Profiler: Before its time?

It must have been a strange feeling for Robert Davi when he made a guest appearance on the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds. Davi played the role of Detective Eric Kurz in the final episode of season five and the premiere of season six. It was only 10 years earlier that he closed the book on Agent Bailey Malone.

Agent Malone was Aaron Hotchner before there was Aaron Hotchner, just like Malone’s show Profiler was Criminal Minds before there was Criminal Minds. Starting in 1997, Profiler ran for four seasons on NBC’s Saturday night schedule. It followed the story of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force and Dr. Samantha Waters, its profiler (Ally Walker). Malone, Detective John Grant (Nip/Tuck’s Julian McMahon), George Fraley (Peter Frechette) and Dr. Grace Alvarez (Roma Maffia) followed Waters’ profiling instinct across the country to track and stop violent killers.

The VCTF had its stern leader in Malone, detective muscle in Grant and even CBS’ patented computer wiz in Fraley. Dr. Alvarez filled the forensics role. Sound familiar? They were Hotchner’s Behavioral Analysis Unit by a different name. Each member of Profiler’s team kept its duties more specialized than Hotchner’s BAU where all the characters seem almost equally adept at all the skills they need to track their “unsubs.”

Profiler’s story had an additional serial element that Criminal Minds mostly avoids. Its week-to-week stories took place on top of Dr. Waters’ personal life marked by an extreme tragedy: The death of her husband at the hands of a serial killer known only as “Jack.” Sam is haunted by the continual torture-hold Jack keeps her in as he weaves in and out of the show’s first three seasons until the VCTF ultimately apprehends him. It would be as if Foyet haunted Hotch for the entirety of Minds. Walker then left the show and it floundered quickly, lasting only one more season. Interestingly enough, Walker’s replacement was played by Madison Riley, who had a guest appearance on Criminal Minds in 2013.

Had it aired today, Profiler may have enjoyed a more successful fate. Broadcast television is a different place now than it was in the late 1990s. A look at last season’s top ratings compared to those of 1997 shows how much things have changed.

2011-12 Total Viewership

  1. NCIS 19.2 million
  2. American Idol (Wed) 17.7 million
  3. Dancing with the Stars (fall perf) 17.6 million
  4. Dancing with the Stars (spring perf) 17 million
  5. American Idol (Thurs) 16.6 million
  6. NCIS: Los Angeles 15.5 million
  7. Dancing with the Stars (fall results) 15.4 million
  8. The Big Bang Theory 14.9 million
  9. Dancing with the Stars (spring results) 14.7 million
  10. Two and a Half Men 14.6 million

See the rest.

Now the top broadcast shows of the 1996-97 television season

  1. ER 20.6 million
  2. Seinfeld 19.9 million
  3. Suddenly Susan 16.5 million
  4. Friends 16.3 million
  5. The Naked Truth 16.3 million
  6. Fired Up 16.6 million
  7. Monday Night Football 15.5 million
  8. The Single Guy 13.7 million
  9. Home Improvement 13.6 million
  10. Touched by an Angel 12.9 million

See the next 20 here.

Most glaringly, six of last year’s top shows were of the reality genre, which didn’t exist in  1997. Sitcoms accounted for similar bulk in 1997 taking up 70 percent of the list.

How would Profiler have ranked? Its 1996-97 viewership of 7.4 million put it 82nd. The same viewership last year would have vaulted it 30 spots higher, near the likes of Glee, House, Revenge and Scandal – all of which survived. Nearby shows like Terra Nova, NYC 22 and Missing weren’t so lucky. Following seasons saw Profiler jump to 9-10 million viewers, on par with Undercover Boss, How I Met Your Mother, Greys Anatomy, CSI: NY and The Amazing Race. Those shows survive easily.

Criminal Minds is a more mature show than Profiler. That could be due to CBS having perfected the criminal drama format. It turns out these shows like suburban model homes,  and that’s not a knock on the shows or suburban model homes. Okay maybe a little bit. This Business Insider piece from two years ago explains how they do it (even though it was prompted by a Minds spinoff that didn’t last the season). Each show benefits from the others’ successes, and Profiler never had that benefit on the NBC of the late 1990s. Not to say it would have lasted longer if it had, just that it existed on more of an island than Criminal Minds does today.

