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CBS’s ‘Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior’ is just a copy of a copy

SHARE CBS’s ‘Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior’ is just a copy of a copy

Oh, how CBS loves its crime procedurals. Why have one "CSI" when you can have three? Why have one "NCIS" when you can have two? Ditto for "Criminal Minds," which gets its own belated spin-off with "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior" (9 p.m. MST Wednesday, Feb. 16).

But as anyone who has used an old photocopy machine knows, a copy of a copy of a copy is rarely as good as the original.

"Suspect Behavior" comes across as a show in search of a purpose beyond the obvious brand extension. At least with the "NCIS" and "CSI" spin-offs, the locale changed. Since the "Criminal Minds" teams travel, the locale is always changing, so the backdrop on both the original and the spin-off is essentially the same.

Watching Wednesday's premiere, it's not clear how this FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit differs from the original "Criminal Minds" team, except it works out of an old warehouse that has a run-down gym. Even Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), a series regular on the first "Criminal Minds," turns up as a series regular on "Suspect Behavior," doing research and Skyping in her reports to Sam Cooper (Forest Whitaker) and his team when they're in the field.

(Perhaps the difference in the teams was laid bare in a "Criminal Minds" episode last spring that served as a back-door pilot and introduced the Cooper character.)

If the first "Criminal Minds" cast is the A-team, I guess that makes the "Suspect Behavior" gang the B-team, which includes a random Brit (Matt Ryan) — do they work cheaper as FBI agents like they do as actors in Hollywood? — a blonde (Beau Garrett) and a balding guy (Michael Kelly) who is on probation as the series opens for killing a child molester.

If you guessed the first case involves a creep (Raphael Sbarge, "The Guardian") who kidnaps kids, thereby testing the self-control of Baldy, you too may have a future scripting CBS procedurals.

The show's brightest spot is also its most confounding: Why is an actress as thoughtful and smart as Janeane Garofalo wasting her time and talent on a paint-by-numbers crime drama? Everyone needs a paycheck, but it's still a disappointing surprise. At least when she was on "24" there was some hope for creative twists and turns in the show's plot.

Garofalo stars as Beth Griffin, who seems to operate as a check on the leadership of Cooper. In two episodes provided for review, the writers seem to pair these two, perhaps because they're the best actors on the show. One caveat: Whitaker mumbles too often and over-emotes, but he doesn't have much choice given the pulpy dialogue the writers force upon him

In Wednesday's premiere, the team rushes off to Cleveland, where an 8-year-old blond girl has gone missing; then the mother of a missing black girl arrives at the scene to beg the FBI team for help she wasn't getting from local police.

"Suspect Behavior" deserves credit for at least giving lip service to the media's love affair with attractive missing white girls and an apparent disregard for victims from other communities. But the episode doesn't advance this idea beyond acknowledging it.

This week's episode is significantly better than an episode set to air March 2 that features absurd leaps in logic. A crazed killer attacks a man and carves out his eyes in the parking lot of a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store — maybe that's why this episode isn't airing first; it's too soon after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a similar setting. When the eyeballs turn up in a newspaper vending box, the "Suspect Behavior" team deduces that the killer prefers old media and therefore must be between the ages of 40 and 60. If they were still attached, those eyeballs would be rolling.

The March 2 episode opens with a promising misdirect, but then wallows in a series of cliches, including the idea that Cooper doesn't just profile the killer, he somehow puts himself in the killer's shoes while processing the crime scene. (Yes, he "walks with" the killers, and no, we don't want to go along.) It's just one of the many all-too-familiar elements in a particularly gruesome episode: In addition to carved-out eyeballs, another victim gets an ice pick through the brain.

Oh, one last note to any aspiring screenwriters: Do not choose names for characters that are already iconic. At one point, Whitaker's character is referred to as "Agent Cooper." No, no and no. There is only one TV character named Agent Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, who solved the murder of Laura Palmer on "Twin Peaks." Giving a character in this "Criminal Minds" spin-off the same name only highlights how pedestrian a series it is in comparison.

Dis. by Scripps Howard News Service.