Case solved: Criminal Minds cast shares how the revival differs from the original series
The BAU is back, baby.
Criminal Minds alums Joe Mantegna, Paget Brewster, Aisha Tyler, Kirsten Vangsness, A.J. Cook, and Adam Rodriguez will reprise their fan-favorite roles in Paramount+'s revival of the crime drama. The 10-episode series from original series writer and producer Erica Messer will have a COVID-19 pandemic twist this time around as the criminal profilers track down a new unsub, who has built a network of serial killers during quarantine.
The idea for a revival began percolating in the cast and crew's brains not long after the long-running show concluded in 2020 after 15 seasons on CBS. As it turns out, the BAU didn't need much convincing to return. "I trusted everything about it. I never even saw a script," Joe Mantegna, who plays special agent David Rossi, tells EW, echoing similar sentiments of his costars.
Below, the cast and crew tease the new season and possible return of other beloved characters. "Their desks will still have stuff on them," Messer says of Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and company. "They haven't gone away."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me more about the decision to bring the show back.
ERICA MESSER (showrunner, executive producer, writer): It was February of 2020 that Criminal Minds ended its run on CBS. And within weeks, the world completely changed. By the end of that summer of 2020, when life felt so uncertain and scary, we started having these conversations of maybe we should bring Criminal Minds back, and not in a CBS way, but in a new way, where we can tell the same stories everybody knows and loves. We take you into the dark, we scare you, and then we save you, but adjust to the streaming market. Criminal Minds is a gigantic streaming hit that was created before streaming was a verb.
It just excited all of us to be able to come back and tell familiar but fresh stories. And of course, some people aren't available because they're on other projects, but six of the eight BAU members we ended the show with in 2020 will be back full time. Fingers crossed that the others who are doing other projects will be able to come and play every now and then. That's the hope. And on the writing side of things, I'm back, Breen Frazier's back, Chris Barbour's back. We all ended the show together. I called the first episode "Just Getting Started," which sounds kind of silly because it's episode 325, but in some ways, we are just getting started again.
What was it about the project that emboldened you all to return?
JOE MANTEGNA (David Rossi): I didn't need much of a pitch. I've been in this business, like, 50 years, so my feeling was all based on the experience and people involved. I'd already done this for 13 years, which, outside of doing The Simpsons for 32 years, it's my longest running role. I trusted the experience. I trusted the people. I trusted everything about it. I never even saw a script. I equate a lot of things to sports: You're playing on a team that's done really well and won a lot of championships. You take a few years off, and they say, "You want to play again with basically the same people?" Yeah. Why wouldn't you?
PAGET BREWSTER (Emily Prentiss): We were surprised when it was canceled, so the opportunity to do it streaming is really exciting because there are a couple of things that we can do on Paramount+ that we weren't able to do on CBS. It's a different kind of show, but [it's still] Criminal Minds. We just missed each other and all wanted to do it.
AISHA TYLER (Tara Lewis): The end of the show was really bittersweet. We all felt as a team that we had hit this incredible kind of alchemical stride. We just were so connected as a cast. We loved being around each other. There was just this joyfulness, too. Despite the show being very dark, obviously, there was this real joyfulness to coming to set every day. When season 15 ended, I just think that everybody felt like we weren't done. We all just felt like we had more stories in us; our characters had more to communicate, more to accomplish, more evolution to be engaged in.
KIRSTEN VANGSNESS (Penelope Garcia): I love the people I work with and it's the greatest job in the world. You get to fight imaginary crime, which is different than fighting real crime because you don't have all of the PTSD and trauma. I work with the coolest people. We are genuinely friends. Every time [I] do an interview and someone goes, "What do you think? Why do you think people love watching Criminal Minds?" I think they love this constant underscore of: We genuinely dig each other. I play one of the greatest characters ever. I'm not trying to say I get to do things and play a woman that I look up to so much — I get to be that Garcia part of myself in this job and I love that.
A.J. COOK (Jennifer "JJ" Jareau): It's such a laid back, mellow group of people and it's just easy. And Erica was going to be on board so yes, sign me up. It was more about the people. That's the biggest part of it, getting the gang back together again.
ADAM RODRIGUEZ (Luke Alvez): The fact that the material's great and I love telling these stories every week is a bonus. But this could have been the worst thing ever made and if these same people were involved, I would be ecstatic to be back working with them. People really enjoy watching [the show] and even since the pandemic, the audience has grown from what it was pre-pandemic. We're all reinvigorated to tell these stories again and be able to tell them in a way that we weren't necessarily able to tell them on network. We're all excited to raise the bar a little bit.
There's a pandemic backdrop this time around. How do we find the core characters when the season begins?
MESSER: Everybody's in a very different place. We've got Prentiss, who has now been promoted outside of the BAU unit chief. She has a new position where she oversees dozens of units. Rossi has taken her place as unit chief, but he's going through a big thing. So he's kind of in all five stages of grief when we meet him in the first two episodes. We will learn why by the end of the first hour. Alvez has been trying to help out raw scenes, sort of stay local for a while and handle those cases, while JJ and Lewis have answered every single consultant call that they've gotten in the last year, which means plenty of nights away from home and living on the road. The word from above, the bureaucrats, is, "Do more with less." I think we can all relate to that as well. Our teams have been downsized and everybody's still got the same amount of work to do.
