Friday, December 01, 2006
CRIMINAL MINDS: ANOTHER GREAT ARTICLE
By GORDON KHO
There are some TV shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost that create a lot of buzz from the get go. The buzz could be due to its original content, clever writing or/and great performance by the actors.
Then, there are some shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) that don’t draw as much attention. There’s neither buzz nor hype. Now, that does not mean that it is less interesting. SVU steadily offers gripping episodes each week and the series has gone to win many accolades in award shows.
Criminal Minds falls into the latter category. No one thought much of this series when it made its debut on American TV last year. After all, it fell under the crime drama genre and TV land is already besieged by shows of this nature. Take your pick – CSI, Numbers, Monk, Without a Trace and of course, Law and Order.
However, without the buzz and hype, Criminal Minds has slowly developed into one of the most riveting series on TV. This under-the-radar show is now being recognised by critics and TV audience.
“I always love it when my audience has their expectations in the toilet,” joked Mandy Patinkin, who plays Special Agent Jason Gideon, on the set of Criminal Minds in Culver City, Los Angeles recently.
Criminal Minds stars Mandy Patinkin as one of the members of an elite squad of FBI profilers.
“If you already start with such low expectations, then you can’t go further down. I like we’re not on the cover of every magazine, because, you know, often times those are flash-in-the-pans when that happen.”
In the rating war, it was reported recently that Criminal Minds beat Lost in terms of viewership. While Patinkin has no idea why legion of viewers are tuning into Criminal Minds, insiders have attributed the success of the show to audience not wanting to be hooked on a dense plot. Procedural series triumphs over serialised dramas, the trend tells us.
Criminal Minds is set in Quantico, Virginia, at the Behaviorial Analysis Unit. When the FBI can’t solve a crime, they turn to the agents in this unit for help. While regular detectives study the evidence of a crime, this unit looks at the behaviour of the criminal to narrow down the suspect pool.
Gideon is the bureau’s top behavioural analyst. He is assisted by a motley crew who bring their own area of expertise to the case in hopes of solving the crime as fast as they can.
Among the other actors in the show include Thomas Gibson as the bureau’s chief, Aaron Hotch, daytime soap opera star Shemar Moore as Derek Morgan and former model Matthew Gray Gubler as the genius Dr Spencer Reid.
The crimes featured on the show are heinous (this is where it shares the same formula as SVU). Villains range from serial killers and arsonists on the loose to rapists and paedophiles waiting to strike again.
With plots so disturbing, going to work for the actors involved in this series isn’t always easy. “The content and the dialogue are so dark. And on the sets, you’ve got these dummy human bodies that look real,” said Moore, whose character Derek Morgan is an expert on obsessional crimes.
“You just have to remind yourself this is pretence based on reality. And the eerie, humbling feeling is that while this is fake and we can remove ourselves from this, somewhere this was real, is real, and is going to be real again, and that’s kind of creepy.”
Acting in dark series is nothing new for Patinkin. His last series, which ran for two seasons before it was cancelled, was called Dead Like Me. In it, he played the leader of a group of grim reapers whose main responsibility is to take out the soul of the living just before they die a tragic death.
But that doesn’t mean he is attracted to series with dark themes. Patinkin explained that the reason he took up the role of Gideon was because he is a fan of thrillers and mysteries. Most importantly, he wanted to keep his mind occupied with work.
“I was a cancer survivor. That happened during Dead Like Me and I was going to take a year off before I started TV again. I wanted to work in independent films. Then CBS called and asked me to do a couple of series. This is the one that interested me. And frankly, I like being busy. I like working 24/7. Keeps my mind off things, and I like it. It makes me feel alive,” said Patinkin who won an Emmy Award in 1995 for his potrayal of Dr Jeffrey Geiger in Chicago Hope.
What this TV, movie and theatre vet bring to the series is not only his acting chops, but also some of his moral values. And that has kept the writers of Criminal Minds in check with some of the darker themes on the show.
“I’m a victim of our society, and society desensitises us to some of these (dark subjects). We are even using it and accepting it as entertainment. But there are lines in the sand that are drawn. And there have been times when I made some phone calls and said, ‘I’m sorry. Over my dead body! I’m not desensitised to that’,” Patinkin said about some of the initial storylines that the writers came up with.
To keep himself sane from the dark themes of the series, Patinkin who is now signed for six years to Criminal Minds exercises and meditates daily.
“And the other way I keep myself sane is I have the privilege of getting to sing songs. I’m a singer of show tunes. I’ll fly on a Friday, do a concert on Saturday, fly back on Sunday. It fills my soul because I love those words,” said Patinkin who acted and sang alongside Madonna in Dick Tracy. The 54-year-old actor also won a Tony Awards for his portrayal as Che in the Broadway production of Evita.