Criminal Minds: Season One
There is a certain fascination that many people have with criminal behaviors. This has driven a good percentage of television dramas over the last five decades or so. In recent years films and books concerning serial killers such as ‘Silence of the Lambs’, has moved the focus of crime dramas to include these most heinous of all murderers. One of the better constructed, acted and written entries into this genre is CBS’ ‘Criminal Minds’. The series is based on an actual group in the FBI, the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) based out of Quantico, Virginia. While most crime dramas focus on solving a specific crime, Criminal Minds goes deeper. Here it is the physiological cat and mouse game between the ‘unsub’, unknown subject for those out there not up on the jargon, and the BSU team. After being asked by a local jurisdiction for help the BSU team gets on their private jet and whisk off to the crime scene. Once there they examine the evidence and try to form a profile of the perpetrator. The real men and women that do this job on a daily basis are respected here. They are a special breed who willing try to get into the most sick and twisted minds imaginable to save lives.
Each member of the team in this series is a fully formed human being with their own strengths and weaknesses. As the first season progressed each person on the team are developed as fully believable people. The most senior member of the team is Supervisory Special Agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin). He is known as the best profile the BSU has ever seen and has trained a couple of other members of the team. He is extremely well read, he usually gives a quote from some philosopher or author at the start and end of each episode. As the series starts Gideon is just returning from an extended leave. He had a nervous breakdown after sending six team members into a warehouse where they died in an explosion. Although he has returned to active duty Gideon has deferred direct command to his one time protégé Supervisory Special Agent Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner (Thomas Gibson). A former lawyer he has given up prosecuting offenders and is now dedicated to capturing them. Hotch is bright, organized and although his manner is usually stern he is generally a well adjusted human being. He loves his wife and their new child and is able to separate his work and home life. Next in the chain of command is Senior Special Agent Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore). He is frequently the agent in charge in the field. While Gideon and Hotch work with the local law enforcement agents Morgan is out in the thick of things tracking down the killer. Morgan is also very well adjusted and is able to joke and flirt with his co-workers. Morgan’s expertise on obsessive crimes makes him an excellent profiler. He has taken a younger agent under his wing forming a real friendship. That younger man is the youngest of the team Special Agent Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler). A former child protégé he graduated high school at the ender age of 12 and now holds no less than three PhDs. With is eidetic memory, reading speed of 20,000 words per minute and genius IQ he has come a long way from his childhood in Las Vegas. Reid is slight of build and usually the locals want to know why the kid is with the team. Reid has an uncanny ability to breakdown extremely complex situations and determines trends and common points. Special Agent Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini) is a transfer from sex crimes. Greenway has a keen eye for detail and is not above using her femininity to get a problematic local away from the team. Special Agent Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (A.J. Cook) usually is not as involved in the actual profiling as the other team members. She specializes in interacting with the locals and the media. Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is the team’s dedicated computer maven. She typically works in a high tech wonderland filled with computers. She is fun and outgoing as shown by her constant flirting with Morgan. If there is data out there the queen of all things computer related will find it.
The basic format of the series is a call is made by some local authorities request assistance from the BAU. Once they get there they go about building a profile of the ‘unsub’ based on the evidence at hand. What makes this series different is this is not done in a vacuum; the work affects the team often in a profound way. In one episode Hotch helps Reid pass his firearms qualification. At the end of the episode it is up to Reid to shot the suspect to save his and Hotch’s life. Reid is shaken but with some advice from Hotch is able to work through it. In another episode Reid is shaken by recurring nightmares. Morgan assures him that in this line of work nightmares is part of the job and that Hotch and he still have them.
The cast here is excellent and work well as an ensemble. I have been a fan of Mandy Patinkin for decades even back to his stage career. He has the combination of pathos and authority that makes him the best possible choice for the character of Gideon. He doen’t over play the fact that Gideon has had a breakdown, he is moving on and accepts the fact that Hotch is now taking the lead. Most people will remember Thomas Gibson from his long running sit-com Dharma and Greg. There he showed off his comic abilities but here he shows he can handle a deeper role. As Hotch he commands respect but there is always the human side to the character. He has a family that he tries his best to protect from the heinous nature of the people he has to track down. Unlike other ‘geek’ characters Matthew Gray Gubler gives greater dimension to Reid. He plays him as a man that is used to being the youngest in the group. He doesn’t hide his superior intellect but he doesn’t lord it over them either. Since his genius deprived him of the normal socialization he is only now discovery how to handle adult relationships. One of the best casting choices here is Kirsten Vangsness. She portrays Garcia as a young woman who is self assured but finds life outside the computer room difficult. She hides behind online role playing games and likes to flirt safely on the phone. She is cubby, cute and smart, not qa combination that would get her a lot of social acceptance in high school. Now as an adult she is the mistress of her world.
Paramount not only has come up with one of the best shows on television the DVD release of the first season is excellent. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video is excellent. The colors are natural with a realistic and flawless contrast. The audio is in Dolby 5.1 providing a full surround feel. The sub woofer is not used often but it does give emphasis where needed. Several episodes contain cast and crew commentaries that go into just how a team like this has to balance their person lives with the job. There are also some deleted scenes and several featurettes detailing the production and how much work goes into the necessary realism. If you aren’t already a fan of the series this box set will surely make you one.