With this separation, what can you tease about your character(s) dynamic with the rest of the BAU this season?
MANTEGNA: We're going to find that Rossi came in under odd circumstances… in the sense that it's no secret that he was one of the guys who started the BAU back with Gideon [Mandy Patinkin]. You're going to find that because of what's happened over the past few years, and the fact that there's been this time off and things have happened [and] changed — not just in the BAU, but with the world — that there's been some drama. Quite a bit of drama. It's going to be apparent.
BREWSTER: [Emily is] trying to go to bat with the FBI director to make sure the BAU has the resources it needs in order to operate effectively, but she's being shut down over and over again because of budget cuts. So she's in a really tricky position because she recognizes the help that the BAU needs, but how can she do it? And if she does it, is she crossing a line with her job responsibilities? She is feeling the anxiety of not being there and trying to protect everyone in the BAU. So that's sort of a question that we start to unwrap in the first couple of episodes: How is this going to play out? And who is this big, bad serial killer?
TYLER: You're going to see a tougher, more rugged, more intense Dr. Lewis than you've seen in the past. One of the things about Tara is that she's very self-sufficient, so it hasn't really taxed her relationship with the BAU. They love each other and respect the sacrifices they've made to choose this line of work, because it does require sacrifice. You see it, the inability to have a normal family life. For Tara, she's let a lot go in her life. Very early on in her time with the BAU, she left a relationship and dedicated her energy to this higher calling of solving crimes. It'll be interesting to see if she's going to be able to sustain her personal relationships, her professional relationships, in the eye of what's been a really, really difficult two years for everybody in the world.
VANGSNESS: When the series finale was over, the episode was called "And In The End," and one of the last things that happens is the big party, and Luke Alvez, Adam Rodriguez's character, has asked me out. They've gone out on a date and I'm sure everybody, me included, was like, "What's that? How does that work?" You'll find out and see… [Penelope] does not want to go back to the BAU. She can't do it because when you've had a period of time where you've reorganized yourself based on new values, you can't go back. When the show starts, I don't think the job and Garcia are energetically matching. She hasn't spent much time with [the core group], but that doesn't mean that she doesn't care about them. The group is very much family.
RODRIGUEZ: [Luke] has delved deeper into his work and the routine that gives him. He's spent the time trying to hone his craft. They've all been obviously separated and doing the things they've gone on to do, but there has been this longing to reform the group. [With Luke and Penelope], they can't decide if they want to be best friends or if there is something more there. There's always that fine line. When you're in a work relationship, you have to be really careful about choosing which side of that line to explore. I think we will continue to ride that line and have a lot of fun doing it. We will see if we ever decide to cross it. The two characters together are so funny because they're so different. The audience will get to see some more of that.
COOK: In the time that you didn't see, [JJ] and her family moved to New Orleans and she headed a department over there. Then, the pandemic got out of control and they decided to come back. So she's back with the BAU and it feels like we're all missing a limb because we're not all together. It really does come across that way because we're stronger together. So it's this battle to get the uppers to have the respect for the BAU and understand and truly appreciate what they do and how they work so much better together. The pandemic has been really hard on a lot of our characters. We're going to see some things that are heartbreaking but very relatable. We've all been through the ringer through quarantine and COVID. We really wanted to pay homage to that.
What can you divulge about this mysterious new unsub?
MESSER: What's great about telling this over 10 episodes is what the audience is used to, which is like, "Well, why are they the way they are?" We're going to be showing you that over stretches of episodes. Why they do what they do is always going to be the heart of Criminal Minds. But you are going to be trying to understand — because you get to know him better — understand this guy's ability to compartmentalize his life. Does he have anything normal in his world? One of his little rules is: No body, no crime. So why is he doing that? Is it just, "No body, no crime?" Or is there another psychological component to that? We start asking and looking at things a little bit differently than we would in a normal Criminal Minds.
Many of our faves are back together again with the exception of a few, including Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), etc. In what ways will these characters be incorporated into the revival?
MESSER: So their desks will still have stuff on them. They haven't gone away. Shemar's character went away when his son was born. He stepped away from the FBI, so his desk has been empty for a while. But Dr. Reed's desk still has all of his books on it and all of his belongings. Almost that same time capsule that… I don't know if any of you have gone back to the office, but it's a weird experience because whatever was important to you in March 2020 is still sitting on that desk and must not have been that important because it's still sitting on that desk. So we want that connection still with Dr. Reed and Matt Simmons (Daniel Henney), who is on another assignment as well. It's something we can't really discuss. But if and when they return, it's up to them. It's dependent on their schedules. I can't promise anything right now. But it's the hope.
Describe the revival in three words.
MESSER: The title [of the first] episode, which is "Just Getting Started."
MANTEGNA: Thrilled. We're. Back.
BREWSTER: Buckle up folks? I'm trying to think. Wheels up, buddies?
TYLER: I'm going to say, "Joy against darkness."
VANGSNESS: Sexy, sexy, bloody. Bloody and sexy and then sexy again.
COOK: It's just a more textured, elevated, mindf—k.
RODRIGUEZ: It's bigger, faster, stronger.
Criminal Minds returns to Paramount+ this fall.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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