Hey, remember when Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker was on The Shield? He had such a great arc on that show, playing a crazily obsessed police lieutenant, willing to break the law to bring Vic Mackey down. And remember when Janeane Garofolo was a smart, young comedian, jumping between savvy stand-up routines and some of the best TV comedies on the air? How about Michael Kelly? He was on The Sopranos for a while, and has had memorable character turns in a number of indie dramas and genre films? Oh, and Richard Schiff. So good on The West Wing that he won an Emmy.
I’m going to warn you up front that while some TV Club writers are really good at writing hilariously savage reviews of terrible television shows, that’s not really my forte. As a commenter once put it in my review of the season one Webster DVD set: “Apologia for insufferable garbage? Noel Murray? Check.” What can I say? I try to respect what a show (or a movie, or a piece of music) is trying to do and to judge it based both on how well it does it and on whether it’s worth doing in the first place. I don’t ignore the bad, but neither do I discount the good.
When it comes to Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior though? Man, there’s just no good. And I can’t be funny about it, because while I chuckled a couple of times at the ridiculousness of this first episode, more often I was just… sad. Sad about the waste of some very good character actors. Sad about a plot that was both stupid and exploitative. And sad that CBS maintains its status as the #1 network on television by churning out generic crap like this season after season, wasting the time of their viewers and of their creative personnel. Meanwhile, nobody watched Terriers, the audience for Fringe and The Chicago Code remains disappointingly small, and while Justified is doing very well for FX, I’m depressingly certain that when the numbers come out tomorrow, CM:SB will have crushed Justified in terms of total head-to-head viewers.
So what did you miss if you missed this first episode, “Two Of A Kind?”
-You missed a case that sees Whitaker, Garafolo, and Kelly—playing Sam Cooper, Beth Griffith and Jonathan Simms respectively, all agents of a special unit of the FBI led by Schiff’s Jack Fickler—traveling to Cleveland to investigate the abduction of a little white girl. The case balloons when another mother arrives at the crime scene, complaining that her daughter—an African-American—has been missing even longer and hasn’t been getting this kind of attention from any law enforcement agency. It turns out the cases are linked and point to a suspect responsible for a string of cases involving missing black girls.
-You missed several truly appalling scenes of the perpetrator terrifying the two little girls in the house where he’s spirited them away. Early on, the scenes are even from the perp’s POV, so that we didn’t miss any of the abductees’ tears or nervous shrieks.
-You missed the rest of the CM: SB team, which consists of the requisite hunky foreigner (the British Matt Ryan as the Irish Mick Rawson), the requisite tomboyish agent with a model’s good looks (actual model Beau Garrett, as Gina LaSalle), and the kooky technical analyst (Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia, the same part she plays on the original Criminal Minds).
-You missed Sam Cooper insisting that his team “fills in the blanks” of difficult criminal investigations, even though the next hour consists of one lucky break after another in the case, mostly provided by Garcia punching a few data-points into her magic computer and coming up with suspect names, hidden crime scenes, and gruesome grave sites.
-You missed maybe the dopiest psychological profile of any serial killer in the history of TV procedurals. It turns out our bad guy kidnaps African American girls because he’s simulating his relationship with the daughter he killed in a rage. When his abductees show their ingratitude the same way his daughter once did, he kills the girls, then buries them holding their favorite dolls. Because the little girl in this case prefers to play with her white next-door neighbor instead of dolls, the killer abducts a white girl to be her toy. (“A living doll,” Cooper explains, in case anyone missed the point.)
Like I said, “Two Of A Kind” wasn’t without its moments of laughable badness. Beth Griffin is a non-entity for most of this episode, except when she gets indignant over the lack of attention being paid to African-American crime victims, at which point Garafolo goes all Garafolo-y. And it’s both embarrassing and kind of sweetly goofy the way Whitaker’s Cooper channels Eastern mysticism as he talks about using his martial arts training to “keep mind, body, and spirit in balance,” even though he mainly uses these skills to stare off in the distance while he contemplates the clues in the case. (When he finds a box of dirt in the suspect’s house, he stares off and mutters, “Sacred ground…”) In the silliest moment in the episode, Cooper pulls aside a victim’s brother after the kid’s been questioned by the local cops, and he asks the boy to close his eyes, take a deep breath, and let himself think back to the moment when his sister disappeared. Were there any smells in the air? Any sounds? Any cars? Only then does the boy remember the windowless light blue van with no windows that peeled off down the street after he lost his sister.
And then there’s Simms, the wild card, whom Fickler wants kept on a leash, lest there be a repeat of an earlier incident where Simms killed a pedophile before he could be brought in. Cooper defends Simms, calling him “as disciplined an agent as I’ve ever worked with,” but when they get to Ohio and find a potential suspect—a registered sex offender, no less—working at the library reading stories to kids, Simms slams the creep against a fence and hisses, “Call me crazy; I don’t like child molesters!” At the end of this little adventure, Fickler calls Simms in and asks him to turn in his badge… so that he can give him an even better badge and make him a full agent! And why not? After all, when Simms has the chance to shoot the real bad guy, he refrains, saying, “I killed a guy like you before. Wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.”
Man, I know what that’s like.