Look, I’ve watched a lot Criminal Minds. It’s a police procedural with a host of misfit characters that make up a family of choice. It bounces from extremely dark crimes to cheesy character moments and it does earn some genuine moments at times.
The show’s premise is that they’re a crack team of FBI profilers chasing serial killers. They get a case, they draw upon their vast knowledge of behavioral analysis to come up with a profile (white, male, 40s, divorced, etc.) and then use super tech analyst Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) to narrow it down to a list of a single suspect and usually get to them right before they commit their next murder.
What’s interesting is that the show started in 2005 and is still on the air now and a lot has changed in the world, especially with how we view digital surveillance and the authority of the police.
This show does not care about the Fourth Amendment (except the one time they waited for a search warrant on a house), especially in the digital realm. Garcia will use every database, phone, GPS, and computer to find out everything about the victims and their attackers. They always narrow it down to one person and it’s always the right person and it’s always justified. Sometimes they will kill the suspect and it’s always justified.
The show basically presents the ideal world of the Patriot Act. The cops are always the good guys who always make the right decisions. The bad guys live right next door, ready to perform unimaginable cruelty.
Garcia even explicitly invokes Edward Snowden at some point (I think it was the 10th season?) but they never question if it’s right that the government is capable of such omnipotent digital surveillance.
I’m doubtful as to whether the show is even able to say anything against the surveillance. It’s so firmly rooted in how they wrap up every episode. The best they could do is maybe catch someone else who is abusing their power but they wouldn’t be able to question their own authority.
Compare and contrast to Person of Interest, a show from 2011 that I just started watching. It’s about two vigilante heroes, basically a super genius and a CIA-type working to stop murders every week. The genius built a government surveillance system that listens to everything and identifies terrorist threats but there’s a catch, it also identifies smaller violent threats that it has to ignore because the government is only interested in the bigger fish. So these guys take it upon themselves to prevent these lesser crimes.
It’s a less violent show but you could argue that it’s more cynical. Or maybe just more realistic. They acknowledge that the system is broken, so they work outside it but the show also acknowledges that our heroes aren’t moral authorities either.
Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two shows, Criminal Minds is more monster-of-the-week police procedural. I’ve only seen a little about Person of Interest but it more of a genuine crime drama with some cat-and-mouse between our heroes and the One Good Cop in the city, Detective Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson). But I’m curious to see how, a nation obsessed with cop shows will evolve in response to the growing concern about digital surveillance and privacy.