Having already tried a “Criminal Minds” spinoff in 2011 subtitled “Suspect Behavior,” CBS was somewhat constrained in terms of attempting another overt brand extension. “Stalker,” a truly nasty bit of business, is the next best (or really, next worst) thing, featuring Maggie Q as the head of an elite anti-stalker unit, which really just allows for tracking down a somewhat more focused breed of psychopath. Produced by Kevin Williamson — he of the “Scream” franchise and “The Following” — the series has a particularly nihilistic bent, one that can hardly be redeemed by its tidy procedural aspects.
Although CBS has done some post-pilot tinkering to smooth and tone down the rougher edges, the distasteful bones remain in place. That includes an opening monologue in which we’re told, “Over 6 million people are stalked each year in the United States,” which mostly sounds like one of those questionable statistics producers bandy about to help sell a show during a pitch meeting.
The premiere involves a killer who is introduced dowsing a woman with gasoline and setting her ablaze. The crime lands on the desk of Q’s Lt. Beth Davis, whose team, the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit, oversees celebrity cases (now there’s an episode to look forward to) but spends more time assisting ordinary folks, since stalking, we’re told — abetted by social media — is on the rise.
Davis’ TAU squad has added the obligatory smart-ass newcomer, Det. Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott, rotating over after CBS axed “Hostages”), to shake up its dynamics. “Big personality, not for everyone,” a colleague says by way of describing Larsen, an assessment that exhibits a gift for understatement.
Larsen’s flirty banter with his eye-rolling boss (he apologizes, sort of, for looking at her chest) serves a dual purpose, creating a device to establish how smart the principals are while hinting at their what-drives-us backstories.
Still, as constructed, “Stalker” just feels like an excuse to showcase people being chased and killed in grisly fashion, with the semi-comforting notion the perps will be caught within 43 minutes. And while one has to grant such shows an element of creative license, the subject matter can’t help but trivialize a serious issue while heightening the perceived odds one might be victimized to ridiculous extremes.
CBS’ modest creative ambitions this season are evident in the network picking up direct “CSI” and “NCIS” spinoffs, and “Stalker” is really little more than an example of doing precisely that without going the extra mile and branding the show as such.
Q was great fun in “Nikita,” but here she and her castmates are stranded amid a tired series of cliches, hitched to a vehicle built on the hope “Criminal Minds” viewers will be too lazy or inert to push a button. Because other than clinging to whatever audience the show’s lead-in can funnel in its direction, nothing about “Stalker” deserves to be sought out, much less found.