When I first heard that Criminal Minds was getting a spin-off, I was appalled. I remain baffled that a series that is so misogynistic could be so popular. If the screener for Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior [CBS, Wednesdays, 10/9C] is any indication, it is a better show – at least in terms of misogyny, or the lack of same.
The series premiere, Two of a Kind, finds this new FBI Behavioral Unit tackling a kidnapping – that turns into two, and leads to a complete re-evaluation of the crime. It’s a premise I haven’t seen before, and I found that appealing.
When eight-year old Samantha Weller [Jade Pettyjohn], goes missing, Special Agent Sam Cooper [Forest Whittaker] and his team are called in. While checking out the area where Samantha lived, they are approached by Jeanette Rawlins [Adina Porter], who lied about having information on the kidnapping in order to try to get the team to look for her daughter, Aisha [China Anderson], who had been missing for eight days.
The introduction of this earlier kidnapping plays into some seemingly stereotypical behavior. Because Aisha is black, and from an area with a much higher crime rate, the local police department hasn’t the resources to do much to find her, but Cooper makes the decision to add Aisha’s disappearance to his team’s investigation. What they discover thereafter completely changes the complexion [pardon the pun] of the investigation.
As with the Criminal Minds team, the Suspect Behavior [truly awful generic title] team is composed of a mix of specialists. Cooper is an intuitive profiler who can literally put himself into the unsub’s mind set; Beth Griffith [Janeane Garolafo] is the numbers agent who works out probabilities; John Sims [Michael Kelly] is the straightforward, blunt force guy – who has a personal problem with pedophiles; Gina LaSalle [Beau Garrett] is the designated tough, smart agent in a supermodel’s body, and Mick Rawson [Matt Ryan] is a British transplant who seems to be a kind of jack of all trades, investigatively speaking. Kirsten Vangness crosses over from the mothership to provide super computer skills and quirky humor as Penelope Garcia.
In reviewing Criminal Minds, I once write that, misogyny aside, I still liked the show much better back in the eighties, when it was called Unsub. The two eps provided for review seem to have a lot more in common with that Stephen J. Cannell series than CM original recipe. Both are better written than the eps of the original series, and the bad guys are not what I’ve come to expect from it.
When you have a mix of intuitive and tech wizards in a procedural, it can difficult to find a sweet spot that allows each to both flourish and enhances what the other is doing. For Two of a Kind, writer Rob Fresco manages that balancing act pretty well. Director John Terlesky brings a more nourish feel to the ep – what with a variety of angles that create what looks to be a kind of tension that feels more hard-boiled than CSI.
As things stand, Suspect Behavior looks good and moves well. The cast exhibits pretty decent chemistry, and while most of the characters are painted in broad strokes there are signs of building an interesting interplay between them. I expect that within an hour of watching the premiere, people will have begun to pick out favorite characters and start speculating on why they are the way they are [I have some theories about Agent Griffith, myself]
It’s early days, but the series is already superior to the original – at least in mindset. If Suspect Behavior can maintain a variety of cases for Cooper’s team to investigate – without going into the kind of overcooked women-in-trouble plots that makes the original series so repugnant – then it has a chance to develop into a solid procedural that actually deserves its audience. For now, it’s a solid procedural that has room for improvement, but is already differentiating itself from its source in good ways.
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Photos courtesy CBS.