Police procedural dramas in which a dark force haunts a brilliant investigative mind reaches the saturation point with the Eye network’s latest FBI skein “Criminal Minds.” It has a few points going for it: Mandy Patinkin’s onscreen magnetism; some truly eerie episodes; and a smartness that it wears on its sleeve. On the downside, it draws on too many other recent hits — “CSI,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Medium,” “House,” “Law & Order: SVU” — for visual style, character tics, mind games and an ability to find the truth in confounding evidence.
Lined up with other rookies to battle “Lost” on Wednesday nights, “Criminal Minds” opens in a friendlier timeslot to get a potential jump on the competish. And CBS is vying for second place against “Lost” with a little bit of shock value amid the usual character exposition as “Criminal Minds” boasts some scenes of pure terror involving a kidnapped woman being held hostage.
“Criminal Minds” is focused on a task force within the FBI that concentrates on depraved criminals, most of them serial, and trying to calculate their next move and catch them in the act. Patinkin plays Jason Gideon — no one uses his first name — the FBI’s top behavioral analyst who has been on leave since a case went haywire in Boston. He is called away from his job as teacher of potential agents to help solve a series of kidnappings and murders in Seattle. Upon arrival, Gideon scans a bulletin board of photos and evidence and a map and starts laying out a profile that is eventually, what else, on the money.
Make that, too much on the money. The ease and quickness with which Gideon nails down every aspect of the killer suggests that this will become the show’s m.o. While auds are willing to suspend belief during a “Law & Order” probe and trial, “Criminal Minds” is stretching the ability of one man too far; nobody has been this dead-on correct since Perry Mason.
Gideon’s sidekicks all have their own quirks: Aaron Hotch (Thomas Gibson), is the people person; Elle Greenway (Lola Glaudini) is a sexual offenses expert; and Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) is the genius with an encyclopedic mind and no social skills. Shemar Moore, playing Derek Morgan, and AJ Cook, as Jennifer “JJ” Jareau, aren’t as fully fleshed out; they are the most attractive members of the cast.
As all the characters are limited to their ascribed expertise and skills, in the first two episodes we only see their vulnerabilities in respect to Gideon.
In episode 2, the team travels to an Arizona college to solve a series of arson. In both episodes, it seems that Gideon’s underlings could barely function before his arrival.
All the characters are well read and versed in pop culture as they reference and quote Samuel Beckett, Mao Tse Tung, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Yoda. It gives the show a fun little edge to go along with the special effects that give “Minds” a bit an extra zing. Richard Shepard’s poised direction sharply frames Jeff Davis’ cut-and-dry script.