‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’ Review: Paramount+’s Reboot Is ‘Avengers: Endgame’ for ‘Criminal Minds’ Fans

It is hard to forget the monumental impact of Avengers: Endgame. The 2019 superhero movie was a worldwide spectacle and, despite delivering major blows, gave fans everything they wanted: a spotlight on beloved romances and friendships, and the reunification of a team, previously driven apart because of their differences, to fight against a common enemy. But, what does that have to do with Criminal Minds? Paramount+’s latest reboot, Criminal Minds: Evolution, follows a similar pattern.

After fifteen seasons, the series concluded its run on CBS in 2020 with an explosive, unforgettable finale that bid farewell to a longtime member of the Behavior Analysis Unit and left the wellbeing of another in question. The reboot, which premieres Thursday, November 24 on Paramount+, doesn’t even try to pretend like they can proceed without acknowledging at least one of those endings.

Evolution sees the return of Joe Mantegna as David Rossi, A.J. Cook as Jennifer “JJ” Jareau, Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia, Aisha Tyler as Tara Lewis, Adam Rodriguez as Luke Alvez, and Paget Brewster as Emily Prentiss, as the group is tasked with their strangest cast yet: investigating an unsub who built a team of serial killers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much like its predecessor, this 10-episode series (two were provided for review) understands that the team’s dynamic is what viewers are mainly interested in, rather than the actual unsub. Penelope’s decision to leave the BAU in the series finale has left a gaping hole in the organization, who have yet to find a solid replacement for her (Luke mentions that their new tech analyst works from home), their resident genius is nowhere to be found (and has zero mentions in the reboot given that the actor, Matthew Gray Gubler has not been confirmed to return), and their senior agent, Rossi, has turned into a hot head while grieving the loss of a loved one, leaving the team with faltering leadership. Simply put, they’re in no shape to tackle such a large threat.

This is what drives Luke to appear at Penelope’s apartment to beg her to return to the team. At first, she vehemently refuses and accuses the profiler of ruining her baking club. But, she is swayed in the other direction after seeing the weak state of her former colleagues and directly encountering a tech interference on her personal computer.

screenshot from Criminal Minds: Evolution
Photo: Paramount+

Evolution dials up the emotions and feelings, and tackles pandemic grief in a way that hasn’t been explored before; not only through its beloved profilers, but also through its bad guys. Criminal Minds has always been driven by the characters, given its somewhat anthological nature which often saw a new case in each episode of the long-running series; and they always nailed it, even managing to prevail through sudden departures (Mandy Patinkin as Jason Gideon, Lola Glaudini as Elle Greenaway, and Shemar Moore as Derek Morgan) and controversies (Thomas Gibson ending his 12-season run as Aaron Hotchner following repeated on-set altercations). The reboot is no different.

The new series instantly establishes a new appreciation for Luke and his budding relationship with Penelope. The character was originally brought in as a replacement for Moore’s Derek, who had been Penelope’s confidant and best friend for eleven seasons, and was greeted with an unfair amount of flack from both Penelope and fans. However, eventually, the two warmed up to each other, and in the finale, he asked her on a date. While Evolution‘s first two episodes leave a lot of questions about their relationship, their chemistry (whether friendly or romantic) is electric and exciting, and adds a much-need bout of suspense to the reboot. Other new highlights are Tara’s secret love life and Mantegna’s memorable and noteworthy portrayal of Rossi, who is at his lowest low, which says a lot given the amount he’s already suffered during his tenure on the series.

screenshot from Criminal Minds: Evolution
Photo: Paramount+

All of that said, Criminal Minds has gotten away with a lot of unchallenging storylines and thin scripts during its years. And while the reboot features the best of the series, it also features the worst. The big reveals in the premiere episodes are painfully obvious, and the script leaves very little to the imagination. All of its stabs at the pandemic feel very “in-your-face” and fall flat with dialogue such as, “What if we’re ignoring the obvious here? What if [the unsub] stopped because we all stopped. Everybody sheltered in place, no one to stalk, adduct, or kill without taking a big risk…” and “All my life as a profiler, I studied serial killers, but I never studied what a pandemic would do to them…” Luckily, the end of the second episode introduces some much-needed nuance to the central villain, and teases that there’s plenty more to come.

Overall, Evolution honors what made the original series great and accomplishes the laudable feat of adding depth to characters that fans have already known for over a decade. Though it may not feature the world-ending stakes of Endgame, or the massive amount of superheroes, Evolution will leave you rooting as hard for the BAU while they learn how to be a team again in order to catch their latest unsub as you did when Captain America picked up Mjolnir.

Criminal Minds: Evolution premieres two episodes on November 24, 2022 on Paramount+ with new episodes dropping weekly on Thursdays.

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