saying this about a show that probably still has more severed limbs than any other network drama besides, maybe, Bionic Woman.) I wish this show looked like Frank Spotznitz’s Night Stalker instead of like JAG.

The contrast between the nasty and the nice sort of works on NUMB3RS, but here, where the work should be so much more macabre, the stakes feel too low because the victims and the places where they live feel so unreal, even when the crimes are suitably gruesome.

Pit? Puck? Pike? Punt? Potherfucker?

By the way, are there even enough serial killers in the country to make the BAU’s line of work at all believable? Hell yes. Quick Googling tells me some experts estimate that serial killers are responsible for 2,500 to 6,000 victims, out of the roughly 11,000 so-called "motiveless" homicides, that happen in America every year. Yow.

To be fair, though, the cast brings a lot to this show, and the parade of serial killers does provide some real chills. Or, more accurately, some real "Eeew." The sickos who write this show come up with some quality killers. But then the cold psychology of the BAU breaks them down into predictable foes, and a lot of the scares get undermined. Sometimes, though, all the parts of the show fall into sync and it really hums. (I’m thinking specifically of the episode, "North Mammon," here.)

Plus, the way they handle information gathering and computing on this show is pretty sensible, compared to so many shows with "hackers" as regular characters.

Bottom line, I enjoyed the show well enough. I’m eager to see what happens when Joe Mantegna comes on board in the third season, and I’d like to see this show find a stride for itself. But watching 23 episodes in a short span just didn’t work.

Oh, the P word!
(I couldn’t come up with a "I’m a PC" joke that wasn’t awful.
Post one to the message boards if you got one.)
(A joke, I mean. Not a P word.)

The Package

The actual, physical package is a sturdy, fold-over collection of six discs — nothing really remarkable, nothing really noteworthy. Commentaries are scattered across the discs (it is one of these that I learned even his co-workers call him "Van Der Beek" instead of "Jim") and a slew of special features have been set down on the sixth disc (I predict The Sixth Disc will be the title of a basic-cable action-espionage Bourne ripoff by 2010). These include a spotlight on the computer-whiz actress, some understandably deleted scenes, a making-of doc and some decent material on the serial-killer business. You also get a gag reel made up mostly of practical-joke stuff, which is fine with me. Most of this stuff is good enough to watch if you’re just not ready to get off the couch yet, which is to say it’s better than skip-worthy. (The making-of and gag reel are entertaining enough that most of this review’s images came out of them.) I’d be surprised if you watched any of it twice.

What’s a real shame, though, is that the single greatest behind-the-scenes feature you could’ve put on this disc wasn’t included. This isn’t a surprise, since it’s unofficial and foul-mouthed, but what you want to see are actor Matthew Gray Gubler’s unauthorized biography videos on YouTube. They show the cast to be much more fun than they come across on the show, and are just good funny if you like actor stereotypes and seeing TV-people say pay-cable words. (I do.)

I, look, it’s just, I’m telling you: It’s a weird show.

Also, when I was a kid, my parents told that if I was bad the Gray Gubler would eat all my cookies and the Red Gubler would eat my bones. To this day I keep my cookies in a safe. Beware the Gubler.

6.5 out of 10