You've come back to me, Sam.—serial killer Jack of All Trades
Profiler ran from 1996-2000 as part of NBC's Saturday night "Thrillogy." The network never expected great things of the show due to its less than desirable timeslot, but Profiler soon carved out a respectable, predominantly female audience, becoming the highest-rated show of the "Thrillogy" block.
Facts of the Case
Ally Walker (While You Were Sleeping, Universal Soldier) stars as Dr. Samantha Waters, a forensic psychologist and one of the most gifted profilers ever to work for the FBI until a serial killer she was tracking took an interest in her and began killing people around her, including her husband. Shattered by this tragedy, she fled to a life of quiet seclusion, living on a farm in rural Virginia with her best friend, Angel (Erica Gimpel, ER), and her daughter, Chloe (Caitlin Wachs, Inspector Gadget 2).
However, when her mentor Bailey Malone (Robert Davi, Licence to Kill, Son of the Pink Panther, Showgirls) has a serial killer case he just can't solve, he turns to Sam for help and begs her to return to the FBI, at least temporarily. She gives in and helps solve a series of murders of women in Atlanta. In the course of the investigation she learns that her old nemesis, the shadowy killer known only as Jack of All Trades, has resurfaced and seems intent on resuming his old games with Sam.
Sam stays with the FBI as a member of a new Violent Crimes Task Force led by Malone. She helps the unit to catch all manner of killers with her unique insight into the human psyche and an almost uncanny ability to intuitively read crime scenes and put together details about the killers that others would have missed. All the while, the specter of Jack is never far from her mind, as he continues to kill and leave tantalizing, taunting messages for Sam.
Robert Davi states in his commentary track for the pilot episode that he believes Profiler paved the way for the spate of crime and forensics shows on the air today, such as Without a Trace and the different incarnations of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. CSI in particular owes a lot to Profiler, particularly in terms of visual style and editing techniques. The black and white flashback sequences, showing glimpses of a crime as investigators piece together what happened, that have become such a staple of CSI were used extensively on Profiler, as were various time compression cuts that show smooth, step-by-step progressions within an otherwise static scene.
While this stylish visual approach helped to build atmosphere, the writing in this first season is a little more hit-and-miss. In particular, the Jack of All Trades subplot, which would extend through the first three seasons, pushes suspension of disbelief a little too far. The outlandish nature of his killings, his amazing success at evading capture even with the full capabilities of federal law enforcement, and his amazing technological prowess all cross the line from time to time to the completely ridiculous. (Note: I know that as I write this, the same federal government is combing Iraq with little success in finding Saddam Hussein, and combing the world for Osama Bin Laden with similarly disappointing results. Saddam and Osama, on the other hand, are not having roses delivered to FBI headquarters with love notes attached, nor are they setting up personal websites to brag about their exploits, or directly calling FBI agents on the telephone every few days to taunt them, or breaking into their houses to leave them love notes, or…) Unfortunately the Jack story was overemphasized as a cornerstone of Sam's character and indeed the entire series. By the time I finished watching the entire first season, I was ready for Jack to just shut up and go away. His appearance in several episodes is jarring and feels obligatory, an unwelcome interruption into what otherwise was an intriguing case and investigation. This is probably nowhere more true than in "Venom," the season-ending two-part episode that sets up a cliffhanger for the beginning of season two. This particular episode features Lori Petty as an interesting, compelling, and brilliant serial killer in her own right; Sam's old pal Jack unbelievably gets involved in the case because he feels jealous of all the attention the Petty character is receiving. His involvement brings an otherwise good story to a screeching halt. It would have been a relief to have just a few episodes here and there that did not mention the mysterious Jack; after all, even The X-Files—a show to which Profiler seems to owe a great deal—let Fox Mulder get away from aliens and conspiracies once in a while to go and investigate some generic weirdness.
