Backstory, Layer One: I was unenthused by the backdoor pilot, but ever since I found out they replaced Anna Gunn with Alana de le Garza, I've been hotly anticipating the proper show's release.
Backstory, Layer Two: The last Criminal Minds episode I saw was the Derek's Torture one, and before I could finish processing it, night work swept me up in its cyclone grasp, and so eventually I threw it in cold storage and took the opportunity to start fresh with its spin-off sibling. It was not just good, it went beyond all expectations -- by halfway through the pilot I was head over heels with joy and it has yet to let me down. I even started chewing through episodes on an actual weekly basis, which for me is basically binge watching, and have now seen the entire 13-episode first season.
As I said to muzzy-olorea so very long ago, back when I had only seen 3 episodes, "every actor and/or character just has the most pleasing face/personality/EVERYTHING." Instant attachment. Let's review:
Gary Sinise as Jack Garret: the first of many delightful things about this series is how much it simultaneously is and isn't like watching Mac Taylor. There is a strong streak of Gary Sinise in both, and the similarities are obvious in the no-nonsense leadership attitude, the rigid moral center/Catholic faith, and the somewhat reserved demeanor. But Jack seems a touch less reticent -- he has a college age daughter, for one (which I'm sure will pay off spectacularly in the future), and his leadership is less isolated. The four of them seem more like true colleagues even though he's clearly in charge. He also seems a bit more communicative and open to discussing feelings.
Annie Funke as Mae Jarvis: the second most delightful thing is how wonderfully much she reminds me of Anna Belknap/Lindsay Monroe in both face in and personality. The shades of CSI: NY: Mirrorverse are unparalleled. She's the breath of fresh and cheerful air that Miss Montana was so long ago, minus the relationship drama that eventually exhausted her and also like five times more plucky. She is cute as a button, probably identical to the person who first inspired the term "curvy," and I love how much self confidence she has. The fact that there are two men on this team yet she is one having all the casual-dating fun in this group is a special kind of delight.
Alana de la Garza as Clara Seger: WHERE DO I EVEN START. I have been professionally stanning her face as one of the prettiest women in television for a decade (#team Marisol Delko forever -- and let me just keep that CSI theme rolling), and she just seems to keep getting more beautiful. But our paths haven't crossed much in recent years, which is why it was such a joy to hear she'd been released from her Forever chains and freed up to join my ride. And lo, I could not have asked for a better character.
I love the idea of her being a world traveler (and I don't give that praise lightly; you know that is something I usually actively campaign against) in the wake of the tragic loss of her husband (my heart! and I'm not even usually here for woman pain), and that she picks up languages like other people pick up souvenirs. I love hearing her use local accents and facilitate translations. I love her strong friendship with Jack. Am I going to a shipping place? No wait, he's married, so I could but I won't. No, what I'm picking up is a real strong Mac/Stella vibe. And it's really beautiful to see. I also quite like the style of her friendship with Mae. Like, they're not really naturally suited to be friends, Clara is so quiet and calm and Mae is so aggressively enthusiastic and extroverted, but when they're the only two women around they seem to easily connect.
David Henney as Matt Simmons: And then there's this guy. I originally thought I knew him as Kono's husband on Hawaii Five-Oh, but turns out I actually know him as Smarmy Peter on Revolution, the third creator of the Nanotech code who became a crazy religious healer. Here is much less smarmy, and in fact his role here is to be a full-on family man. (side note: two married family men? Well, that can't be good in the long run. I'm pretty sure this type of show has a maximum allowance of zero to one of those) I also really dig the friend vibe between him & Mae on that one where she hopped on the motorcycle with him. Also, he is a good-looking man. As is everyone on this team. Is it to improve their impression overseas in countries where people think all Americans are obese slobs?
Also Starring: Tyler James Williams as Monty The Tech Kid: he's...all right. Just sort of "there." He will always looks like an awkward yearling colt who hasn't quite grown into his body yet, very gangly. It actively pains me to watch him try to act like a Certified Grown-Up (if they don't stop making him talk to victims' family members I am going to howl; his attempt to sound like a comforting/responsible adult to people who are uniformly older than him is THE WORST), but he has his moments of humor. I liked the one where he was like, "if I were a teenage girl, where would I hide my super-secret communication with my super-secret boyfriend...")
Speaking of CM proper: I literally cannot make myself remember this is a Criminal Minds spin-off. It is SO its own unique beast that when they use terms like "deliver the profile" or reference characters from Criminal Minds, it always jars me out of the moment. By comparison, CM has a very rigid, by-the-book Washington Rules style, whereas this team is just out on wild independent adventures, adjusting their investigation style as the local office & customs of the week demand (and meeting them is always fun on its own). On top of that, the locales are gorgeous. and while I hate the boring quotes on the original, here when they find quotes from the country/language of the week and display them in said language, I find myself eagerly anticipating them.
