Dead men do tell tales.
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
The heat turns up in this second season of Profiler, as the elite Violent Crimes Task Force continues to investigate the most bizarre and chilling cases or serial homicide from around the country. Ally Walker (While You Were Sleeping, Universal Soldier) returns as forensic psychologist Dr. Samantha Waters to continue her cat-and-mouse battle of wits with the elusive serial killer known as "Jack of All Trades."
Bailey Malone (Robert Davi, Licence to Kill, Son of the Pink Panther, Showgirls) also returns as the other pillar of the cast. Malone is the no-nonsense leader of the VCTF, a scotch-drinking, cigar-smoking, opera-loving FBI veteran who seems to spend as much time fighting with his superiors in Washington as he does fighting crime.
Season Two of Profiler makes both of these key characters more well-rounded by focusing on their personal lives outside of the VCTF's offices. Sam spends more screen time at home with her best friend, Angel (Erica Gimpel, ER), and her daughter, Chloe (Caitlin Wachs, Inspector Gadget 2). She is briefly reunited with her estranged father, and her former in-laws sue her for custody of Chloe because they think Sam's Jack-haunted life is no place for their granddaughter. Bailey deals with family problems of his own as he reunites with his rebellious daughter Frances (Heather McComb), who shot and nearly killed him at the end of Season One.
Even the mysterious Jack is no longer a lonesome soul as he recruits and brainwashes an ex-con named Sharon (former porn queen Traci Lords) to be "Jill," his partner in crime. Their warped relationship leads to even more mayhem as Jack uses her to kill in ever more weird and creative ways. As an added bonus, we even get to meet Jack's equally twisted mother, played by Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).
One of the weaknesses of the first season of Profiler was the over-abundance of storylines relating to Jack. Here, in the second season, he is present in almost every episode, but usually in vignettes that are unrelated to whatever mayhem the VCTF is investigating. To be sure, there are episodes that deal directly with Jack and his obsession with Sam, including the season-ending two-hour episode. However, for the most part, there is a sort of compromise that keeps Jack alive and in the audience's imagination without relying on him for plots week in and week out. This is both good and bad, however; now, instead of driving too many episodes during the season, Jack can seem like a digression in otherwise unrelated shows.
The expanded focus on the characters' personal lives both helps and hurts the series as well. It definitely has the benefit of making these characters more well-rounded and realistic. In turn, the actors are able to explore the characters more fully and create richer performances. That's the theory, anyway. It works particularly well in the case of Davi, who seems to relish the chance to explore new areas of the character. Walker is less successful, mostly because her interpretation of Sam's character is so uneven between the professional and personal settings. It almost feels as though Walker is so grateful for the opportunity to do something different and break out of the "Sam the profiler" mode that she allows herself to relax too much and play these scenes a little too enthusiastically at times. Walker is still passable in the role, but overall there is something in her performance that strikes a wrong note, somehow. She is far too emotionless and analytical most of the time, and this choice just doesn't seem to fit a character with Samantha Waters's traumatic background.
One benefit of the focus on the personal is a better opportunity for some of the supporting cast to shine. This is especially true of Erica Gimpel and Caitlin Wachs, whose characters form Sam's support group at home. Rather than being token presences in the opening credits, these two get a chance to show why their characters are such an important part of Sam's life. Wachs in particular is remarkably good for a child performer, especially considering that she was barely eight years old when these episodes were filmed. Truth be told, the honesty and simplicity of her performances blow Ally Walker off the screen in their scenes together, making Walker seem overdone and just wrong somehow by comparison.
There is an unfortunate taste of melodrama to some of the second season personal storylines, but that is forgivable given the nature of the series. After all, Profiler is a lurid, pulpy sort of show meant to thrill audiences tuning in on Saturday nights. On the other hand, it is this pulp nature of Profiler that leads to some fairly farfetched stories featuring criminals and crimes that just could not exist in the real world. This was a problem in the first season and is only more pronounced here.
The Profiler Season Two box set from A&E features all 19 episodes, including the season-ending double episode, "The Root of All Evil." Video quality is about what you would expect from an A&E box set: substantially better than broadcast quality, but not spectacular. It is for the most part comparable to the Season One set, although perhaps a bit improved in some areas. There is a nasty crawl around sharp edges some of the time, as well as the occasional bit of shimmer/moiré in shiny objects or fine textures like hair. Any edges that are not strictly vertical or horizontal show a lot of aliasing or "jaggies." Edge enhancement varies, and might not be terribly noticeable given the dark palette of the episodes, but it is definitely present. Shadowed areas show good detail, including every nook and cranny of the VCTF's unrealistically posh offices. 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 noirish, muted cinematography of the show will allow. Faring noticeably worse are the stylized flashback scenes giving the audience bits of detail about the crimes being investigated; these are intentionally distorted and grainy, so it is hard to tell how much distortion is intentional and how much is transfer-related, but there does seem to be a higher than normal amount of pixelation and sparkle in these scenes. Audio is adequate to the task. This is a Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix that brings dialogue and sound effects through with acceptable clarity.
The best special feature in this set is a commentary track for episode 8, "Victims of Victims." Pat Brown, a real-life investigative criminal profiler, provides her insights into the difference between profiling in the real world and profiling as seen on Profiler. Hard-core fans of the show will find this track simultaneously fascinating and disappointing. The information on the actual work of a profiler is interesting, but it does point out many of the recurring flaws in Profiler. For a good example of a realistic portrayal of a serial killer, Brown recommends Kiefer Sutherland's performance in An Eye for an Eye instead.
Other special features include a brief biography of profiler Pat Brown, as well as cast bios that seem directly lifted from the Season One release.
Profiler is probably best taken on its own terms, as juicy, lurid Saturday night entertainment. The stories are engaging if a bit outlandish, and the cast give generally solid performances. True to historical patterns, the show seems to appeal more to women than to men. That is certainly the case in our house; my wife loves it, while I would probably rather be watching one of the series it influenced, like CSI.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Profiler Pat Brown for Episode "Victims of Victims"
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