Ally Walker has a big load to carry as Sam Waters, profiler extraordinaire, and it is hard to gauge how effective she is in her performance. Sam is supposed to be a fairly tightly wound person, which doesn't give Walker a chance to explore much range; when she does get a chance, the results are mixed. Walker eventually left the show after its third season; she attributes this to the depressing, humorless nature of the show. Light moments are definitely few and far between on Profiler, but when the occasional laugh does come around Walker seems to light up and Sam becomes far more real as a character. On the whole, however, Walker's portrayal of Sam reminded me so much of one of my dearest friends from college that I didn't have much trouble accepting her in the role.
The other strong leading character is Robert Davi's Bailey Malone. Davi is a tough guy actor in the mold of Bogart, a man who can speak volumes through careful understatement. Watching him act is one of the great pleasure of Profiler. Like the Samantha character, Bailey suffers from a recurring personal subplot that is meant to make him three-dimensional, but mostly succeeds in being annoying. Sam has Jack, while Bailey has his daughter Francis. Malone works better as a solitary character, a man who acts as a sort of father figure to the members of the VCTF; the inclusion of a daughter undermines the character. Making matters worse is the extremely dysfunctional nature of the father-daughter relationship, which adds unconvincing drama to a show that should be able to find enough drama in the cases being investigated. The relationship reaches its nadir when Francis, afraid that she is about to be shipped off to military school, shoots her father with his government issue sidearm. This struck me as one indignity too many to heap onto a character who sees enough crime and violence in his professional life.
The rest of the cast is solid but misused. This is especially true of Erica Gimpel and Caitlin Wachs, whose characters form Sam's support group at home. The two are lucky to average two minutes of screen time between them in any given episode. Faring better is Santa Barbara alumnus and former daytime Emmy winner A. Martinez as Nick "Coop" Cooper, an ATF bomb squad specialist who becomes Sam's on again, off again romantic interest.
The Profiler Season 1 box set from A&E features 21 episodes. Not included is Episode #4, "I'll Be Watching You." That particular episode featured the Police hit of the same name quite prominently, and A&E could not afford the music rights to include the episode in this collection. Video quality is about what you would expect from an A&E box set: substantially better than broadcast quality, but not spectacular. There is a nasty crawl around sharp edges some of the time, as well as the occasional bit of shimmer/moiré in fine textures like hair. Any edges that are not strictly vertical or horizontal show a lot of aliasing or "jaggies." Shadow definition is pretty good, and tone-on-tone areas like jacket lapels show up much more clearly here than in some other releases. Colors look to be mostly right on the money, as vivid and lifelike as the muted, dark atmosphere and cinematography of the show will allow. Audio is adequate to the task. This is a Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix that brings dialogue and sound effects through with acceptable clarity.
Special features include two separate commentary tracks for the pilot episode, "Insight," allowing Walker and Davi to present their thoughts. Of the two, Davi's is clearly the more thoughtful and substantive, as he details a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a series; he is also quite open about what he thought worked and didn't work, and where problems in the show arose. He also recognizes the impact that Profiler had on later shows such as CSI, and comments that Profiler was probably ahead of its time; it would fit right in today with all of the other crime shows on television. He suggests that NBC should revive the franchise, perhaps as a movie of the week. Walker spends most of her time praising absolutely everyone she worked with on the show as "just the greatest," and offering very little insight either into the series or her character. It is a shame that the two could not have recorded a commentary together; failing that, the powers at A&E should have edited the separate recordings into one track. As it is, each commentary is so full of gaps and pauses that there is really only enough information here to fill one commentary track at the most.
The other special features included are cast bios, a gallery of promotional photos, and an episode of A&E's American Justice focusing on FBI profilers and what they do. This episode is nice to have, but by showing what real profilers do it seems to undercut Profiler rather than supplementing it.
For whatever reason, Profiler just didn't resonate with me as well as other shows in this genre. It's not a bad show by any means, but it just didn't hit the right level of authenticity for my tastes. This box set from A&E is a good introduction to the show for those who are unfamiliar with it, and should make the fans of the series very happy.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Ally Walker and Robert Davi on Pilot Episode
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