You want a profile? Judge Diane Wild will give you a profile. It begins with "skip" and ends with "it."
Fighting crime at the scene of the mind.
Profiler, which aired on NBC from 1996-2000, was one of those shows I'd watch if I happened to be home and, well, watching TV when it was on. It wasn't appointment television for me; it was on Saturday nights, so I saw it sporadically for the first few seasons. Then, for whatever reason (I got a life, perhaps?), not at all the fourth and last season. So when I received the DVD set to review, I was happy to be able to see how things developed and how it all ended. I was less happy after I started watching it.
Facts of the Case
In the first three seasons, Dr. Sam Waters (Ally Walker, While You Were Sleeping) was the star profiler of the FBI's elite Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF). Sam's gift of intuition allowed her to paint a mental picture of each killer with astounding—some might say psychic—precision. Her husband had been killed by Jack of All Trades, a serial killer whose MO was the lack of a consistent MO: a master of disguise, master of weaponry, master of…well, a jack of all trades. Each episode of Profiler focused on one criminal case, but a seasons-long arc was the hunt for Jack, who continued to kill and to torment Sam with his oddly expressed affection for her.
Bailey Malone (Robert Davi, Die Hard) is the head of the VCTF, one whose feelings for Sam might go beyond an appreciation of her work. He leads a team including investigator John Grant (Julian McMahon, Nip/Tuck), medical examiner Grace Alvarez (Roma Maffia, also Nip/Tuck) and computer geek George Fraley (Peter Frechette, not Nip/Tuck).
Walker decided to leave the show, resulting in a two-episode Season Four opener explaining her exit, wrapping up the Jack of All Trades storyline, and introducing the new profiler, Rachel Burke (Jamie Luner, Melrose Place). The remainder of the season shows Rachel and the VCTF investigating the murder of the week, with some late-season attempts at recreating the magic of Jack with Rachel's very own stalker, renegade ex-FBI agent Joel Marks. Because Profiler's cancellation came as a surprise to the producers, many of the developing stories are left hanging, and the final episode ends in an unresolved cliffhanger.
The previous three seasons hinged on Sam. Her tragic past drove the hunt for Jack. Her talents solved the cases, with the other investigators too often acting as window dressing. Her character was the hub of all the others: it was almost always Bailey and Sam, or Grace and Sam, or John and Sam interacting, rather than any other combination of characters. Her family life, with roommate Angel and daughter Chloe, was the respite from the dark VCTF world.
Walker's performance was mannered and twitchy, but oddly compelling in a cheesy sort of way. (I mean that as praise. Really.) Sam was a strong but troubled woman doing a job she believed in, despite the toll it took on her personal life. I watched Profiler because of the warmth she gave to the character, and because the single-episode plots combined with the Jack of All Trades story added up to just enough intrigue to keep me nearly satisfied. I didn't watch regularly because it was repetitive and never really lived up to its potential in character or plot development. After seeing Profiler, it's easy to believe that serial killers are as common as the common cold, and that bizarre deaths are the norm, though I suppose that's true of most crime shows.
"Reunion Part I and II," the first episodes of the fourth season, are disappointing because of the way Sam and Jack are rushed off the scene, but I suppose viewers should be grateful that their stories are wrapped up at all. Jack was always at his sinister best when he was a shadowy presence, not when he has too much airtime to reveal his unthreatening physical form. Heck, I could beat this guy up.
Without Sam, the show implodes. There's too much of a vacuum for Rachel Burke to fill, and the other characters can't stand on their own. Bailey takes to Rachel quickly, as he must, because otherwise his character has no one to bounce off of. Grace instantly confides in Rachel about her marital difficulties, unexpected pregnancy, and suspicions about George's addiction to painkillers. As she must, because otherwise the character of Grace has little to do but cut open dead bodies. John instantly despises Rachel because she's not Sam, as he must because someone has to affirm that this is a new character and viewers have to get used to her, just as John does. It all feels very contrived, as does the revelation that John and Rachel may or may not have had a fling years ago, which sets up the requisite sexual tension and a ridiculous plot point about a "moral turpitude" charge later in the season.
Jamie Luner is saddled with the task of replacing the central character of a reasonably successful show, rather than simply sliding into a true ensemble cast (which wouldn't even be all that simple, I'm sure). The writers give her a couple of quirks that are supposed to suffice as character development, like she really likes coffee. I mean, she grinds her own, she constantly talks about different blends, she drinks it religiously. This woman really likes her coffee. But is that a personality trait?
She also comes from a large family of many brothers, so naturally she's tough as nails, no-nonsense, unsentimental. She's almost the anti-Sam, except that she has the same profiling powers—these murky, quasi-psychic flashbacks that somehow tell her that the suspect is 27-32 years old, 5'11," brown haired and blue eyed, with a shoe fetish and green Volkswagon…give or take a detail here and there. (Incidentally, profiling is a fascinating technique, so it's a shame the show had to make it appear as hocus-pocus).
It was a mistake to create a Sam Waters substitute instead of having the other ensemble members step up and have more involvement in the stories, as well as treating the new character as the newcomer she is and allowing her to blend slowly into the ensemble.
The writing is one of the biggest weaknesses of this show. Davi, Maffia, and Frechette are decent actors (no, it was no accident that Luner isn't on that list), but they are forced to deliver clunky, humorless dialogue and wade through formulaic plots full of trite psychology. Profiler badly needs a sense of irony to balance its deadly seriousness, but every attempt fails.
