When I sat down to write my thoughts on the backdoor pilot of the Criminal Minds spin-off, I found my ‘brief introductory paragraph on what makes a good spin-off’ turned into a thousand word essay. It wasn’t until I really thought about it in this detail that I realised that Criminal Minds really isn’t well suited to spawning an offspring. I really enjoy the show, tune in every week along with 14 million Americans, making it the 14th watched show in the US. I’m not entirely sure why it’s so popular given how disturbing the plots can be and an extremely slow development of characters, but I’m hooked. However I struggle to think what about it could be the Thing to link it to a spin-off.
The core concept is solving crimes using psychological profiling; an interesting mix of psychology, sociology, forensics and statistics with a little bit of old school running around shooting tagged on. But it doesn’t really have any secondary concepts that can be easily changed to power a spin-off. The team already travels the country, going where the interesting crimes are, so you can’t just change location as happened for CSI. Likewise although they take predominantly serial killers, they also deal with other major crimes such as terrorism and kidnappings, so you can’t just change the department as happens with Law & Order.
They could potentially have taken a character out, someone resigns and puts their skills to use in private practice maybe. But they have chosen not to do that and given the available characters, I’m not sure any of them are really popular enough or powerful enough to drive a show. As a team they’re impressive, but as individuals the characters are either too bland, or far too quirky.
Instead the route the creators have taken is to just replicate the whole show with a second team. In a show that’s always been primarily about the job and the cases, with the team personalities a very distant second, that doesn’t seem enough of a difference. I worry that if this show is picked up all it will do is dilute the quality of the original. After over hundred episodes (not to mention the few hundred plots CSI has already used) the show is already occasionally fumbling for plots and originality and I do not think there is the scope to just double up the number of serial killers each week. It’s going to get repetitive.
Theoretical issues aside, the episode introducing the new show utterly failed to give me any reason to watch Minds 2.0 or whatever they’ll call it in the autumn. My comments about whether NCIS:LA would be stronger as an independent show not-withstanding, by the time I’d finished watching the backdoor pilot I was already sold on it. Each of the characters was interesting and charming and I was convinced that they worked as a team. By the end of the Criminal Minds 2 episode (albeit a single episode not a double) I was bored and irritated.
Backdoor pilots do tend to have the subtlety of sledgehammers. It’s like the characters are sent out speed dating, pairing up with each new characters in turn and interrogating them about their life story. The new characters meanwhile are trying to establish themselves as more than just “southern girl” or “blonde bloke” while effectively being one of ten guest stars in the episode. You’ve also got to somehow tell a story as a pretence for having the episode at all.
Forest Whitaker is clearly a superb actor (he won an Oscar for Last King of Scotland), but he didn’t have the instant charisma that is necessary to lead a show like this. The team as presented in the pilot wasn’t very interesting and didn’t give any sense that they had any history together. I’m also a little bemused that the FBI seems to be hiring ex-cons and Brits, neither of whom I would have thought were eligible to join.
If not for the big name guest star and the clumsy introductions, this could have just been any other episode of Criminal Minds. And not a very good one at that. If they want me to switch on next year, they’re going to have to do a lot of work to convince me it’s worth it.