We may not expect TV to uplift us, but it could at least avoid deliberately scaring us stupid.
Granted, crime shows have always — individually and cumulatively — left viewers with an exaggerated sense of our risk of being a victim of violent crime. Few, however, have ever done so as egregiously as CBS’s reprehensible “Criminal Minds,” which goes beyond the fright-fest crime show norm by using the victim’s own fear (and, often, sexuality) as a source of titillation.
So of course its equally awful spinoff, “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, WBBM-Channel 2), would open with two young women being kidnapped, terrorized and hunted for sport.
“Beyond’s” dangerously idiotic twist? They brought it on themselves, apparently, by being stupid enough to travel to Thailand. As one of the characters sneers, “I remember those British backpackers were murdered there last summer. I guess that didn’t stop our victims from visiting.”
Pause for a minute to consider what happens to our own tourism industry if, say, Brits allow reports of murders to keep them away from our shores — and then consider that, according to a Time magazine review of State Department documents, an average of only 827 Americans out of the 68 million who travel overseas each year die of unnatural causes. Then move on.
Luckily, the FBI’s International Response Team is ready to hop on a plane and head where needed: Thailand this week, India coming soon. The team — introduced in the same clunky, expository style that the franchise uses to impart all information — is led by Jack Garrett (Gary Sinise) and consists of a profiler (Daniel Henney), a tech analyst (Tyler James Williams), a medical examiner (Annie Funke) and a soon-to-be-added cultural anthropologist (Alana De La Garza).
But never mind the job descriptions. What they all really seem to be are criminal mind-readers, able to solve crimes through leaps of logic that would astound mere mortals. Just try to track the clues that somehow lead them from suspect to motive to next move: You might as well try to plot a course from Los Angeles (the show’s stand-in for all foreign locales) to Bangkok by train.
None of this is meant to denigrate the real work down by the those who protect us when we travel or the need for their services: Bad things can happen anywhere. But the idea of a weekly show promoting the damaging fantasy that American tourists in Thailand or India are all in constant danger of having their throats cut or organs harvested is just wrong — and doing so in ways that play off our worst jingoistic prejudices is worse.
We have many virtues as a people, but our knowledge of, and interest in, other countries has seldom been listed as one of them. We need to travel more, to interact with our fellow human beings more. The last thing we need as a people is a show that discourages us from doing so.
And the last thing we need as viewers is any show this terrible, scary or not.