One example of dialogue gone wrong is this exchange between Rachel and Bailey, which is either trying to be funny or gritty, but comes across as a series of unfunny, ungritty non sequiturs:
Rachel: "Each victim was shot at close range so as to obliterate their
We wouldn't expect a law enforcement professional to blush and giggle (or to use the phrase "gender apparatus"—please!). There was no indication Bailey was expecting blushing and giggling. So Rachel comes across as defensive and unprofessional, while Bailey praises her for her professionalism. The scene, like so many others, just doesn't work.
George's drug addiction is telegraphed miles in advance, while Grace's marital problems are revealed using the old writing adage "tell, don't show." Oh wait, isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Maybe that's why I didn't care that her marriage fell apart or that her husband was a jerk—we never catch a glimpse of him or his jerkiness. He is simply the person she whines about to Rachel. A multiple-episode story involves Rachel's crack addict brother, but since I wasn't invested in her character, it was hard to care about him.
An unavoidable weakness of this DVD set is that season four gave Profiler fans a crossover episode with NBC schedule-mate The Pretender. Because "Clean Sweep" began on an episode of The Pretender which is not included here, we are left with only part two of a convoluted story about…oh, I don't really know what it was about. The "previously on The Pretender" synopsis didn't quite capture it for me, I lost interest in trying to figure it out, and since I never watched The Pretender, I was a little hazy on the guy's somehow tragic secret ability to become whatever he wanted—lawyer, doctor, FBI agent. I do know that Jarod, the pretender, and Rachel got hot and bothered together. But then Rachel seemed to bounce from one love interest to another in her brief time on the show, so it was hard to believe he was her one great love.
Her nemesis in the last several episodes, Joel Marks, is a man she crossed earlier who now plots revenge. Because he confronts her face-to-face early on without any physical threat, the sense of menace is greatly diminished. He vows to ruin her life, so starts—gasp—phoning and e-mailing her. I get pharmaceutical spam that's more frightening than these messages. Even when things escalate, it's too late—he's just not mean enough early enough.
I kept myself partially occupied during the long, long viewing hours by spotting the occasional famous name. Erin Gray makes several appearances this season as a creepy love interest for Bailey and, as a senator with influence over their budget, the VCTF's biggest threat. While I have fond childhood memories of the actress as Wilma in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, her delivery is stiffer than most Profiler corpses, and her flirting with Bailey is some of the worst I've seen (this coming from the world's worst flirter myself). Another interesting guest spot is filled by a post-Melrose Place, pre-Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross. One episode was directed by Anson "Potsie from Happy Days" Williams. Oh, the seconds of fun I had spotting these people.
Without interesting character development or good writing, we're left with a procedural crime drama that's shaky on procedure. And crime. And drama. What's left? Well, the atmospheric theme music and credit font is pretty cool.
Profiler comes in a slim-line set that shows episode summaries on the back of each case. The DVD menu is nicely subdivided by episode, with detailed text summaries of the applicable episode and scene selection for each, plus the occasional "Previously on Profiler" selection.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is generally acceptable, if not spectacular, though there are a couple of instances of nearly inaudible dialogue which take place in outdoor scenes. The visuals in many of these outdoor settings also reflect poor lighting and haloing, though for the most part the picture is clear and contrast is good, even for such a dark show.
The extras aren't extensive, but what's here is definitely worth a watch. Executive producer and writer Clifton Campbell offers a commentary on the last episode, "On Your Marks," that gives some insight into where the series would have headed in the non-existent season five, including the introduction of a new super-villain. One of the least surprising revelations is that the writers were intending to build a romantic relationship between Rachel and John. Campbell expresses his shock that the series was cancelled, claiming it wasn't a ratings issue ("our ratings were always the same") but more because of NBC clearing room on their schedule for the XFL (remember that ratings bonanza?).
Campbell has a bit of an odd take on Rachel Burke's character, referring to the street-smart agent as "naïve" a couple of times. He also talks about the "improvements" he and the other new producers and writers made to the show when they took over in season three, when the series started to lose its appeal for me. One such improvement was to introduce the viewer to the bad guys earlier in the episode so their motivation became a larger part of the story. This was a technique I didn't find in the least effective, since the motivations often followed the simplistic formula "bad guy had bad thing happen to him in the past—bad guy acts out same bad thing on innocent victims in present."
He is full of praise for—well, everyone, of course—but particularly Ally Walker. He takes pains to explain that Sam's exit was Walker's decision, and that as a new mom who wanted to spend more time with her family and get away from the darkness of the series, it was an understandable decision. So, darn it all, we get no dirt on any turmoil or strife because of her departure.
The other meaty extra is an interview with former real-world profiler and series consultant Howard Teten, and it is a delight. The cranky ex-FBI Unit Chief talks about the liberties the series took with the technique of profiling, about how unrealistic Jack's character was, and his embarrassment when they took the character of Sam, especially, into psychic territory, or when police procedures were hopelessly inaccurate. But, as he says with a shake of his head, "entertainment is entertainment." Barely.
It's not a good sign that I kept a mental countdown in my head as I watched the episodes over a two-week period (…"just 10 more to go, just 9 more to go…"). I fit it into my life grudgingly, like housework, or going to the gym, or flirting.
Profiler is not a terrible show, and if I had caught season four occasionally on TV way back when, I would not have considered it an hour of my life I could never get back. But this was 16 hours of highly flawed TV condensed into one DVD set that should come with the warning: For Existing Profiler Fans Only.
Guilty of stealing 16 hours of my life.
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Scales of Justice
• Interview with Series Consultant, FBI profiler Howard Teten
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