Criminal Minds: Evolution review: The faithful revival is grotesque and upsetting — and fans will love it
Confession: I have never understood the appeal of Criminal Minds. It was pretty clear from the opening minutes of the 2005 series premiere — in which an "unsub" (unknown subject) chains a woman up in a dog cage and forcefully deprives her of her fingernails — that this grey-washed crime procedural about agents who profile serial killers is simply not for me. (Original star Mandy Patinkin eventually came to the same conclusion.)
Of course, those agents at the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) did just fine without the help of squeamish folks like myself and Mandy. Millions of people loved Criminal Minds, keeping it running for 15 seasons and 324 episodes. In an impressive show of restraint, the folks at Paramount+ waited a full year after the original went off the air in 2020 before announcing a streaming sequel, Criminal Minds: Evolution (premiering Nov. 24). Fans who wish to have their turkey with a side of torture porn can give thanks for this comfortably familiar revival, which delivers Criminal Minds in all its upsetting, formulaic, cheesy, and weirdly gratifying splendor. Plus, there are f-bombs.
Two years after we saw them last, the BAU is still hunting down bad guys — but time hasn't been kind to everyone on the team. Unit Chief Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) is moving up the ranks at the FBI, though her smug G-man boss, Deputy Director Bailey (Nicholas D'Agosto), prioritizes good press and budget cuts over the BAU's needs. Having suffered a personal loss that he's not gonna talk about, dammit, a haggard Agent Dave Rossi (Joe Mantegna) obsesses over finding a "family annihilator," all the while lashing out at fellow agents JJ Jareau (A.J. Cook) and Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez).
The only happy BAU-er is a former BAU-er: Mega-brilliant tech analyst Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is working a new job and living "a gorgeous life" with no murder, doom-scrolling, or toxic energy allowed. But her expertise is desperately needed when the team uncovers this season's centerpiece psycho: a soft-spoken IT expert named Elias Voit (the perpetually wonderful Zach Gilford).
Based on the two episodes made available for review, Evolution follows the standard Minds blueprint. After a literally dreadful cold open (helpless victim comes to in some kind of torture bunker, sinister-looking implements glint on a nearby tray, etc.), the BAU team gets to work, guided by a philosophical quote that someone intones gravely via voiceover: "The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live" (or whatever). The gore is mostly limited to horrific crime-scene photos that the agents swipe through casually on their phones or slam in front of a suspect to get him to talk — though in episode 2, Dr. Tara Lewis (Aisha Tyler) simply describes a crime that is so disgusting, I had to walk away from my screen.
Gilford's gentle, nice-guy demeanor adds a particular menace to Elias, who spent the pandemic building a network of serial killers. As always, Mantegna gives good tough guy, and he's also the only actor who seems comfortable spitting out the newly coarse dialogue ("I'm not going to name this jag-off. F--- him!"). The first two episodes drop in some clever Easter eggs for die-hard fans — including one aimed directly at Luke-Garcia shippers.
At times the plotting is facile, and the scripts have their share of groaners ("Agent Rossi has forgotten more about serial offenders than we will ever know!"), but nobody comes to Criminal Minds for complexity and nuance. Showrunner Erica Messer knows that her viewers want something very simple and satisfying: Good conquers evil in under an hour, or by the end of a 10-episode season at the very least. And I found myself relating deeply to some wisdom Garcia offers Rossi: "Even when you do the right thing, even when you stop serial killers, your body is absorbing that trauma." Count me out, but no doubt millions of Criminal Minds fans will be happy to soak it all in. Grade: C
Criminal Minds: Evolution premieres Nov. 24 on Paramount+.
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