The Otherwise Inventive Criminal Minds: Evolution Needs to Cut the Red Tape

TV Features criminal minds evolution
The Otherwise Inventive Criminal Minds: Evolution Needs to Cut the Red Tape

Criminal Minds: Evolution, the Paramount+ revival of the long-running CBS series which ended back in early 2020, has infused the show with new life. Our beloved profilers are back together—well, for the most part, as Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Matt Simmons (Daniel Henney) are both absent because of the actors choosing not to return and having other commitments, respectively—with a darker premise that truly manages to capture the reality of their work for the FBI and what it’s like to hunt serial killers before they kill their next victim. Their newest UnSub is Elias Voit (Zach Gilford), who used his time and proficiency with technology during the pandemic to create a secret online network of serial killers. He has also provided “kill kits’’ to assist these chosen few in their crimes, which has left the Behavior Analysis Unit with their hands full.

As the profilers hunt for Voit and his groupies in a more serialized story than was ever attempted on CBS, they face another threat that could officially tear the team apart: Bureaucracy. You know what viewers love to see? Budget issues. Worse, we’ve seen it all before.

In Evolution, Deputy Director Bailey (Nicholas D’Agosto) has been a major pain for Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) since she’s taken a promotion to Unit Section Chief of the BAU. She’s desperately trying to make sure her team gets the resources and attention it deserves for their hard work, but is only met with half-assed solutions and resistance. Since the pandemic started, and for the three years since in-show, the team has been broken up into micro units to increase their efficiency and put more killers behind bars. They’re even sent out quite often on their own to assist local police departments, as we’ve seen with both Tara (Aisha Tyler) and JJ (A.J. Cook) already. At the same time, their budget has been slashed, their jet taken away, and their prowess as a cohesive team diminished by the powers that be.

With the help of Tara’s new girlfriend Rebecca (Nicole Pacent), who works at the Department of Justice, they’ve realized that Bailey is ultimately trying to get the BAU disbanded and absorbed into another unit, which would effectively separate the team for good and give way to a new era of serial-killer-induced chaos upon the world with nobody in place to stop them. So, while trying to find the most infamous serial killer they’ve ever seen, they also have to deal with this bureaucratic nightmare.

But that particular nightmare is not the one we care about. We watch Criminal Minds to see a group of highly intelligent, observant individuals use their collective talents to catch serial killers, not to watch the team deal with the budgetary woes of the FBI.

This is just the latest in the series’ long list of attempts to have new characters disband the BAU, which has always been ridiculous considering the unrealistically high and untouchable solve record the unit has. Most recently, in the thirteenth season of the drama, Assistant Director Linda Barnes (Kim Rhodes) tried to do the exact same thing, promoting JJ to temporary team leader as Barnes tried to get Prentiss fired and Rossi (Joe Mantegna) forcibly retired. Every time, the predictable outcome has prevailed and this threat is wiped away until another tries to do the same thing. It’s tired, and pales in comparison to the life-or-death threats the team faces on a nearly daily basis.

After all, there’s no show if the Behavioral Analysis Unit is disbanded. Sure, they could do so temporarily, but it wouldn’t stop the team from coming together to work on their own, just as they have before as well. These threats have never held any weight, working only as a means of killing time and occasionally showing how the team is really one big family, but we don’t need these stories to see that. It’s shown, in the revival in particular, by the simultaneous love and wake-up calls they give to Rossi as he continues to grieve the loss of his wife. Or, in the support and understanding they give to Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) when she’s forced to come back to the BAU to assist in their new case, but struggles immensely after the work she’s put in on improving her mental health during her time away.

These are creative, subtle ways to show the importance of this team on a smaller scale, just as every episode with a new serial killer caught shows the importance on a grander scale. The story with Voit is one of the most intriguing and well-written that the series has done since it premiered in 2005—it’s just dragged down by the exhausted and unimaginative bureaucracy that holds the team back from reaching their full potential once again. There’s no excuse to be repeating a story, and it especially feels like a letdown given the flexibility the series has now that it exists on a streaming service.

Part of the reason Criminal Minds originally ended on CBS is because the audience grew tired of seeing the writers rework things we’d already seen, and tuned out in the last few seasons because of it. While the Voit story is a great example of growth and taking advantage of this new life, the introduction and conflict with Director Bailey is a worrisome sign that, should the series continue on Paramount+, we’ll be subjected to more of the same.

Additionally, showing the audience the bureaucratic side of things just doesn’t work. That’s not why people are tuning in (Editor’s Note: We’re living it), and as stated before, it ultimately holds no weight in comparison to the other stories. There can never be real consequences without further upsetting the audience, like by writing a character off. If, somehow, the team were disbanded, they’d just find a way to move forward on a different path. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from this, and a 10-episode season order is definitely not the time to be forcing the issue. Instead, we could be seeing more of the characters in their personal lives (a tragic rarity before this revival) and experiencing the individual growth that helps them with their caseload, not to mention changes the team dynamic occasionally so things don’t get stale. Hopefully, Criminal Minds: Evolution will end this and write Director Bailey out quickly when the second half of the season begins, and focus more on inventive ideas to keep viewers on their toes rather than bogged down by red tape.

Criminal Minds: Evolution returns Thursday, January 12th on Paramount+.

Jay Snow is a freelance writer. He has published many places on the internet. For more of his thoughts on television and to see his other work (or to simply watch him gush again and again over his love for the original Charmed) follow him @snowyjay.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

Share Tweet Submit Pin