Review: Criminal Minds – Beyond Borders 1×1 (US: CBS; UK: W)

Fear the world, Americans, and know you're better

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by W (Watch). No airdate yet

Americans seem to be frightened by pretty much everything. Here’s a cartoon that explains the history of American fear:

To be fair, the media does help to make everything in the US seem frightening, so you can’t blame them. Fortunately, CBS – the network that likes to conservatively wave a US flag with one hand while firing a 9mm with the other – is ready to first terrify everyone by confirming that everything in the US is indeed very frightening, before reassuring Americans with procedural after procedural that America’s finest will catch the baddies.

Fear first, reassurance later. Just trust in the FBI et al and remember to vote against anyone who’d do anything to restrain their unfettered powers. Because then everyone will die. Everyone. They’ll just be dead. Because of crime. And maybe the terrorists. And disease. Disease from the terrorists. Who are immigrants.

That’s why they gave us Criminal Minds, a show that tries very, very hard to convince us it’s about highly intelligent, almost utterly humorless FBI agents who’ll protect American lives at all costs from a different dangerous sociopath every week, largely by reciting poetry. In actuality, it’s really just mind-numbingly stupid fear-mongering. That hasn’t stopped it from milking the fear-reassurance cycle for all its worth for almost as long as this ‘ere blog has been running 

Of course, American fear doesn’t stop at its borders. After all, no one would even think about building a great big brick wall along those borders if there was nothing out there to be frightened of, would they? Taken, for example, is quite a fun little action movie with a refreshingly unglamorous view of prostitution, violence et al, but which nevertheless considers a trip to Paris to be one of the most terrifyingly dangerous things a teenage American could ever consider doing. Yeah, kid, stay in LA. You’ll be a lot safer there.

Once again, then, you have to hand it to CBS for trying to milk this literal xenophobia in as efficient a manner as possible with Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, a spin-off from the mothership of fear. Now, this isn’t the first time the network has tried to create a Criminal Minds spin-off: Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior has that honour, in which a rapid FBI anti-sociopath reaction force did the Criminal Minds formula just faster and with less blinking, as Forest Whitaker was in the cast. That rightfully died a fiery death in the ratings.

However, CBS is the king of spin-offs, having managed to get four extra shows out of CSI and about seventy out of NCIS. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll iterate until it gets it right.

So first, as is now traditional with CBS spin-offs, we got an in-show pilot to test the waters for Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. This features series lead, the faux king of the flag-waving patriots – CSI: NY lead Gary Sinise – and the rest of the potential new show’s cast. 

That proved popular – or unhateful – enough for the show to go to full season, although either Anna Gunn had enough sense to jump ship first or the powers that be decided that she wasn’t hot enough and brought in Forever‘s Alana de la Garza to replace her. 

Now, a full year later and we have the whole thing in its magnificent “Fear foreigners! America is best! Trust the FBI!” glory. The show’s basic set-up is simple. Once again, it seems people are bored by Criminal Minds‘s pensive slowness so we have yet another rapid reaction force out to stop baddies. However, here, the FBI have their own shiny jet that allows them to go anywhere they want in the world to rescue Americans in trouble while simultaneously being as patronising and as racist as possible to everyone they come across.

In this first proper episode of Criminal Minds: Without Jurisdiction, we travel to Thailand – apparently now the top place for murders against Americans, not Chicago – to search for three disappeared American teenagers. Yes, three teenagers have gone missing and before even a bored, overworked US Embassy official can get away from having to deal with lost passports to see if they’ve simply gone to a local bar, the FBI are swooping in with their mighty jet on a no-expense spared mission to save them from their unknown fate/bar. Imagine what would happen if an American’s iPhone battery ran out in Spain at the same time and Find A Friend stopped working. Would the FBI be able to cope, as it mobilised seven divisions to locate him? He can only hope – and that they bring the right kind of charging cable with them because it wasn’t clear if he had an iPhone 4 or an iPhone 5 when they set out.

Anyway, before you know it, Sinise, his regulation manly, running underling (Daniel Henney), his regulation nerdy medical girl underling (Annie Funke), his regulation black bow-tie wearing tech underling (Tyler James Williams) and his regulation hot girl/cultural guide (de la Garza) are zooming around Thailand, insulting the poplace. “It’s not the Thai police force’s job to help Americans in trouble. It’s our job,” says Sinise. Erm, no, it is their job. You can check. And actually, it’s definitely not your job now you’re in Thailand. 

Meanwhile, de la Garza is advising everyone not to shake hands with the opposite gender because it’s taboo in Thailand. Can we not do it anyway, just to show them how backward they are and how great American women are, the others wonder?

Bring them out of the middle ages just like that? De la Garza laughs at their naivety. These people are primitive and always will be. They can’t be expected to be as great as the 13th best country in the world for women, even if they do get paid maternity leave, unlike American women.

She should know: she’s just spent the last five weeks learning three new languages including Thai, while studying their philosophies of life and death. Look, she’ll even do a Criminal Minds-proper and quote some Thai wisdom, which we’ll stick on the screen to impress the viewers into thinking they’re watching something smart, rather than something insanely dumb.

And then they go off and shoot things, while trying very, very hard to pretend they’re smart and can read books without moving their lips.

This feels like the kind of show that’s going to fail very quickly. More so, it’s going to fail in part because it feels like Team America crossed with Life, The Universe And Everything, with Team Sinise going from country to country, shooting and insulting them in order, like some procedural Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged. And how are the foreign sales going to shape up after a season of that?

Still, Criminal Minds – which has the intellect of someone who’s had their brain methodically scooped out and replaced by a combination of raspberry jelly and the Cliff’s Notes for Keats’ Ode On a Grecian Urn – is still going after 10 seasons, so it’s entirely possible that something that sticks so close to its formula, manages to get a cameo-blessing from Joe Mantegna and allows Americans to feel simultaneously smuggly superior about their superb law enforcement services and frightened by all backward foreigners everywhere, is going to survive. 

I hope not, though.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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