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Our reviews of Criminal Minds: The Ninth Season (published September 8th, 2014), Criminal Minds: The Seventh Season (published August 31st, 2012), and Criminal Minds: The Sixth Season (published September 15th, 2011) are also available.
"A psychopath versus two vigilantes. I have a feeling this is not going
to end well."
Criminal Minds: The Eighth Season, finds the FBI's crack Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) back in force, and they've added two new regulars for this twenty-three episode go-round.
Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct) joins the ranks in the guise of Dr. Alex James, a professor of linguistics, whose career as a primo profiler is just getting back on track after ten years in the weeds, owing to a decision of political opportunism made by BAU section chief Erin Strauss (Jayne Atkinson, Free Willy). After hitting the ground running, the James character builds unobtrusively but steadily over the weeks into an indispensable team member, equally qualified to take the lead or provide solid support, as each situation requires.
And the second regular? Me!
I'll admit that I accepted this assignment with a fair degree of ambivalence. First, I wondered if I'd ever actually seen Criminal Minds before? Or had I confused this with one of the other (seemingly innumerable) analytical crime procedurals offered by CBS over the past decade? Without A Trace, Cold Case, NCIS, Close To Home, The Mentalist, and Person Of Interest all come to mind—swirling in in a confusing cloud of hot bodies and cold-blooded murderers.
Don't they all feature a somber, tragedy-ridden leader like Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson, Dharma And Greg)? A world-weary but tough-as-nails veteran with a cynical sense of humor like David Rossi (Joe Mantegna, Homicide)? A drop-dead gorgeous blonde who could drop you in your tracks with one punch, like J.J. Jareau (A.J. Cook, Out Cold)? A buff, beautiful, and carefully bearded black man like Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore, Motives)? A socially awkward genius Wunderkind like Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler, Alvin And The Chipmunks), and finally, a whimsically whacky-styley Technical Analyst and Girl Friday like Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness, In My Sleep)?
More to the point, I wondered how this particular series managed to last eight years when most of its peers have long since vanished, seemingly due to the exhaustion of the format?
Season premiere "The Silencer" (a grisly caper about a stalker sicko who stitches the lips of his victims while they're still alive), wasn't the most original or inspiring start for a newbie like myself, who reacts unhappily to torture, not to mention routine scenes wherein crime unit team members brief each other on case file details in a "round-robin" fashion: two lines at a time, pass-the-baton, please.
Fortunately, the second installment, featuring stellar performances by special guests Mackenzie Phillips (One Day At A Time) and Kim Wayans (In Living Color) made me sit up and notice. By the time I swapped the first disc for the second, I was hooked.
Top-shelf guest star turns from familiar faces continued with Ray Wise (Twin Peaks), Matthew Lillard (Scream), Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Meshach Taylor (Designing Women), Jamie Luner (Profiler), Pamela Bellwood (Dynasty), Cooper Huckabee (Funhouse), Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (a.k.a. Kiki of The Fresh Beat Band), Eric Johnson (Rookie Blue) and Mark Hamill (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).
But while it was the high-wattage guest stars that first drew me in, I was surprised to find that it was the regular cast that kept me coming back. Why would rare talents like Mantegna and Tripplehorn sign on to a network TV weekly for a mere paycheck? Well apparently, they wouldn't (at least, they haven't here), for insidiously lurking beneath the facade of yet another "Psycho of the week" programmer is a complex and compelling bunch of characters, realized by a first-rate acting ensemble.
The elements converge in "The Lesson," an episode which approaches maniac nirvana, courtesy of a spell-binding performance by Brad Dourif (Deadwood), and brilliant direction from Matthew Gray Gubler. Almost as good is "All That Remains," featuring a powerhouse cameo from Ken Olin (Thirtysomething), and taut direction from Thomas Gibson, who is also the cast's secret weapon—in fact, one of the show's strengths is how it gives each regular character his or her own spotlight without detracting from ongoing events.
Paramount has done a fine job of vividly delivering these dark (themed) events with crisp anamorphic widescreen transfers and your choice of 5.1 surround or stereo sound tracks. The series is necessarily dialog-heavy, and I found the English SDH captioning especially helpful for keeping me up on details.
Bonus features include "Profiler's Handbook" segments, which highlight the making of select episodes and shouldn't be viewed in advance, as they contain spoilers. There are also frivolous extras, like deleted scenes and a gag reel, but "The Killing Season," hosted by Kirsten Vangsness and A.J. Cook, gathers the writers for a round table interview, providing a great behind-the-scenes look at this season's construction.
It's true that not every episode rises above the conventions of the show's genre, but it's a testament to the true craftsmanship of the folks behind Criminal Minds that even these makeweight entries provide solid entertainment. On the other hand, season eight's best offerings (which make up the majority) surely rank among the best prime time network television being produced today.
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