CBS has so exhausted the supply of serial killers in the U.S. that the network has perhaps inevitably gotten into the import-export business. Enter “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,” the second spinoff (following the short-lived “Suspect Behavior”) of that franchise, which opens with a voice-over that says 68 million Americans (a relatively small percentage, when you think about it) travel abroad, while offering that subset, as well as those who stay home, even more reason to be xenophobic and fearful.
Granted, it’s hard to completely fault CBS’ reasoning, given the success the network has enjoyed with back-to-back versions of “NCIS” on Tuesdays. And just to make the connection even easier to digest for the network’s traditional viewers, Gary Sinise, who headed up the New York version of “CSI,” plays Jack Garrett, the boss of the FBI’s International Response Team (or “IRT,” one supposes), which leaps into action whenever an American gets so much as a parking ticket overseas.
Not surprisingly, in the two episodes previewed, young people find themselves in peril, with a pair of college-age women disappearing after volunteering on a farm in Thailand, and a guy going missing on a vacation in Mumbai, after his buddy wakes up minus a kidney. It’s all backed up, inevitably, with lots of impressive-sounding statistics about all the bad things that can happen to Americans in foreign countries, without much in the way of disclaimers or context that not all international travel is likely to be ruined by an organ thief.
Joe Mantegna, star of the mother-ship show, gives the whole exercise a push by making a brief cameo with Sinise in the premiere, providing a reminder that CBS rather shrewdly tends to build these vehicles around male stars of a certain age with an element of feature-film cred. After that, though, it’s a pretty quick dive into the crisis at hand, introducing, on the fly, his crack team, which includes Tyler James Williams and “Law & Order” alumna Alana De La Garza.
Logistically, the producers get some credit for approximating all these far-away locales. But any ingenuity pretty much ends there, and Sinise’s character is so gruff and gravely as to make David Caruso’s old “CSI” role look emotionally effusive.
In one respect, the series does create guest opportunities for minority actors. But so far, anyway, the significant speaking roles fall into two distinct categories: local police contact or brutal murderer.
CBS certainly knows its audience, and it’s hard to argue that there’s an appetite for such programming. Yet just as the “Stalker” pilot drew condemnation for its use of violence against women as a plot point, this latest procedural cynically serves up the serial-killer version of “We Are the World,” simply to put a new wrinkle on a genre where the only border that really counts is on a chalk outline. Viewed that way, “Beyond Borders” isn’t beyond much of anything, except maybe the pale.