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THE TINY SCREEN: The New Season’s Best Bets: Criminal Minds

In the latest season of the WB’s “Gilmore Girls,” the character Sookie, played by Melissa McCarthy, is trying to guess the best show on television and lists several shows, one after the other, all ending with the phrase “people poking around the insides of corpses.” True, many of the more popular shows on TV deal with the insides of corpses but more often than not, suspense is the reason for tuning in.

The best new show that will keep you in a tight grip and not let you go until the very last second is CBS’ “Criminal Minds.” With his noble visage and trustworthy demeanor, Mandy Patinkin is perfectly cast as Special Agent Jason Gideon, the FBI’s top behavioral analyst. He is the kind of man you imagine could protect you, not to mention your family, not to mention society, from the world’s worst criminals. He is brought into the FBI Behavior Analysis task force as a kind of a mystic – somewhere between a spiritual advisor and a detective. His job is to, as quickly as possible, develop a profile of the criminal at large.

In order to do his work, though, Gideon brings along his teams of uber-geeks, beginning with child genius Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) who can spew facts on almost any subject but can’t get a date to save his life. And the resident hottie, Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini), who appears to be loosely patterned on Mariska Hargitay’s character on “Law and Order: SVU,” a sexy and sassy tough girl. And, of course, the yin to Gideon’s yang, the unit leader, Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson).

The show’s architecture is similar to “CSI” and its offshoot series wherein it begins with a crime. The crime is then unraveled until, at some point, people are poking around the insides of corpses. But usually, they’re just hunting down a madman of sorts, one that needs profiling in order to be caught – the usual suspects, serial killers, arsonists, kidnappers, unabombers.

What keeps the show interesting, beyond the tolerable banter of the leads, (most of the subplots revolve around Spencer getting himself a date and/or laid. Hopefully his storyline will evolve somewhat) is that something horrible is bound to happen to the unit leader’s pregnant wife who is given a few minutes of screen time on each episode, and is the personification of a sitting duck.

My guess is that she’ll be kidnapped by a combo serial killer/stalker and Aaron Hotchner (what kind of a character name is that anyway?) will be undone trying to get her back.

While there have been other shows about profilers, like “Profiler” for instance, and there continues to be a plethora of crime shows with a kooky mystic hunting down criminals with their sixth sense, “Criminal Minds” appears to be the second trendy copycat show for Mr. Patinkin. Remember way back when “Chicago Hope” aired? Everyone thought it copied “ER” but it quickly rose to the top of the pile as one of the best shows on TV. Now, “Criminal Minds,” if it keeps up the good quality of the first season, looks to be CBS’ breakout new hit.

The show was the second highest rated Wednesday night series, right behind ABC’s big hit, “Lost.” Then again, it’s not like NBC’s competition, “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” is particularly tough. The bottom line is this, how bad can it be if it’s got Mandy Patinkin in it?

“Criminal Minds” airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m.

This Week’s

Notable TV

Thursday, November 3

Frazetta: Painting with Fire, 8 p.m., IFC.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (***), anchored by a great Johnny Depp perf., 8 p.m., ABC.

Ride the High Country (***), 8:45 p.m., TCM.

The War Room (***), 9 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Friday, November 4

Foul Play (***), delightful comedy with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, 7:30 p.m., TCM.

In the Heat of the Night (****), 7:30 p.m., AMC.

Jennifer Aniston: America’s Sweetheart, 8 p.m., E!

Ghost Whisperer, 8 p.m., CBS.

Saturday, November 5

Scarface (****), “say hello to my lil’ friend, 7:30 p.m., BRAVO.

Catch Me if You Can (**), not Spielberg’s best, 8 p.m., ABC.

Shadow of a Doubt (****), one of Hitchcoxk’s best, 8:15 p.m., TCM.

Dogtown and Z Boys (***), 8:45 p.m., IFC.

Sunday, November 6

Bully (**), 7:30 p.m., IFC.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (****), 7:30 p.m., TOON.

Category 7: the End of the World, gee, we’re not hysterical or anything, 9 p.m., CBS.

Desperate Housewives, 9 p.m., ABC.

Monday, November 7

Black Hawk Down (***), 8 p.m., FX.

Desperately Seeking Susan (***), 8 p.m., WE.

American Experience: Victory in the Pacific, 9 p.m., KCET.

Satisfaction (**), one of Julia Roberts’ earliest roles, 9 p.m., FMC.

Tuesday, November 8

The Day of the Jackal (***), 7:30 p.m., TCM.

The Usual Suspects (****), 8 p.m., AMC.

Much Ado About Nothing (***), 8:15 p.m., OXYGEN.

Frontline: The Last Abortion Clinic, 9 p.m., KCET.

Wednesday, November 9

The Silence of the Lambs (****), 8 p.m., FX.

Vanilla Sky (**), 8 p.m., BRAVO.

Criminal Minds, 9 p.m., CBS.

Kennedy Centers Presents – the Mark Twain Prize, 9 p.m., KCET.

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