Even with that help, I don’t think Criminal Minds is perfect. Minds is set up in a way that removes as much of a viewer’s need to think as it possibly can. Dr. Spencer Reid does most of the hand holding as the team member with an eidetic memory – basically he knows everything. That’s awfully convenient. Every development in the show is revealed through dialogue, usually as a series of questions, discussions and realizations by the BAU team. Very little is actually shown. You can close your eyes and listen to it for an entire episode without missing much of anything. Profiler was more artful than that. I’d love to see a breakdown between the average amount of time in each show without dialogue. My bet would be Profiler comes out on top. And that’s why it’s my favourite of the two. It could also be why it didn’t last half as long as Minds.

Davi appeared in two of what I think are Criminal Minds’ darkest episodes as a serial killer murdered families and left only one survivor to remember the horrors. As he looked around the set, I wonder if Davi saw Profiler as a show that came before its time?

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Revolution? Meh.

As I watched the fall season of NBC’s boldly hyped new drama “Revolution” I kept thinking that this isn’t really a show about how the world lost electricity.  What is it then?

Is it a show about life without electricity? Not really. The story takes place 15 years after the power went off, so everyone is beyond learning how to live in a post-electric world. We aren’t seeing them struggle with the give and take between the modern lifestyle they were used to and the pre-industrial world they were forced to live in.

Is it a show about reuniting family? Maybe. In order to get the power back on (in a way that prolongs his power), militia leader Sebastian Monroe kidnaps the son of a prisoner whom he suspects knows why it went off in the first place, hoping the threat to his safety will force her tell him how to turn it back on. This prompts the boy’s teenage sister, Charlie, to chase after him with her step mom and a friend from their cul-de-sac village. She reunites with mysterious Uncle Miles in Chicago and they trek east to the heart of Monroe territory on what seems like a suicide mission. So it’s sort of a show about reuniting family.

But that would only work if I actually cared about them reuniting, which I do not.

As Lost showed us so well, stress reveals characters. It can also change them. We don’t know how the blackout changed these characters because we only met them after it did. By starting the show 15 years later, the writers forced themselves to put that journey on the back burner. The show suffers because of it.

Except when it doesn’t. The only story with any emotional resonance during the fall season was the death of Maggie Foster, Charlie’s stepmom. Here the writers took the time to show us what she went thru after the blackout. Knowing what she lost, what she gained and what she had to give up on, bought her untimely death just as Lost bought Boone’s death in season one. A one-episode look at Aaron Pittman revealed that he is more than just a tech wizard wandering aimlessly in a no-tech world. Before we knew his story, he was the fat nerd with a beard. Now we feel sorry for him but also happy that he has found self-worth in this group.

The show doesn’t do as well with its main characters, and that’s where it really falls flat. The flashback stories that are supposed to draw us to them aren’t compelling. Charlie, for example, is driven to rescue her brother after her father dies. The writers then take us back to show her mom abandoning their family, creating a redundancy that fails to show us anything about Charlie we couldn’t have learned from the death of her father. They lost valuable story telling time showing it to us twice. Sloppy.

Swordsman extraordinaire Miles Matheson doesn’t deliver either. He is a whiny military burnout who constantly threatens to leave, and most of the time you find yourself wishing he would. His only purpose seems to be to kill bad guys when Charlie gets in trouble.

With its two main characters being so uninteresting, Revolution failed to get the payoff it was hoping for as the fall plot came to a head. Charlie’s reunion with the mother she thought was dead carried no emotional punch whatsoever. We only knew her father long enough to see him get killed; we’re supposed to feel something when she finds out one of her parents is still alive? After she spent the entirety of the season forgetting about that and chasing after her brother? Please. This would be akin to seeing Walt get taken from Michael without knowing what they each went thru before the crashed on the island. Makes Charlie’s reunion look pretty empty, doesn’t it?

Miles’ confrontation with Monroe had an exciting start, but it again fizzled because Miles just isn’t that likeable. The show missed an opportunity to bond you to his character when it revealed that the Monroe Militia logo contains to Ms to represent Miles and Monroe. Had the writers delved more into Miles than just showing him as a cranky former bad ass, that kind of revelation would matter. Instead, it is an afterthought.

