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A Very Guilty Pleasure: Criminal Minds, A Review
A Spoiler-Alerted Summary:
Criminal Minds is a series based on an elite squad of FBI agents whose purpose it is to profile victims and criminals in serial killings/crimes. Called the Behavior Analysis Unit, it consists of a few select members like any other TV FBI squad. The setup is pretty typical: the headstrong woman, the nerd, the hipster-nerd, the macho men, and the experienced veteran. The stories follow major crimes that the BAU are asked to assist with. Crimes are shown usually at the beginning of the show, where the victims are killed by an anonymous perpetrator or "unsub" as they call it. The files then get sent to BAU for assistance, and they start right away by profiling the victim through information gathered from sources ranging from closest friends and family to nosey neighbors. By profiling the victim, they are able to identify what the unsub is looking for in their potential next targets. As the agents rush to fall into step with their suspect, personal tangents are integrated into the storyline, making each character a little more human. This often offers humorous situations, but it has also (so far) led to the demise of some characters to an understandable circumstance.
This being said, around halfway through the show the agents are getting closer to their perpetrator or at least have a lead to follow. By this time, viewers watch the unsub plan his next attack and usually, their face is revealed. The FBI plays around with various leads ranging from their childhood and psychological state to injuries and jobs and potential places of favor. With the assistance of victimology (sometimes this is expanded by the unfortunate production of more victims), the FBI can start to follow tracks, and they tend to get closer and closer the more information they have obtained.
The end of the show usually begins when someone within the agency has a revelation or discovers something by luck or through a series of complex networks and searches. This lightbulb moment rushes everyone out the door for "wheels up", where usually they call in for local police support and potentially SWAT. By splitting time between the perpetrator and the agents, the series allows the viewer to watch as the assailant begins his attack on his next victim. Usually the camera goes rapidly between the two, and many of the rescues are last minute.
The Crime Show Part of It
As a crime show, Criminal Minds is strong. Along the lines of shows such as Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit, Criminal Minds focuses on a very disturbing and intense subject matter. I would even go so far as to say it's more intense and psychologically thrilling. As an enthusiast of historical serial killings (don't read that the wrong way!), I've always wanted to watch this show. Psychological mutations and deficiencies have always been an interest of study for me, and the title of the show itself represents what it is.
As stated before, this show is about the BAU's attempts to find and arrest (and sometimes kill) serial offenders. Most of the time this means killers, but sometimes rape is the only crime. For the serial killings, nothing is sugarcoated. The first episode alone forces the viewer to dive directly into the somber and gritty world of the mentally disturbed, and there's no beating around the bush. Graphic images make it hard to eat when watching this show, but they're like a trainwrek: you just can't look away.
Through the profiling of the perpetrator, audiences are allowed into their minds. The show does an amazing job of slowly showing more and more without making the viewer frustrated and confused. In terms of its ability to hold attention, it does an amazing job of leading the viewer through the scenario and allowing them to make their own conclusions throughout the whole episode. The endings are often surprising, and no one is left unscathed by the tragedies of the show's incidences. While normally crime shows (even SVU) avoid child murder because of its intensity, Criminal Minds seems to have no problems showing its audience what the real world has to offer. Realistic accounts of victimization and murderous scenarios add to the shocking reality of this show. With clips of profiler knowledge stated outright in meetings and pre-ops, one learns a lot about the governmental agencies as well (which adds a nice bonus). Unsub, for example, means unknown subject.
One of the things I really enjoy about this show is its ability to be entertaining but not terribly inaccurate. I have no doubt that the characters and departments are over-dramatized, but on the same hand the accuracy of the hard facts given and the consistency of profile types makes the show that much more solid. This came through especially in an episode which featured a Jack the Ripper copy-cat. The story briefly summarized his case by having their resident genius realize the connections to the two criminals and their way of murdering. After hearing so much about Jack the Ripper, I got curious and found a document with a summary of the killings, the profile the killer would exhibit, etc etc. in the FBI Public Archives. This was exciting to me because the information given by the show was not only accurate, but the vocabulary used was also dead-on. An impressive show of research on the writers' part.
The cases themselves are so beyond fascinating. Ranging from serial killers who shoot their victims like animals with bows and arrows to serial arsonists who burn down houses of families and watch them burn, each case is individually disturbing. The psychological reasons behind these attacked, and the "stressor", all connect by the end of the show and accumulate into what would be a very interesting story on the news. To watch the political footwork of the BAU and the intelligence they try to accumulate is not only fascinating, but it really makes you wonder. Not necessarily in a bad way, but not necessarily in a good way, either. Nevertheless, the choice of criminal scenario is appropriately gruesome and disturbing without being unnecessarily so. Nothing is so over the top that it would be impossible to believe its legitimacy, but all of them keep your eyes clued to the screen.
