Two of the more disturbing American obsessions — serial killers and xenophobia — collide in CBS’ new “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.”
The good news is that the international nature of the spinoff ensures that each hour will open with a picturesque shot of a colorful locale — the teeming markets of Mumbai, the heart-stopping skyline of Bangkok. The bad news? The rest of the time will be spent wallowing in grim and grisly versions of Every Traveler’s Nightmare; kidnapping and kidney theft are just the opening bids of early episodes.
“Beyond Borders” (one can only assume that “Without Borders” would have violated copyright laws, if not the Hippocratic oath) follows the adventures of the FBI’s international response team as its members hopscotch through time zones to save American tourists from native perils. Introduced in an episode of “Criminal Minds” in April, the team is headed by Jack Garrett, and if that name isn’t FBI team leader enough, he is played by Gary Sinise, late of “CSI: NY.”
Anna Gunn’s international law expert, who appeared in April’s backdoor pilot, is gone, leaving in her place Clara (Alana De La Garza), a cultural anthropologist and multilinguist. The rest of the team is the same: agent-working dad Matthew Simmons (Daniel Henney), surprisingly sunny medical examiner Mae (Annie Funke) and friend of Penelope/tech whiz Monty (Tyler James Williams, last seen being eaten to death on “The Walking Dead”).
Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi is also on hand, briefly, to lend fathership legitimacy (jokes about which team has the better jet) and to foreshadow potential special-episode crossovers. Indeed, the first few minutes of the official pilot are dedicated to the team members reuniting as if it were only yesterday that they were saving that family in Barbados. To creator Erica Messer’s credit, even Clara is presented as having a long-standing relationship with everyone, especially Garrett, as well as a back story that appears to make her reluctant to return to crime-fighting.
No doubt we will learn more about Clara’s, and everyone’s, past. But first the team must save two young women kidnapped while volunteering on a farm in Thailand and then, in the next episode, figure out which Mumbai resident is stealing organs from unsuspecting tourists.
They do this with the same instant-access technology and one-glance psychology of the original (“He’s marked his victim as if he were prey,” “That gesture he made is Dutch in origin”) tarted up with multicultural insights provided by Clara (many of which boil down to a distrust of female FBI agents).
Like its progenitor, “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” marches a solid cast through the well-established motions of a procedural that puts far more emphasis on plot than character. Time is always running out, initial theories are inevitably proved wrong, a few taps of the computer reveal a wealth of information that the profilers instantly connect to behavior patterns that miraculously narrow the suspect list.
In other words, more of the same, with the added twist that all the victims are American and all (or most) of the criminals are not.
Though fans of “Criminal Minds” will no doubt appreciate Messer’s ability to change the scenery and characters without disrupting the formula, it’s impossible, given the state of the American conversation about borders, not to wince at the timing. The crimes may be exotic enough to feel unlikely, but all the expository dialogue about vulnerable Americans and the wily non-Americans who stalk them is probably not what we need right at the moment.
Imagine the situation reversed — a show in which tourists to America were continually victimized in horrific ways — and you see the problem.