I won’t be watching Revolution’s spring season. Considering that it features the unfathomably gorgeous Elizabeth Mitchell and guest spots from Mark Pellegrino, that should be an indication of how much I feel this show flopped. There are three timelines it can play with – pre-blackout, immediately post-blackout and the present day. All three can help it showcase its characters. If it sounds like the writers figured out how to do this, I might catch up with it. But I’m doubtful.

Spring 2012 TV review

Using one word to sum up the shows I watched this television season.

Terra Nova: Failed.

Terra Nova could have been outstanding, instead it’s off the air. That is disappointing but not surprising. Even thought it was ridiculously expensive, FOX said it made money off the show internationally and hinted it would try to sell the show to a different network or possibly Netflix. Netflix however announced it would not buy the show. Still, FOX is reportedly keeping everyone under contract in case the show does find a second life. Should that happen, the show needs a ton of work to become anything remotely worth anyone’s time.

Alcatraz: Lame.

Jorge Garcia is, like, adorable on television, dude. But Alcatraz sucked. Bad. The main character, a female cop lured into investigating the sudden reappearance of Alcatraz prisoners, was horribly miscast. Do real cops show that much cleavage or just TV cops? She was not believable for even one second. Sam Neil’s character was kinda interesting, but not nearly interesting enough to keep the show afloat. There was some interesting stuff here, though. Sam Neil’s character being a guard at the prison when whatever happened to it happened served as a nice tie-in to the story’s two time periods. His Richard Alpert-esque kinda-sorta love interest who was brutally shot and laid in a coma also set the groundwork for something that could have been very compelling. But on an episode-by-episode basis the show seemed to forget all of that.

BUT…I like to Google shows while I’m writing about them. In so doing I read about what happened in the season finale and I have to say I’m stunned. Stunned to the point where I might have to go back and pick up where I left off to see how it all turned out.

Revenge: Unexpected.

Just as Revenge was heating up, ABC inexplicably put it on one of its moronic hiatuses, although at only six weeks this one is shorter than the break that did in Flash Forward. The storyline had finally come back to the engagement party it started with in the pilot. I felt it was a little cheap, but still pretty good. It will have to transition from the summer-in-the-Hamptons setting that it used to augment the soap opera feeling, but I’m looking forward to what it has in store for when ABC eventually lets it back on the air.

Once Upon a Time: Disappointing.

The first two episodes of Once Upon a Time were really neat. Then it kinda wandered. The premise of an evil fantasy witch trapping real-life versions of fairytale characters in an idyllic seaside town is creative and fun. But then it seemed the show wasn’t even about that anymore. The first few episodes had clear connections between what happened in fantasy land and what happened in Storybrooke. After that it flattened out. It is so uninteresting now that I wonder why I even continue to watch it. Adam Horowitz and Mankato native Edward Kitsis earned a lot of loyalty from their work on Lost, but even that is slowly running out. This show needs to pick it up, fast, or else it’s off the list.

Awake: Intriguing.

I hadn’t even heard about this NBC show (maybe because it is on NBC) until Damon Lindelof tweeted about how much he liked the pilot. So I checked it out and damn if it ain’t really well done and really intriguing. The premise is this: An LA cop is in a car crash with his wife and teenage son. He wakes up to find his wife survived but his son died. But then he goes to sleep and wakes up in a completely different timeline where his wife died but his son survived. This is intriguing enough, but the way they weave together the cases he works on in both realities adds a second layer of interest that is really cool. On top of that they add two psychiatrists – one in each reality – who each try to convince him that what he experiences is the other reality is not, in fact, reality at all.

Awake has “it.” It is the rare show that takes a good story and makes it even better through perfect storytelling. Which reality is real? Both? Neither? What’s the deal with his wife-reality boss hinting that the accident wasn’t an accident at all? If there’s a mention of that in his son-reality timeline, I missed it. Does that mean it is the fake one? This show is so good and so superbly done that it will be on the air for a long, long time.

American Horror Story: Compelling.

Person of Interest: Exceeding.

The River: Stupid.