If the drama department at CBS has done one thing extremely well over the last decade, it's been their ability to develop a successful -- and extremely repeatable -- formula for a hit hour-long crime drama. I know I'm simplifying the equation here, but it does boil down to this: take a law enforcement team numbering a half-dozen or so, put them in office environs, surround them with technology that Batman and James Bond would envy and let them loose on the bad guys.
It's worked more often than not: the three "CSI" series have been -- until relatively recently -- dominant in their individual timeslots, while the pair of "NCIS" action dramas are top ratings-getters on Tuesdays. (The original "NCIS," now in its eighth season, recently drew its highest ratings ever, bucking the conventional wisdom that TV shows get less popular the longer they've been on the air.)
"Criminal Minds" is another of CBS' crime dramas, and I must admit that I simply don't care for it. Perhaps its a question of style: most episodes play out as near-horror movies masquerading as crime procedurals - the show all too often immerses itself in the grimmer, gorier and more extreme aspects of violent crime. Sure, the heroes eventually figure out who the bad guys are, the villains are found and justice is served at the end, but not before the audience has been drenched in a kind of wholesale and wide-ranging unpleasantness.
Still, the ratings are quite good for "Criminal Minds," which is why CBS was so keen on producing a spin-off, which is called "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior." CBS has even parked it on their Wednesday night schedule, airing it at 9 p.m., the time slot immediately following the original series. Sadly, even though the show has a talented lead in Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker, it's more of the same.
The opener, which aired Feb. 16, followed an FBI team, known as Red Cell, in their pursuit of a kidnapper who grabbed up a young girl from in front of her suburban home in broad daylight - and this child is not his first victim.
I am not opposed to telling this kind of story; many absorbing thrillers have dealt with similar concepts. But this version of such a tough tale was graceless. Scene of the kidnapper with his young victims were almost an unbearable experience; showing small children being terrorized -- in any fictional situation -- is a slippery slope anytime it's tried, and this show had no idea how to maintain any sense of balance.
Meanwhile, the FBI unit is packed with one-dimensional characters, almost indistinguishable from one another as they deal with the grim tasks of their job. Whitaker is rather soft-spoken in his role as the team leader -- perhaps as a way to demonstrate his ability to remain cool and Zen-like under pressure -- but ultimately his calmness comes across as aloofness. General gestures toward character development for all the others on his team are made, but nothing connects. There are three or four dialogue passages regarding racial inequality in terms of the investigation of one kidnapped girl versus another, but they end up sounding like they were wedged into the script at the last moment -- perhaps as an attempt to assuage a producer's (or actor's) note and nothing more.
"Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior" is likely going to do well for CBS, another example of how their tried-and-true formula for crime dramas succeed on their network. But as for me, I'm relatively sure that I can find any number of things to do on Wednesday nights rather than watching it.
One star (out of four).