Why Criminal Minds is the Best Show on Television by Ken Julian
I’m not a person who watches a lot of television. I have to be in the mood for it, and when I am, most of what I watch is documentaries about science, nature, and history. But there’s one show that never fails to enthrall me: Criminal Minds.
Criminal Minds follows an elite group of profilers who work with the FBI to apprehend serial killers before they strike again. And if you are at all interested in the workings of a criminal mind, this show is not to be missed.
Since I wrote an article about one Criminal Minds story arc earlier this year, I get asked why I find it so interesting. So here it is.
I have read that there are two types of people in this world: those who love CSI and those who prefer Law & Order. I am definitely a fan of both, but I have to admit my heart lies with the BAU team from Criminal Minds.
That’s because they’re more than law enforcement agents. They’re psychologists, psychiatrists, and behavioral scientists—they’re real experts on the inner workings of a criminal mind. And they have to be.
There are at least two serial killers in each episode, each with completely different M.O.s (modus operandi or method of operation). Some leave no clues behind, while others send cryptic messages to the police. And often, the killers put their own personal twist on whatever M.O. they choose to carry out.
But despite these differences, there are certain rules that serial killers follow—some of which have been identified as predictors for their next murder by Dr. David Canter and his colleagues at Mindhunter Associates. This is where Criminal Minds shines.
Because not only do we get to see how the team concocts a profile of each serial killer to predict who they’ll strike next, we also get to see examples of their rules in action, including what happens when some profilers violate them.
In many cases, this leads to dead ends and the need for a new profiler to be brought in. And it is the job of that new profiler to pick up where the last one left off, analyze how things went wrong, and correct those mistakes—all while continuing to work within Canter’s rules.
So let’s take a look at these rules and see what makes this show so much better than any other police drama on television.
The first rule is to get a “blueprint” of the crime scene. This includes not only taking pictures but also making sketches and doing measurements. Since we don’t have access to the actual crime scenes, this usually involves looking at old photographs taken by the police or FBI agents who initially responded to the crime. But even with just these pictures, there’s a lot you can learn about what happened at that scene—if you know where to look (and have a good eye for detail).
Then before the BAU team compiles their profile of each serial killer, they also need to talk extensively to the first responders and the detectives who initially investigated the case.
This is important because a quick look at any criminal offense shows that there are two parts to each crime: 1) the actual act and 2) the escape (or disposal). The two are usually closely related. And it’s hard for profilers to predict what a killer will do after they have committed the murder unless they’ve interviewed a lot of people in that community who have first-hand knowledge of what happens after each murder. This is where having law enforcement partners who support the BAU team is so important.
The next rule says: “Strive to understand the psychological makeup of your victim.” Why is this critical? Because it’s often the victim who provides clues to the identity of the unknown offender—a detail that law enforcement may have been looking for in vain.
It’s also true that serial killers often return to an area where they had killed before because it was an easy target, and they got away with it. The BAU team knows this, which is why they’re on the lookout for these types of crime scenes. And when a new crime appears to look like an old one, they don’t assume that it’s just a copycat crime. Instead, they dig deeper and may even go back to interview people from the first time around again to see if they noticed anything suspicious at all.
In all, Criminal Minds is a welcome departure from the standard police procedural drama. It gives the viewer a deeper look into what these killers are really like and how they operate. And it always keeps you guessing because as the show unfolds, you never know when the criminal profiler will violate one of Canter’s rules.
But as long as they stay within those rules, we’ll get lots more exciting episodes of this great show.
Ken Julian tweets about sports and TV online. Check out his Twitter to follow.