Like the original, the show is mostly case-focused, with a bit of personal time set aside at the beginning and end. But I think they're being very careful in how they do that so far, not overloading us with a backstory dump. I'm showing up because I want to see these people work, in the way a sled dog team is there to work rather than sitting around being petted like most dogs, and that's what I'm getting. They happen to have great personalities while doing that work, which is why I keep coming back, but it's a rare and precious thing when I watch a crime show based on my interest in seeing crimes investigated and solved. I know and hope that won't last forever, but it's kind of nice right now. Mostly because it means I can't suffer from emotional blockage, whether trauma or overwhelming-joy induced.
Final Conclusion: I made a very deliberate choice to continue watching them all one after another rather than stopping to write about each one, and that has served me well. I can't promise I'll keep that up next year -- OH HEY did I tell you I just found out it got renewed? -- but I am definitely on board for more, and if I were still doing annual report cards, I would give this season a big fat A.
Bonus: Before I go... decided I would do a quick write-up of each case because I thought they were all that strong. I also found out that they were mostly produced in a wildly different order from how they aired, which is a thing that always, always angers me in short first seasons. I'm writing about them in aired order, but according to Wiki, the production codes for the eps as listed below are: 1, 4, 7, 10, 8, 2, 6, 3, 9, 11, 5, 12, 13
**Casual Spoilers Will Probably Follow**
1. "The Harmful One": two female college student volunteers being ritualistically hunted in the Thailand jungle because something something family honor. That plays on all the worst fear scenarios, and I personally jumped a foot in the air when we first saw his face, so good work.
2. Harvested: India, urban legend organ theft -- WITH A TWIST! Which impressively rescued this from being another version of a tired and recycled plot that all the crime shows inevitably do.
3. Denial: Egypt, gas attacks...this one I don't remember so much except that the killer was not who I expected. I dunno why they bumped it up so early; it's one of the least interesting ones.
4. Whispering Death: Japan, in which I learn about a generational trend of shut-ins who cope with failing to live up to the pressure of being successful adults by living in their bedrooms forever and only interacting online (OH NO IT ME), and also about the suicide forest that apparently exists in Japan and which is apparently the setting for that Natalie Dormer movie The Forest that I thought looked good based on a 30-second TV promo, but now think sounds AMAZING and wanna see asap except oh damn it I am 30th on the list and there's only 3 copies in the library.
In other words, I was a fan.
5. The Lonely Heart: France + mentally unbalanced man with an unrequited crush creating symbolic art projects out of his victims bodies. I loved the tie-in with American idioms.
6. Love Interrupted: Belize, in which Autumn Reeser makes me not care whether she is rescued, but way to make a real terrifying new-husband-execution scenario.
7. Citizens of the World: elderly couple held hostage for ransom in Morocco -- by members of a unique nomadic tribe I've never heard of before. This show and its...what is the -ology I'm looking for her...lessons, my stars.
8. De Los Inocentes: bickering parents learn there are worse things than going on a family vacation to Mexico right before you divorce. Bland. Or maybe I just hated the ultimate reason for her death -- such a waste.
9. The Matchmaker: Turkey, and far and away the best. I LOVED that actress -- and oh hey, I didn't even recognize her as Previously Known As Emily Fornell! She seemed familiar, but I didn't know why. I just thought she was super pretty and charismatic and really sold the desperation of that character/showed how a slightly naive American girl could be manipulated into terrorism without religious zeal. Sonya Walger's role was perfect, and that teenage love story turned out stupid-sweet, my stars. Lastly, the police chief there -- Cas Anvar, the actor's name is -- kept turning his head in ways that gave him striking similarity to my fave Warbler Curt Mega, so that just added to the fun.
10. Iqiniso: to South Africa we go, to dredge up the ghosts of Apartheid past and cast suspicion on the villain of The Mummy. Plus a little Medium-style speaking to the dead, in a very cool bit of local flavor.
11.The Ballad of Nick and Nat: Ex-Pat Bonnie and Clyde leave a trail of anti-American murders in their path across Cuba. Very well done.
12. El Toro Bravo: Spain during The Running Of The Bulls, in which tourists' chopped-off ears are turning up. They've disrespected the bulls, you see.
13. Paper Orphans: Haiti and Madeline McCann syndrome, except not an unsolved mystery this time. Between the mass grave and the spotlight on the rampantly awful living conditions, I was really hooked into this one. Plus there was a relatively sympathetic unsub, and this time Jack didn't have to shoot anyone. (he's really taking after some of his less savory FBI namesakes when it comes time to apprehend the killer, after displaying so much patience and restraint the rest of the time. How many of these cases have ended in fatal shootings, seriously?)
Order of favorites so far based solely on case: The Matchmaker, The Harmful One, The Ballad of Nick and Nat, Iqniso, Whispering Death, Paper Orphans, The Lonely Heart, El Toro Bravo, Citizens of the World, Harvested, Love Interrupted, Denial, De Los Inocentes