Viewers who feel they may have been C. S. I. 'd, S. V. U. 'd, or NCIS'd to death, should really keep an open mind concerning Criminal Minds, because this compelling procedural crime series brings fascinating new facets to this crowded genre. The always galvanizing Mandy Patinkin (Chicago Hope) makes a welcome return to the small screen as Jason Gideon, head of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, and sage mentor to his elite team of profilers, including compassionate Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson, of Dharma & Greg), Lola Gladini as sex-crimes expert Elle Greenway (since departed from the series), live-wire hunk Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), and genius-geek Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), who actually looks creepier than many of the perpetrators that the team races against time to apprehend.
Before they can do that, they must establish psychological profiles of the criminals and think as they do. Given they have handles such as the "Seattle Strangler" and the "Keystone Killer," this can be psychologically taxing (in one episode, Spencer confides to Derek that the job is giving him nightmares). While cliffhangers frame this inaugural season, each episode (except the season finale) wraps up its cases in the allotted hour. In addition to serial killers, the series unleashes a gallery of twisted and depraved specimens. "Trust me," Derek comments early on, "we cover the whole spectrum of psychos. " This includes arsonists, rapists, child abductors, and even a cannibalistic killer. Anchoring the proceedings is Patinkin, who exudes authoritative gravitas, and who is always good for scenery feasting. He really comes to life when killers have Gideon at gunpoint and he taunts them into losing their already unsteady grip. Most episodes feature the voiceover of a team member reciting a pertinent quote from such varied sources as W. H. Auden ("Evil is always human") to actor Peter Ustinov, a literary conceit that could stand to be retired. Stylistic flourishes in the editing and camerawork are likewise more of a distraction when the cases themselves are so gripping, given that the victims are primarily women and children. "There's nothing I would rather do than put the bastards away," Greenway states at one point. And there's nothing we'd rather do than watch them do it, which has made Criminal Minds, initially Lost opposite that ratings juggernaut, one of television's solid hits. --Donald Liebenson
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