The success of CBS’ Criminal Minds, now in its 11th season, makes complete sense if you don’t think about it for too long. It’s a by-the-books procedural that focuses more on the behavior psychology behind criminals (a truly fascinating subject) rather than on the simpler hunt, chase, and arrest that exists in so many other crime procedurals. The series emphasizes real fears, occasionally employs longer arcs that actually feature some character development, and it’s easy to find yourself absently watching eight episodes in a row without realizing eight hours have passed. Following the natural progression of popular procedurals, Criminal Minds produced a spin-off in 2011 with Suspect Behavior, which was led by Forest Whitaker and only lasted one short season. Five years later and Criminal Minds is trying once again, this time with Beyond Borders—but the series still hasn’t quite gotten it right.
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders takes the same basic idea of the original series—a diverse group of FBI agents/criminal profilers who work together to solve horrific crimes—but goes overseas, focusing on crimes affecting Americans on international soil. Already, this introduces an inherent problem: By design, this premise means that Americans will always be the innocent victims in need of rescuing and foreigners will always be the evil villains, harming those who come to their country. There is a strange and uncomfortable xenophobic theme that runs through the two episodes screened for critics, a fault that the series doesn’t seem like it wants to correct.
Outside of that, Beyond Borders also fails to set itself apart from the mass of similar cop-versus-criminals programs that litter the television schedule. In the series premiere, “The Harmful One” (a backdoor pilot was aired during season 10 of Criminal Minds proper), the setup is as expected. A cold open introduces a crime—three white American college students go missing while heading to Bangkok—and then the International Response Team enters: Unit Chief Jack Garrett (Gary Sinise, phoning it in just to get those CBS checks) leads, Matt Simmons (Daniel Henney) is a former Marine and current family man, Monty (Tyler James Williams, in a role that’s very beneath him) is the resident nerd/tech analyst who mostly talks to the team through various screens while scrolling through other screens, Mae Jarvis (Annie Funke) is a cheerful, “fun” medical examiner who I think is supposed to provide comic relief, and Clara (Alana De La Garza) as the latest addition to the team, returning after a two-year sabbatical. All of these characters are nothing more than vague sketches, first-draft passes that never went through the rewrite stage. The actors themselves seem to know that they’re slumming it, doing the bare minimum to get paid and lazily delivering lines that never really land.
“The Harmful One” finds the team heading to Thailand to find the missing co-eds, two pretty white girls (and a bonus love triangle!) who are being held hostage by a crazed Thai man (see where the problems occur?) with a pretty screwed up reasoning for his violence. This all occurs while the show shoehorns in the necessary exposition, such as the interpersonal relationship between Jack and Clara. Mostly, however, it reminds viewers that Thailand isn’t great, making note of the vast difference between the amount of male and female officers or warning the female FBI agents that the men will refuse to shake hands or even acknowledge the women’s presence.
This off-putting approach to portraying other countries doubles down in “Harvested,” in which the team travels to Mumbai after an American attends a festival there, takes drugs (“Bro, we’re in India. Cut loose,” his friend encourages), and wakes up without a kidney. Yep, the second episode is already about organ trafficking—with a twist! (It is not a particularly interesting twist.) It’s another episode where the majority of officials there are decidedly unhelpful, depicted as callous or uncaring. “It’s not their job to worry about missing Americans. It’s ours,” Jack says at one point, echoing what it is essentially the gross thesis of the whole show.
Criminal Minds doesn’t away from graphic depictions of violence and Beyond Borders takes it one step further, to a point where gratuitous violence doesn’t build the narrative but instead completely detracts from it: the camera doesn’t cut away from a throat being slit; it focuses steadily on a man’s eyelids being peeled open to reveal that his eyes are missing. It’s a series that teases you to look away—you’re better off never glancing at it in the first place.