Some Crime-Show Acorns Fall Far from Tree

By Rob Patterson

What makes some TV shows fly and others stumble, fumble and fall flat? I pondered this multimillion-dollar question as I watched the premiere of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and its second episode.

On paper, the idea seems workable, even promising. It’s a spin off of the relatively successful Criminal Minds, which I haven’t seen. After seeing Suspect Behavior, I was hardly impelled to watch the original — not a good sign for the new show.

The star is Forrest Whitaker, a fine actor as witnessed by his superb work in such films as The Crying Game, Ghost Dog and The Last King of Scotland.

That’s what attracted me in the promos I saw. I figured with him as its lead, the series at least had promise, could even besomewhat good.

It follows a proven TV formula that often works well with its team-oriented structure. In this case it follows a group of special FBI profilers and crime fighters.

Yet the team feels designed to fulfill a checklist of character types and audience appeal, and there’s little if any sense of camaraderie.

Yep, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior is a dog, and not a sleeping one that could come to life in the future. It’s not disastrous, but neither does it give me any reason to keep watching.

As the team’s leader, Whitaker seems to be recycling his strong, silent and mystical Ghost Dog role (a winner) as well as the smart yet strange law enforcement character found in Detective Robert Goren from Law & Order (that was at first compelling and came to be a bit irksome by the end of Goren’s run on the series).

Yet his character feels terribly forced and as overdone as burnt toast, even if the sources I sense worked. Even a great actor can give some lame performances. And in this show, you can see that Whitaker is acting, which always robs a performance of any credibility.

I also wanted to see how Janeane Garafalo fared as a co-star, and it wasn’t well. She’s a wry and winning comedian, and that has translated into some good comic acting.

But her initial work in this series seems to be similar to what makes her a bit irritating as a political commentator and activist: a sour seriousness, even though her politics are similar to mine and what’s found in this publication.

The sardonic barbs that resonate when she’s being funny leave a bitter taste when she gets dramatic as an actress or steps atop a political soapbox.

The plots feel contrived and overdone, especially in the second episode that featured a “Silence of the Lambs”-styled psychopath who was almost unintentionally funny as the character went way over the top. The writing strives for weight but comes off as forced and, ironically, bogged down in mud by its ambitions.

This would all seem to suggest that following formulas and expanding on a series to establish a franchise is an ill advised approach for new TV offerings. But just a glance how Law & Order has achieved disproves that.

And then there’s how hooked in I’ve become to Hawaii Five-O, even with its flaws. It also franchises another show: the 1969-80 series of the same name. It also follows the cops fighting crime and team formulas.

Its use of the popular modern quick-cut style of editing can be irritating. It flashes sexy women in bikinis just a bit too much, making it feel exploitative. A few episodes have had plots that didn’t quite cohere.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but like it and stay tuned in. The Five-O team actually feels like one that shares a genuine bond and esprit. Actor Alex O’Loughlin’s role as the son of the original Steve McGarrett, played by Jack Lord (who makes a cameo appearance in one episode), is believable.

The other new inserts into old roles also work, especially Scott Caan (son of James Caan) as McGarrett’s partner and sidekick Danny “Danno” Williams.

As a haole cop from New Jersey who doesn’t much care for the Hawaiian paradise, the character brings a vibrant tension to the series.

After a strong start in the ratings, the new Hawaii Five-O has been slipping. Hey — what do I know about why a TV show works or not? If I did I’d be out in Hollywood making the big bucks.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2011

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