Sunday, October 29, 2006
Great new Criminal Minds Article
By DEBORAH STARR SEIBEL
October 29, 2006 -- You'd think "Criminal Minds"' top sleuth, actor Mandy Patinkin, would be doing handstands over being on a hit series. You'd be wrong.
"I've asked myself a thousand times: What the hell did you choose this for?" says Patinkin, sitting in his luxury trailer on the Los Angeles set. The Broadway veteran and former star of "Chicago Hope" isn't whining about the long hours it takes to do the show. Patinkin's complaint is about spending those hours concentrating on horrific subject matter.
On this show, that means getting inside the minds of serial murderers, rapists, arsonists and terrorists.
"There are many days," says Patinkin, "that I'm a basket case and I can't do the show."
The stories are based on real-life criminals - think Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy - and even for an actor as seasoned as Patinkin, it's no cake-walk. "In six hours, I'm toast, running on empty, pumping the green tea and the dark chocolate and praying to God," he says. "Because Mandy has left the building."
"Criminal Minds" never got the splashy headlines or a big publicity push when it debuted last season. The series was considered just another procedural crime drama. But over the summer in reruns, these stories about an elite band of F.B.I. profilers started to catch fire. The show's executive producer, Ed Bernero, a former Chicago cop who spent 10 years wearing a badge, thinks he knows why.
"We have a completely different approach," says Bernero. "On 'Law & Order,' if they don't do their jobs right, somebody might get away with murder. If we don't do it right, someone else is gonna die. Most crime shows are after-the-fact. We're trying to keep another crime from happening.
"I think that's endlessly interesting, not only to cops, but to the audience."
It's worth noting that the "Criminal Minds" audience is not being fed a steady diet of blood and guts. The show, as a rule, relies more on the imagination than crime scene gore. And its bone-chilling premise is that the guy who's out to hurt you isn't some wild-eyed stranger in a trench coat hiding behind a tree. "It's your neighbor, your priest, your teacher," says Bernero.
All that has made this creepy crime drama into a kind of stealth television, steadily sneaking up into the Nielsen top 10 trumping once-invincible competitors such as ABC's "Lost." Unlike that show's endlessly convoluted, serialized storylines, "Criminal Minds" takes a disturbing tale and gives it - in one hour - a beginning, a middle and an end.
Bernero says he compares the characters on "Criminal Minds" to "knights of the round table. But these are modern-day knights and they're going out to fight the biggest dragons in society. And I think that's what people are responding to."
That's also what's keeping Patinkin on his own razor-thin edge of sanity. "It's especially tough on Mandy," says Bernero. "I've talked to him about my experiences as a cop, and he is now going through many of the things that I went through. When you immerse yourself in this world, it can't help but change the way you look at things."
"Sometimes, I can't let go,"Patinkin says. "I can't goof around. I can't treat it like a comedy. I try, but sometimes, I just can't."