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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Criminal Minds - The First Season
Criminal Minds - The First Season
Paramount // Unrated // November 28, 2006
List Price: $64.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 23, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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In 10 Words or Less
One of the best dramas on TV

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Serial killers, mysteries
Likes: Shemar Moore, Matt Gray Gubler, Richard Shepherd
Dislikes: Elle Greenaway
Hates: Cop shows

The Show
When "Criminal Minds" made its debut on CBS, it did so at the same time as "Killer Instinct," another serial killer series on FOX. Watching an episode of each told me everything I needed to know about the two series. "Killer Instinct" died a quick death, failing to sway viewers solely on style and attitude, while "Criminal Minds" laid the foundation for a powerful Wednesday night line-up with strong storytelling, powerful acting and, yes, a good deal of style.

Using serial killers as the the core of the show was genius, as there's something inherently fascinating about a person either so motivated or so mentally ill that they arrive upon a unique signature to their crimes. That special facet raises the killer almost to the level of a super-villain, which certainly makes fighting them a special task and an interesting one. Of course, as we learned from "Killer Instinct," without excellent protagonists, good villains are a waste.

Fortunately, the "Criminal Minds" team of FBI profilers is loaded with greatness, starting with the group's leader, Jason Gideon, played perfectly by Mandy Patinkin. A curmudgeonly sort, Gideon is a careful guardian to his crew and a brilliant man capable of getting deep into the dark places of the mind of the UnSub (the profilers' name for the unknown criminal.)

Though the only known name besides Patinkin here is Thomas Gibson, the former lead of "Dharma and Greg," there is plenty of talent, especially the two male supporting actors, soap star Shemar Moore and Matthew Gray Gubler, who you may remember from The Life Aquatic. The underrated Moore plays the straight-laced, but coolly confident agent on the team, bringing an intimidating physicality, along with a sense of humor and a great deal of charm. He's probably the cast member you could best believe as an FBI agent.

The absolute opposite of Moore is Gubler's geeky Dr. Spencer Reid, a man with amazing intellect, but a severe personality deficit, due in part to his upbringing, but also his rapid progress through school. His unique perspective gives the show the chance to have the ultimate outsider for audiences to latch onto. He's also got plenty to learn about life.

The rest of the cast is good, but no one really stands out, though in the case of Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), it's mainly because of the limited screen time she received as the group's information center. Her flirtations with Moore were consistently amusing and the value of her role grew as the season progressed, culminating in her integral part in the season finale. Truthfully, with a quartet of actors like Patinkin, Gibson, Moore and Gray, there's not much room for much more.

Though the series, following a path set in the pilot by director Richard Sheperd, has a very stylish look to it, seen mainly in the "we are there" transitions used as the profilers try to think like their suspects, it's otherwise very straight-forward. There's the occasional special effect used, seen in episodes like "Derailed," but they always add to the story, showing what couldn't just be filmed, as well as delivering much of the gore and deviant human behavior that fascinates so many of us.

The first season features some fantastic episodes, including "Derailed," which sees hotheaded agent Elle Greenaway on her own in a train car with an armed mental patient, "Blood Hungry," where Gideon has to stay behind at the office, working long distance, and the emotionally-taut "Riding the Lighting," a story about a condemned woman who may not have committed her crime. The scope of the team's operations helps maintain a nice variety in the episodes, letting them travel to New Mexico for the excellent "The Tribe" and Mexico in "Machismo," a great take on a different culture's experience with serial killers. The show also does a great job of pulling idea from the headline, resulting in stories about snipers ("L.D.S.K"), food tainting ("Posion") and America's intricate connections with foreign governments ("Secrets and Lies").

What distinguishes this series from all the other cop/investigation thrillers on TV, is the lack of focus on the details and procedures. So much of what makes the show work is in the psychological insight into the characters, and how the way people think reveals so much about them. Unfortunately, the first season doesn't let us find out enough about what's inside our heroes, though the second season has begun to rectify that.

