Friday, June 3, 2011

CRIMINAL MINDS: When Fully Formed Pilots Were Still The Norm And Not The Exception

I had never seen Criminal Minds (CBS), before this week.  One of the things I am hoping will come out of this blog is that we will get each other to watch some scripted TV programming we might not have, otherwise.  Ronda V., my dear childhood friend, asked me to write a blog post about Criminal Minds.  Since I had never seen it, and then got a follow up recommendation of the show from Alexis K., I decided to buy and download the Pilot, on iTunes.  It's pretty amazing that I can cherry pick TV shows to watch, these days, on iTunes (when not available on Hulu or the website of the network), and it will help me figure out the basic story arc of the show, without having to spend $300 to get all the episodes.  Before even beginning my post, I just want to say I was impressed enough with the show that I also bought and downloaded the first episode and last episode of each season (plus one extra one that was tied in to one of the season finales).  It's my equivalent of reading the first chapter and last chapter of a book, and then writing a book report.  Except, in this case, I'm not writing about the whole series, I'm just writing about the Pilot.

This post isn't going to be a review, and I'm not even going to break down any characters.  It's just kind of a generic blog post about what I think will probably end up being a great TV show, based solely on the Pilot (those who watch the show already know the answer).  It's actually kind of not fair that I'm already six years behind the show. 

I've watched tons of police procedurals, so I am very aware of how most of them work.  I had heard of Criminal Minds, over the years, but never checked it out, as I thought it was basically a ripoff of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  It also didn't hurt that I was working graveyard when the show came out, and new TV just wasn't something I was checking out, at that time.  If I wasn't watching it, at the time I went to graveyard in 2002, or it wasn't in reruns on USA or TNT, there was almost no chance I would be watching your show.  This is probably the main reason why I never tried Criminal Minds.

That was a mistake.  Criminal Minds is a taut and intense show, at least the Pilot was.  Great police procedurals often make you extremely uncomfortable, while watching them, yet don't make you so uncomfortable that you can't get into it.  Criminal Minds treads this line deftly.  If you weren't uncomfortable, watching the Pilot, I probably would wonder why you aren't undergoing behavioral analysis by this same FBI unit.

The basic premise of the series is that it's an FBI profiler type show.  The main character, as I am sure is completely the case for real life profilers, is a brilliant, yet slightly disturbed, pattern recognizer.  I've never watched any FBI profiler type shows before, and it's probably a good thing that this is the one to start with.  FBI profiling, in general, is a pretty fascinating aspect of criminology.  Unfortunately, for the audience, FBI profilers are not brought in for your average, every day, crimes.  A profiler is usually brought in to track serial killers and high profile kidnappings, etc. This means we are probably going to see a bunch of gory crime scenes, and possibly be left with the images of a really sick killer, once the episode is over.

I'm not into watching violence, and there were some rather creepy scenes in the Pilot for Criminal Minds, but it wasn't such a torturous experience that it turned me off from watching the show.  Every character was well formed, in some fashion.  We, as the viewers, felt like we knew enough about each character, that it wasn't necessary to jam exposition down our throats.  One thing that's important to note is that, in a typical cop show, it's not necessary, at all, to know anything about the characters.  However, in a show about FBI profiling, and capturing serial killers, that back story to the characters is often essential.  If we don't know what drives these people into doing their jobs, it just seems hollow.  I was left with the idea that everyone, in the unit, is there for a reason.  Now, I just have to wait for those reasons to unfold (on A&E, totally out of order, probably).

When a TV show, like this episode, does its job correctly, you will think twice about some of the things you do, or might have been willing to do, in your daily life.  I am reminded of an episode, or episodes, of the TV show, Hunter, which I watched religiously in the 80s.  In that episode, there was a serial killer woman who would shoot and kill the cops who pulled her over.  That episode was so disturbing that I said there was no way I would ever want to be a cop.  I didn't want to get shot like that.  I don't know if the episode came out of some event like that, or if a new police procedure came out of the show.  The procedure I'm talking about is that all cops now approach the driver, for the first time, from the passenger side, if I am not mistaken.  I'm presuming that is to make sure they have a good view of the driver.  In the Hunter episode, all of the cops would approach from the driver's side, and all would meet with terrible ends.  To this day, the idea of traffic stops still creeps me out, and I'm sure Hunter is responsible.  In the Pilot of Criminal Minds, if the episode didn't make you think twice about "going for a test drive" from a craigslist or Auto Trader ad for a used car, you probably need to change some things about the way you think.

The plot was convoluted enough to keep you engaged, yet not so convoluted that it just seemed like they were trying to make the viewer confused about who might have done what.  When episodes are trying to trick you into one direction, by making it unnecessarily complicated, I call that "condeluded".  Yes, I coined that word.  If you see me use the word "condeluded", you know a show is in trouble.  One of the other nice things about the episode was that we had multiple story lines going on in the background.  It appears the formula is going to be a main case that they're on, and a secondary case that is in the investigators' minds.

If you like cop shows, or shows about tracking killers, in the vein of Criminal Intent (characters, with quirks, and not a standard police procedural), there is no doubt you should be watching Criminal Minds.  I said at the beginning of this blog post that I always thought Criminal Minds was a ripoff of Criminal Intent.  While the main character showed anomalies similar to Detective Bobby Goren, that was where the similarity ends.  I don't think there was a show like this on TV, before it.  It's not a slicked up Jerry Bruckheimer show, and it looks like it had a lot of leeway to deviate from the CBS "style".  As the years have passed, that may have changed, but I'll only know now by continuing to watch.  I've tried to get into Cold Case (couldn't do it), seen at least an episode or two of CSI, without being remotely interested, and just absolutely could not get into NCIS, though I felt the M.E. on NCIS was great, in the few episodes I saw.  Criminal Minds broke the pattern of what, I felt, were bad CBS police procedural shows.  I'm glad Ronda told me about the show, and I'm sad I've missed seeing this show for the last six years.  I certainly won't be missing the next six.  Reruns are available on A&E, so you'll have to check your local listings for air dates.  I don't really know if this was a good read, but hopefully it wasn't unbearable.  Thanks for reading.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent blog! I'm thrilled that you weren't given many details about the show before you had the opportunity to view an episode. It's something I would purchase the box seasoned set...should it come out. I rarely find myself going to bed replaying a show over and over in my head such as I often do with Criminal Minds. The series captivates me that I often think of situations as I go on with my daily life. That's unusual for me to be so deep into a show that it makes me stop and think about my surroundings. I look forward to reading more opinions as you get further into the show. Enjoy!

    ~Ronda

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  2. Thanks, Ronda! I ended up buying the first and last episode of each season, plus anything that seemed relevant to those, on iTunes.

    All of the box sets are out for the show, except for season 6. In fact, I just checked, and you can buy the full seasons 1-5 on Amazon for $120.99. So, check it out, on there, when you get a chance. That seems like an excellent deal.

    We've just finished the season premiere of season 5, and will probably be "caught up", on the book report cheating, later tonight. Today, on A&E, the exit episode of the Greenaway character, and the entrance episode of the Mantegna character will be on. So, I'm recording those, and will watch them after we get done with season 6.

    The more I've seen of the show, the harder it's gotten for me to take. The cases have all been uniformly intense (since these are the ends and beginnings of seasons, maybe they are the most intense), and they're sticking with me more than I would prefer. I'll keep watching until they're sitting in my head too deeply. Not watching them before going to bed may be a good idea. ;)

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