As A TV Show
I love this show, and because I'm so interested in the psychology of criminology, this will forever be on my favorites list right up there with shows like Bones and Numbers and even Monk.
To look at it objectively, however, the structure of the show lacks originality. It consists of your standard high-tech FBI space where team members work and interrogate. The character list is predictable, as well. The "boss" of the department is a young, strong looking and attractive man who can't take a joke but is brilliant at his job. The most experienced on the team is the older profiling expert, who teaches and has done work for the CSI in psychological analysis of employees. Then there's the boy genius, who is a young, skinny and awkward individual that spews out random facts and entered high school at the age of 12. The tech whiz of the show who is able to search, find and identify with a few clicks and clacks on the keyboard is a spunky, video-game playing, unique computer genius. She shares an oddly flirtatious relationship with the other strong male team member, who's a black kid from the Chicago underbelly that rose above and put himself through school and then the FBI academy. There's only one other female on the team, whose position has already switched twice in two seasons. The first withdrew from the team after losing her morale on the job. The second left for similar reasons, but more so because she felt isolated and rejected from the team. The third and current is the daughter of an Ambassador who is at first not well-received, but is blending in well with the team by showing her strength as a member.
The plot structure of each show is also pretty predictable after watching a few episodes. But like I said before, the fascinating cases make up for this. The summary pretty much details the outline of each show, so I won't go over it again. But it's pretty easy to determine what'll be next. The mystery of actually solving the case and the usually unexpected endings keep it interesting.
8-9/10: This show is really fascinating to me. My interest in this subject might help this, though. Despite some of the cliched or routine elements of the show being vaguely annoying, the compelling elements far outweigh them. There isn't a constant stream of action, twists, turns and drama - instead, there's an even pacing the allows the viewer to feel stressed at the right times, while giving them time to digest the severity of the information received.
I highly recommend this show for anyone who likes shows like Bones, Numbers, Law and Order: SVU, and Monk. Similar character development and solve-as-you-go principles are applied to all of these shows' content. I would warn however that this show displays graphic representations of post-crime scenes and deceased bodies that do not censor the blood and ripped skin. I would also advise against watching this show if you're squeamish - for the aforementioned reason, and because many of the episodes display graphic and gritty scenes in which a victim is being attacked. Zoom-ins on injury detail and disturbing behavior are also things to keep in mind, as well as how paranoid you are. A lot of the featured situations happen to generally insignificant people and are "this could happen to anybody" scenarios. If you're scared to go to bed after watching shows like that, then at least don't watch this at night.
Added Review Content
Up to the beginning of Season 6:
The show is still consistently good, which is surprising. Many shows that start off strong tend to become repetitive and predictable after the first few seasons. Despite strong character development and a constantly twisting plot, many tv series lack in something that makes them continuously compelling. This show seems to avoid this downfall, as it continues to be addicting and fascinating. The characters' lives change a noticeable but not obnoxious amount, and their lives come and go naturally. Every character has a major flaw and makes mistakes; no one is perfect and no one is the hero of the team. Chemistry between the characters gets progressively stronger, and their genuine reactions when characters leave/get hurt/take a hiatus makes the show all that more convincing.
A new twist has been added with a fair amount of consistency to the show in the past few seasons, as well. It seems as though they are now embracing the thrilling aspect of the show more, as they have "fake-out" scenes that make the watcher anxious for no particular reason. While this trick is used for a fair amount of episode beginnings, it doesn't detract from the show's overall variance in terms of the interesting cases. This element alone is what keeps the show thriving - the victims, suspects, and race to a conviction all are equally as unique as the next. While shows like SVU lack a sort of variance after a few seasons, this show somehow seems to continue keeping its pace on par. Brutal, gritty, and honest, I hold my ground in my initial assumptions and impressions about the show and its potential. More when it concludes.
Up to Current: Season 8:
I have to admit, I've re-watched this show so much! The stories after season 6 get much grittier (if that even seems possible) and they really play a push and pull game with what each of the characters can tolerate and how they handle certain situations and what really makes them tick. They also focus a lot on interpersonal relationships as well as how they are in their own personal lives. There's a new female character in place of Emily named Alex. Although I struggled a little with losing Emily as part of the team because she had been involved for so long, Alex seems to have found her place.
The show does a great job of showing the tension that the team has in regards to getting yet another new teammate and how they handle her and "test" her out to see what might be going on, who she is, and well...profiling her. And Alex does a great job of proving herself and showing her place in the team. As well, she's yet another dynamic female character who's mind can challenge that of even Reed's. This intellectual battlefield might prove interesting in the future, as she is in a way the replacement for Gideon, who, if you remember, always played chess with Reed and always challenged him intellectually.
Anyway, I haven't been able to keep up on a weekly basis so I'm a little behind on my current episodes, but I'm really excited for what's going to happen with the characters, and what kind of cases they will work on next! Because I'm still not bored, and I still want more!