Friday, January 25, 2008

Criminal Minds' Awesome Third Season

So how is one of my favorite shows fairing after the loss of its biggest star? Will Criminal Minds has used up all the new episodes and thanks to the ongoing writers’ strike, episode 13 will likely be the show's season finale. But if this is the end of the season, the CBS crime drama can find solace in the fact that its third season, abbreviated though it was, was still its best. And that is all the more amazing because this season was supposed to be a disaster.

Last summer lead actor Mandy Patinkin, who played Jason Gideon, announced he was leaving the show. It interrupted filming and left Criminal Minds fans nervous about the future of the series. CBS go-to guy Joe Mantegna was eventually cast as David Rossi to replace Patinkin. But Patinkin gave such short notice that Mantegna’s character wouldn't show up until episode six. That left lingering questions before he arrived. What would happen in those six episodes and would Mantegna’s character be expected?

The show's remaining six characters had to fill the space till Mantegna’s character arrived. They had been little more than badges and haircuts developed who got to develop personalities. Sure we saw a glimpse of Agent Morgan's past last season, and geeky Dr. Reid got himself a drug habit. But most episodes were about the crimes more than the people. This season, Criminal Minds stealthily transformed into a show about the people who solve crimes -­ a small but important difference.

Now J.J. isn't just the blonde one who briefs the team. She is desperately trying to figure out if she cares too much for the victims and their families, or not enough. Computer whiz Garcia is more than the "feisty lab girl" getting a bullet to the shoulder and a boyfriend in the span of two episodes. Hochner went from being an agent with a wife and kid to being a tormented husband and father as his wife and son moved out of his life.

Plus, the show was able to beef up its characterization without sacrificing its identity. This season's crimes were as twisted and disturbing as ever. The "Lucky" episode, in which a killer fed a young woman to the very people trying to rescue her, was one of the creepiest hours of TV in years. And the show even managed to turn Malcolm in the Middle into a badass when Frankie Muniz guest starred as a comic-book artist suffering a psychotic break. So whether fans watched the show for its characters or for its creepy crimes, this season delivered, and it did so in spite of Patinkin's exit and Mantegna's entrance.

It always seems to take a while for new characters to fit in but after 12 episodes, Mantegna's character still feels like an outsider. CBS wanted to bring in the anti-Gideon and that might have been a good plan if he had stepped onto the show just as Patinkin left. But in those few post-Patinkin episodes, the characters filled the loss themselves. They began mentoring each other.

For two seasons the show had followed CBS' crime procedural plan of putting a young team of diverse personalities behind the firm leadership of a middle-aged white guy played by an established star but Criminal Minds doesn't follow those rules anymore. I am glad Mantegna joined the cast, but now there is now just one star, but an ensemble.

I will the new episodes so much till this writer strike crap stops. Let’s hope they get it over with soon so we can learn more about these great characters and see some creepy crimes again.

Source: with editing by me

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