The only other true negative in this first season is the outstandingly complex season finale. There's nothing wrong with the story, except that it's the first half of a two-part case. That means you'll have to wait until the second season DVDs are released to find out what happens, unless you manage to catch a rerun of the second season's premiere, which is basically a one-shot possibility. They really should have included the first episode of season two to make the set a complete experience for viewers just stepping in.

The 22 episodes in "Criminal Minds"' first season are spread over six discs (four on the first five, two on the last,) which are packed in three slipcased dual-hubbed clear ThinPaks, which have episode descriptions. The discs feature animated anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to select individual shows, adjust the set-up and check out special features (where applicable.) Language options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, and English closed captioning, though there are no subtitles. For the more detail-focused among us, there's some bad news, as the packaging indicates some music has been replaced. It's hard, at least on my end, to pick out the changes, but if I had to guess, it would be in the final scenes, during which some beautiful songs have been heard.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfers in this set are beautiful, coming close to the quality of the show's HD broadcasts. Though the show runs a bit dark on average, the color is vivid when appropriate and the level of detail is extremely high. The image is crisp overall, though some noise is evident during lighter scenes with solid backgrounds. Surprisingly, a very small amount of dirt was noticeable on rare occasion, but for the most part these episodes are clean and well-reproduced.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strong, thanks to the use of the surround speakers to enhance the show's music, which plays a big part in crafting the series' atmosphere. The center channel handles all of the dialogue and most of the main sound effects, which it does without distortion. There's nothing dynamic about the mix, but a solid LFE channel hammers home dread in many scenes.

The Extras
The extras start with three episode-length audio commentaries.

  • "Extreme Aggressor": producer Mark Gordon, co-executive producer Deborah Spera and writer/creator Jeff Davis
  • "Derailed": writer/producer/director Edward Allen Bernero, cinematographer Glenn Kershaw, director Felix Alcala, assistant director Ian Foster Woolf and visual effects supervisor Henrik R. Fett
  • "Riding the Lightning": Bernero, writer Simon Mirren, make-up artist Dayne Johnson, production designer Vincent Jefferds and director Chris Long
The selection of episodes was smart, including the pilot and two emotionally powerful episodes, and the mix of participants gives the tracks a wide range of topics to touch on. The second two commentaries are the best of the three, as the first one is almost too conversational, with the trio joking around and not getting as deep into the material as the others do.

Five short deleted scenes are included on four episodes, selectable from the episode list. Unfortunately, no context is given for the scenes (with the exception of some mentions in the "Riding the Lightning" commentary), so it's unclear exactly why they were all cut. There's nothing earth-shaking in the material, but it's here to check out anyway.

A making-of featurette usually is just a promotional fluff piece with some on-set footage, interviews with the stars and lots of positive sentiments. What you don't' normally get is a 24-minute examination of just about every aspect of the show, including breakdowns of each character and the actors who play them. There are some pretty interesting tidbits here, including the revelation of the writers' inspiration for the show's construction.

"Inside Quantico & the Criminal Mind" highlights the reality behind the series, spending 13 minutes with true-life FBI profilers who work with the show, as they talk about their jobs and what goes into becoming agents. These are my favorite type of featurettes, as they expand on the main feature, adding value to the set.

The 14-minute "Meeting Matthew Gray Gubler" is the kind of featurette we need more on DVD, as it's not really about the show, but about him and his life, using his spotlight episode, "Somebody's Watching," as the connecting thread. Gubler's an unusual and interesting guy, and this fun extra lets us into his life.

The Bottom Line
As the audience for "Criminal Minds" grows, which it has to pass "Lost" in viewers, there are going to be plenty of people who will want to check out these early episodes, and Paramount has done right by them and the fans there from the beginning, delivering the first season in proper shape, with a very nice collection of supplements that show a good deal of thought. There are few series as riveting as "Criminal Minds," making the chance to plow through at your own pace a big reason to pick up this set.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter

*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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