CBS has a very particular formula when it comes to spinning off crime dramas — namely, find an accomplished actor with feature credentials who is receptive to the security of a weekly paycheck, even if the job means reciting dialogue largely of the “this unsub is familiar with the procedures of a medical office” variety. Add Forest Whitaker to this roster in “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” a by-the-numbers extension of another Eye network franchise. In essence, such shows amount to CBS’ development execs throwing in the towel, concluding, “This is what our audience likes. Why argue with them?”
Actually, CBS’ biggest gamble has involved scheduling, being rewarded by placing “NCIS: Los Angeles” after its mother ship — in essence creating a two-hour block — which explains the double dose of “Minds” on Wednesday nights.
Previously introduced on the original, Whitaker is Sam Cooper, an ace investigator in the art of tracking down especially heinous offenders, known as “unsubs” (or unidentified subjects), within the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. He heads another elite team, with Janeane Garofalo perhaps the most incongruous member (for those familiar with her career, anyway).
The premiere actually feels like an episode of “Without a Trace,” as the abduction of an 8-year-old girl sends Cooper’s squad into high alert. The second hour, though, is back in serial-killer territory, albeit with an initial twist.
The template for these shows is such that the criminal-playing guest stars (Raphael Sbarge in the opener) tend to get the meatiest material. While the investigators might joke about not having lives (as Garofalo’s character does), for the show’s procedural purposes, they don’t really need them.
Of course, a criminologist might wince at the stoking of false perils in the public’s mind via the proliferation of such programs — heightening fear of abduction by strangers, or the notion of a serial killer on every corner. At this point, though, that’s really splitting hairs (or in the second hour, carving out eyeballs) in the bigger scheme of things.
As created by Chris Mundy and Edward Allen Bernero (with John Fresco writing the pilot), the spinoff is slick enough to offer a pretty good chance of retaining “Criminal Minds” viewers, in an hour where the network competition is hardly setting the world ablaze. “Suspect Behavior” also adds Whitaker, a 2007 Oscar winner for “The Last King of Scotland,” to a CBS crimefighting posse that already includes names like Caruso, Fishburne, Mantegna, Sinise and O’Donnell.
“Offender behavior this extreme does not exist in a vacuum,” one of the interchangeable cops explains early on.
Indeed, and a show like this doesn’t either — providing diversion for people who enjoy a crime yarn, but don’t object to rounding up the usual suspects.