So, one of the most coveted slots in television is the hour that follows the Super Bowl each year. (Full History of the slot on Wikipedia)It has been used in the past to launch shows into the ratings stratosphere; it has recently been used to launch Survivor: All Stars, perhaps the greatest episode of Alias ever created (“Phase One”), and last season’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy that fully established it as the phenomenon it now is. It’s a way for networks to emphasize new shows, or existing shows, and there are usually a lot of benefits behind it.
It was therefore no surprise when CBS chose to highlight Criminal Minds, probably the most important show on its network at the moment. Facing a challenge from American Idol (Which we’ll see the resuls of later today), and having succeeded at toppling Lost in total viewers numerous times in the fall, Criminal Minds has been a strong performer in a tough timeslot, and CBS wants to keep it that way.
Mind you, I can’t personally condone such an action. The show bores me, almost to death. Watching Mandy Patinkin (“The Princess Bride”‘s Inigo Montoya he is no longer) stand around and talk about serial killers isn’t interesting, or really even that dramatic. The show’s characters are lifeless, their killers never overly compelling. It’s the epitome of everything I dislike about the procedural drama, which is perhaps why I was kind of intrigued by the prospect of their Super Bowl episode. The writers knew their responsibility, and might well step up to the plate to provide something worth watching. Right? Right?
Oh, how much more wrong could I have been?
The episode, written by series executive producer Edward Allen Bernero, finds the BAU team investigating the murder of a wealthy couple, killed in the aftermath of a Super Bowl party. Things are complicated by a bible-spouting 911 call prior to the murder and the crime’s subsequent posting on the Internet.
Oh dear god, Edward Allen Bernero, were you manufactured purely to shove out this crap? A wealthy couple were killed? I’ve never seen that before! And, bible-spouting? Seriously? And then it’s posted on the internet? You’ve officially taken just about every crime procedural cliche and thrown them together into one episode. Are you seriously telling me that this will make for good television, Eddy? Because it won’t. And casting James Van Der Beek won’t help that, especially since I have my issues against that anyways (It kind of makes the Guest Star the bad guy, let’s be honest here).
But, let’s consider the worst offense: A Super Bowl Party? I know that this is the Super Bowl episode, and you’re trying to be witty, but you need to actually do something new, not something “funny,” to make the show work. To allow Criminal Minds to actually succeed, you need to engage your characters. Putting them into hostage situations doesn’t make me like them, it’s as simply as that. The fact that you’ve actually created an episode about the Super Bowl (And apparently featuring CBS Sports announcers as well), is an attempt at using gimmicks to hide the show’s lack of resonance with a younger audience.
This might be the only time this season that Criminal Minds has a chance to engage younger viewers and hope to pull them away from Idol. They need to change their fundamental style, not just throw in every cliche in the book. They need to mix things up a little, create an event out of this episode. Really, both Grey’s Anatomy and Alias had it right. Episodes that opened with some T&A, and then went into plotlines that went above and beyond what the show had done previously. Alias completely changed in “Phase One.” I guess I’ve given up hope that Criminal Minds can do the same.
To display how JJ Abrams and Co. tried to pull in post-Superbowl viewers the right way, here’s the cold open of “Phase One” via YouTube.