How Torture Porn Killed Criminal Minds

 

Yet Another Girl With A Gun To Her HeadMany people have said that I have a criminal mind. So it seemed only natural that I might watch a show like Criminal Minds. And I did. The first few seasons were entertaining, occasionally even riveting psychological drama. It helped that they had capable writers and a good cast. The likable team of misfits that made up the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit was a great juxtaposition to the horrible deeds of the serial killers they’d catch each week.

The problem is that there are only so many ways to show the FBI catching serial killers. And there are only so many kinds of serial killers. So after having them catch young serial killers, old serial killers, partner serial killers, father & son serial killers, femme fatale serial killers, cop serial killers, and a bunch of others I’ve left out, what is left? The detail. That’s it. Exactly how they get caught. Exactly who they kill. And exactly what they do to them. The show used to be catching the man (or woman or child or Eskimo stilt walker) responsible for dropping the bodies. Now it’s become about exactly what they do to those bodies. They no longer just find bodies on some logging road. Now we are treated to a few minutes of the killer taunting or cutting or raping or whatever else they can come up with. It’s gone from psychological drama to torture porn.

This isn’t the first show to lose my interest after falling into this trap. It happened with Oz. It happened with 24. It’s not that I can’t stomach to watch these gruesome scenes. I typed up police reports for two years and have a vivid imagination and the things I’ve read (and thus imagined in my head) in the Child Protective Services reports are worse than anything I’ve ever seen on the big or small screen. I have no problem with the gore, but the gore has to have a point.

If the scene is not furthering the plot or furthering the character, then it’s just there to titillate and as a storyteller, I tend to be offended at that sort of thing. The Shawshank Redemption has scenes where our main character gets raped by a group of inmates. That scene is less than a minute long and there isn’t one shot of throbbing penises penetrating him. Why? Because it’s entirely unnecessary.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when the sex, the violence, the torture, or the wonder have to be front and center and we need to experience it to really get the movie, but this only happens in the presence of good storytellers. I recently watched an Australian movie called The Square. The story is about a man who commits one sin, then a slightly worse one, then worse, as slowly he’s entirely compromised as a human being. It’s an incredibly well done film and there are no unnecessary scenes in it even though there are a few very unpleasant ones.

At the same time, master storytellers tend to be able to tell a story without overly graphic scenes. The best sex scene in any movie I’ve ever seen is in Robert Altman’s movie The Player and it has no nudity in that scene. A master storyteller understands that given the right fuel, the scene will light up in our heads better than anything they could film. It’s why Silence of the Lambs is a better thriller than any of the sequels. If you know how to tell a story, you don’t have to go there. The audience will go there on their own and they won’t feel too dirty afterword.

I get that not everyone is like me. Some people like to watch pretty explosions or special effects or graphic sex or violence.  I do too, from time to time, but I prefer all of those things to be accompanied by a story. Otherwise it’s all just porn: There to get you off in only the most base way and better when you don’t think about it at all. That’s not what I want from my entertainment.

There was a great comic book series in the 90’s called The Maxx. It ran 35 issues and was still fairly popular when the creators stopped making it. When asked why they stopped, they said they didn’t have any more story to tell. This is what has happened on Criminal Minds. They have no more stories. All they have left are some decent characters who week in week out share the screen with some other characters who are doing horrible things to people. If you’re a long time watcher of the show, you’ll also notice that the newer episodes have more killers who take their victims hostage for days. This isn’t something most serial killers do, but it’s hard to torture dead people and that’s all they have left to show us it seems. Unfortunately they have no more story to tell, but they all still want paychecks and people are still tuning in so Criminal Minds will continue. I just won’t be watching them.

-Jack

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Fall Season TV Review

I watch entirely too much television. It’s a habit. And like all habits, it’s sometimes a lot of fun and sometimes it’s outright painful. When the Fall Season begins, I tend to go on a TV binge. The downside of this is that I end up having less time to write because I’m watching TV. The upside is that when I have time to write, I can let you all know the shows to avoid and the shows that are actually worth your time.

Big Bang Theory

A couple of nerds have a hot next door neighbor. This is basically the entire premise of this show. Basically each episode is full of geek talk vs. real world talk from the hot girl, punctuated by arguably televisions most annoying current laugh track. BBT is actually a fairly entertaining sitcom, but the laugh track gets to me. I don’t like to be reminded when to laugh. I’ll laugh when it’s funny.

