Culture > Television

Minds and crimes

Television | Drama focuses on the "why" of criminal behavior

Issue: "Looking at India," Dec. 9, 2006

Unlike standard crime dramas, the CBS hit Criminal Minds (Wednesdays, 9 p.m., ET) focuses on the criminal, not the crime itself. The show delves into the "why" behind criminals' behavior, but ignores the moral aspects of that "why." It's more of a "breadcrumbs in the forest" approach to finding bodies and stopping the killers from striking again. This limits the show's appeal, but within this limited context, the show works.

An FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit uses cutting-edge techniques to profile offenders. The show, a lighter incarnation of CSI and Law and Order, highlights cerebral special agents who compete against each other to find the cleverest explanation for the criminals' behavior.

In one recent episode, "The Last Word," two serial killers manage to kill several victims while the FBI team dithers. The resident "genius" (I.Q. 187) Special Agent Spencer Reid (former model Matthew Gray Gubler) finally figures out the key to locating both killers, and within minutes they're in custody. Such plots may follow a clear formula, but the payoff in the last quarter of the show makes it seem worth the wait.

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The purported 17 million viewers of Criminal Minds probably also appreciate the literary references in the voiceover at the end of each episode, and the cleaner-than-average coverage of the crimes. Shootings may show a bit of blood, but not the panoply of mutilated bodies offered up by CSI.

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