Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
CBS has its procedural game down to a science. After ten seasons of success with the crime thriller Criminal Minds (and one not-so-successful spinoff, subtitled Suspect Behavior), the network has decided to section off a new segment of its FBI profiling world. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders brings back the world-traveling team first introduced in the parent series and gives them their own cavalcade of off-putting psychopaths to chase down.
The difference here is moreso in location (Thailand and India in the two episodes sent for review, but suspect green screen suggests a CBS lot in Southern California) than team dynamics. Anyone familiar with this kind of cop show procedural formula will undoubtedly find easy pickings in the line-up of likable leads offered beyond the borders of Criminal Minds’ America-locked OG series. But there’s simply nothing else to the show: it is, unapologetically, a no-frills, assembly line crime show that knows what its viewers want. If you’re one of them, that’s great; if you aren’t, well, at least CBS has one genre show on the air.
“Over 68 million Americans leave the safety of our borders every year,” Unit Chief Jack Garrett (Gary Sinise) informs us in the opening credits for each episode of Beyond Borders. He’s backing the FBI’s International Response Team – which is presented in those opening credits with all the seriousness and none of the irony of Team America: World Police – and responds to the call when hapless Americans get snatched, kidnapped, organs stolen, or sneeze, essentially.
Backing Jack is medical examiner Mae Jarvis (Annie Funke), field agent Matthew Simmons (Daniel Henney), tech wiz Russ Montgomery (Tyler James Williams), and token former flame Clara Seger (Alana de la Garza). The interplay between the team actually works to make Beyond Borders an easier pill to swallow; everyone here is more than amiable and mostly avoid feeling as rigid as the scripts their characters are locked in.
Sinise is solid if unexciting in the lead role, but he’s been at the CBS procedural game for over a decade (heading up CSI: NY for nearly 200 episodes), so you can hardly fault the guy for turning on autopilot every now and then. The young cast does a lot of the heavy lifting in making Beyond Borders feel worth watching, thanks to a stoic everyman in Henney and not cringeworthy tech kid in The Walking Dead’s Williams, who manages to tiptoe through technobabble with ease (although his sequestering to Quantico, Virginia cuts down on a lot of potentially interesting interactions between him and the team).
But Funke is the bigger winner; Mae’s plucky eagerness to dive into macabre situations – thanks to her background working in a morgue – never comes close to crossing the border into quirkiness. She’s interesting and steadfast, and although the show doesn’t have much of a captivating, unique voice when it comes to the big-picture dichotomies amongst societies, some of the roadblocks presented to her make for compelling-enough reasons at murder-mystery subterfuge.
It’s just that the situations her and the team are investigating have the blunt delivery of a corroded knife kidney transplant. In the two episodes made available to critics (the pilot and, puzzlingly, the fourth hour, no doubt buttressing the case-of-the-week structure of the franchise), young Americans are in dire peril. First, two young women are kidnapped off of a farm in Thailand and thrown into The Most Dangerous Game; then two guys go missing after an EDM concert in India and one wakes up with his kidney removed.
As set-ups for moments of surprising tension, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders has the classic case of awkward “entertainment value” covering potentially xenophobic property. When the villain of the fourth episode stands in front of a tied-down, innocent Swedish twenty-something, obsessing over the look of his blue eyes, it’s hard not to scoot closer to the edge of your seat when he grabs a spoon. But what creator Erica Messer doesn’t completely balance successfully is the anti-argument: that, you know, not every instance of traveling abroad will result in a self-mutilating foreigner chasing you through the woods.
Some of that is recovered in the tricky bureaucracy that the team has to walk in each new country, with specific guidelines handed out by Clara at the beginning of each episode (she is, unfortunately, the human version of a travel itinerary more than a character). But the standard execution of the show as a whole does nothing to make it feel unique or special or worthy of being the bastion of tolerance it so earnestly tries to be by the kumbaya proverbs plastered across the screen upon entry into each new territory. It’s hard to take a peaceful Gary Sinise monologue seriously when it’s superseded by what can be boiled down to an episodic reboot of the mid-aughts slasher trash Turistas.
During the early minutes of the show’s pilot, Clara wonders “Why do humans always find new ways of hurting one another?” There’s not really a non-cynical answer to that wooden question (in the show’s world or in our own), but considering the real world, perhaps the most cynical one is that it creates as good a reason as any to introduce a new block of potential-hit programming for the juggernaut network that Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders has found itself on. No doubt plenty of people will be able to ease into the show’s groove thanks to its workmanlike adherence to the franchise’s established and efficient structure, but anyone unmoved by procedural formula won’t find much excuse to go beyond their already established borders. Maybe that’s for the best, you know, considering all of the potential for mutilation.
CBS' mega-franchise expands outwardly in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, losing none of the strict, predictable structure of its parent series and only stoking the flames of xenophobic paranoia for a few cheap thrills.