How I Met Your Mother

I ended up watching this show last year because it was on after Big Bang Theory. It quickly became apparent that this was the far superior show. The title of the show comes from the framing device of each episode being one of the characters telling his children how he met their mother back in the early 00’s of the 21st century. While all of the actors on this show are good, Neil Patrick Harris tends to steal every scene he’s in as the womanizing Barney. This show is about twice as funny as Big Bang Theory and is consistently entertaining.

Heroes

As a life long comic book collector, I was genuinely impressed with the first season of Heroes two years ago. They managed to have fun with the super-hero genre while still being original. They threw a bunch of balls in the air and caught every one of them. Then last year Season Two happened. While a certain amount of blame could be put on the season being cut short by the writer’s strike, the bottom line is that Season Two wandered all over the place and ended up absolutely nowhere. It’s no surprise to me that this season has had a huge ratings drop. However, the creators of Heroes apparently learned from their mistakes last year. The first two episodes of Heroes were more eventful the all of the Second Season combined. Things are happening fast and it is fun. The only problem is that right now it’s more plot than character. It’s almost as if they’re just doing all these big things just to do them. Like the first season, this one has a lot of promise, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can catch every ball they throw.

Fringe

When I was in high school, the Fox Network had a show about weird science and paranormal events that were investigated by the FBI. It was called X-Files. Fifteen years later, Fox has another FBI weird science show. This time it’s Fringe. Like X-Files, Fringe has an overall conspiracy combined with weird event of the week. So far this is working well, just like it did for the first few seasons of X-Files. Here’s hoping that Fringe can sustain the balance of mystery vs. reveals.

Eli Stone

I’m not a big fan of musicals. But my wife is. This is why I ended up watching Eli Stone. Eli is about a lawyer who has an aneurysm that causes psychic and musical hallucinations. Basically each week he has a vision of some sort that he has to unravel in order to save whoever he has to save and invariably it has something to do with his being a lawyer. Last year they ended the season with Eli getting his aneurysm removed right after predicting a huge San Francisco earthquake that destroys among other things, the Golden Gate Bridge. It wasn’t until this last episode that I really started to like the show. It takes guts to seriously mess with the city your characters live in. Unfortunately, this fun lasted all of one episode because in the season opener, the Golden Gate Bridge was back and so was the aneurysm. And to make matters worse, they decided to take the most intriguing part of the show and kill it by revealing that yes, his visions are in fact from the big guy upstairs. I don’t think I’m going to stick around to find out what happens next.

Grey’s Anatomy

Despite being a heterosexual male, I have in face seen every single episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Why? Because I’m obsessive and I tend to either watch every episode of a show or none of them. Unfortunately Grey’s Anatomy is a show that only gets worse and worse. I realize I’m not the demographic they’re looking for, but after four seasons, not one of these characters has become redeemable. In fact, every single one of them is so self-centered and short-sighted that it’s kind of scary that any of them are doctors. For a while there were two or three characters that were worth watching, but they either left the show or became so morally compromised that you couldn’t possibly think of them as good guys without forgetting what a good person is. With any luck at all, I’ll avoid most of this season because at this point I really couldn’t possibly care less who screws who or why or who is mad about it.

The Mentalist

When my son was younger, he’d watch a show called Blue’s Clues. Every episode they’d have some sort of mystery and they’d discover clues and try to make the kids watching the show guess what was going to happen. This is great for a show aimed at kids because it makes them think and builds confidence. Strangely, it seems to also be the premise for The Mentalist. The title character of The Mentalist is supposedly a guy who notices absolutely everything and using these abilities, solves crimes. And as the audience, we see what he sees and then get to feel all smart when we come to the same conclusions. Unfortunately this doesn’t make us think the character is smart. He is, at most, only as smart as we are, and while we tend to think we’re fairly bright, we all know we’re no geniuses and so the premise of the show falls apart.

11th Hour

I’m blaming the success of House on the glut of new shows that revolve around a ‘cranky genius’ character. Of course the success of House isn’t due to Dr. House’s character, it’s due to him and his supporting cast. So the 11th Hour, about a ‘scientific consultant’ for the FBI doesn’t fail because of lead, Rufus Sewell. It fails because there isn’t one other interesting character around him. If that weren’t bad enough, so far every episode, has been a slow plodding thing that lasted an hour but seemed like three. This show can’t be cancelled soon enough. Rufus Sewell is a good actor. He deserves good work.