Law & Order, CSI, and Criminal Minds…7 Reasons Why They’re All the Same Show

If you’re like Crunchyface, (and it’s in your best interest to be), then the television crime-drama, over the last fifteen years, has been a logical three show progression for you…

Many of us began with Law and Order, a tightly plotted and relevant drama with compelling characters, which was great because it perfectly contrasted the self-aware faux grittiness of its predecessor, N.Y.P.D. Blue. Unfortunately, the show’s creativity was diluted by too many cast changes and spin-offs, and it was time to find satisfaction elsewhere.

CSI became that “next show” for many people. A little darker and gorier, and with a more psychologically driven style of violence, CSI gave us quite a few moments. Then, once again, appealing characters left, and the show fell into the trap of delving too much into the home lives of the principles. It was time for another change.

Some of us went to NCIS, but the bulk of us transitioned to Criminal Minds, a show that like Law and Order a decade ago, is replayed endlessly on cable television. The show focuses more on the criminal than the crime, and this interesting new take, combined with some engaging personalities, have made this show a strong follow-up to Law and Order and CSI, despite the awful Joe Mantegna replacing the incomparable Mandy Patankin a few seasons ago.

Yet, for all their differences, for all the reasons we might jump ship from one show to the other, some aspects of these programs are remarkably (and laughingly) similar. Naturally, Crunchyface is aware that these are entertainments, and for that reason certain character types and conventions are necessary in order to move the story along, but c’mon. Some of the things that were annoying on just one of the shows, have become unforgivable when you see them in all three.

Think of this article as similar to Refusing to Suspend My Disbelief, except instead of me picking on a film, Crunchyface is creating a case against the three shows that have provided the backbone for an entire genre, but have often grown or are growing lazy. These guys should know better.

Seven Reasons the Big Three (Law and Order, CSI, and Criminal Minds) are Full of Crap:

1) Every character is a quote-meister–Do you know even a single person in your life who’s able to perfectly recite and identify, hundreds of incredibly wordy and scholarly quotes, on a regular basis? If you answered “yes” than either you know a college English professor, or a cop, apparently. Makes sense. How many cops do you know that aren’t well-read orators? Criminal Minds has even taken the quoting habit that began with McCoy on L & O and Grissom on CSI, and made it a gimmick on their show. Again, FBI profilers are certainly smarter than the average policeman, but would their area of expertise be literature? And they seem to be running out of ideas–last week Derek Morgan thoughtfully and seriously quoted comedian Paul Rodriguez. Then you have Gil Grissom who is able to quote every major writer and thinker on earth, despite his obvious expertise being in the field of science, which brings us to #2.

Who knew that an obvious joke by the always cerebral Paul Rodriguez could also apply to a serial killer? Sadly, this quote is Rodriguez’s biggest television appearance in ten years.

2) There’s always one or more characters who is inexplicably an ultra-genius–This trend has only gotten worse with each show. On Law and Order, perhaps Jack knew too much, but he was a lawyer after all, and so we excused his encyclopedic knowledge of every precedent imaginable. CSI cranked it up a notch, and gave us Grissom, who was inexplicably a genius in every possible subject…so naturally he gravitated to the Las Vegas Police Department–that’s where all the great thinkers go. In addition, the rest of the cast (including the former stripper) was a little too smart for their jobs too, and while they are scientists, not too many scientists are also experts in World History, English, Medicine, Physics, the Arts, and Computers. Criminal Minds is where it gets totally crazy. Not only do they have an acknowledged genius character, who actually knows everything, but every member of the team is a quote-spouting ultra-brain. They all play chess, and have an appreciation for classic film (season 2). Yeah, the best and brightest minds always run right out and get a government job. They do. My mailman just discovered cold fusion.

I suppose if the actor who plays Gil Grissom, William Peterson, is able to actually sing in the rarely-spoken Basque language (as he does in the peculiar video above), then maybe his character is a genius. Of course, Peterson isn’t also an expert scientist. Or is he? 

3) The bad guys are always directly coming after the police–Criminals never specifically go after individual cops, except on these shows, where it’s an everyday occurrence. On Law and Order, basically every lawyer on the show has either been threatened or attacked. On CSI, Nick was targeted and buried alive by a criminal, who also spent an entire season taunting the cops. Another guy sent Grissom detailed models of his crime scenes as a means by which to single out ol’ Gil. In reality, this hasn’t happened since the Zodiac killer because, crazy one here, most criminals are trying to avoid contact with the police. The mob doesn’t even allow it’s people to go after the cops. Very few criminals take things as personally as the bad guys on these shows, who seem to have unlimited time, resources, and gumption to target individual cops, almost ignoring the original purpose of their crime. Criminal Minds, once again, ups the ante by having a serial killer go so far as to murder Hotchner’s wife, to say nothing of the fact that every single member of the BAU is directly threatened by a different serial killer (who in real life are never caught in the act), each and every episode.


The murder of Hotcher’s wife, by a serial killer that has easily penetrated every level of security provided by the FBI, begins at about the one minute mark. It’s sad, sure, but even sadder I think, are the people that are so moved by the lives of fictional characters (in this case, the death of one who’s appeared on maybe three other episodes), that they create these fan videos, with custom editing, and their own soundtrack.

4) Serial killers are very common–On Criminal Minds this makes some kind of sense, as hunting down serial killers is part of the Behavioral Analysis Unit’s job. But the amount of these type of offenders that they routinely come in contact with, greatly exceeds any real statistic on the prevalence of serial killers in this country. Ever. In addition, all of the murderers are especially heinous and brutal–the kind a cop might run across once or twice in a career, not weekly. If there were that many serial killings going on, especially involving cannibalism and dismemberment, wouldn’t the public be in a continual uproar? CSI also had a disproportionately large number of serial killers for your typical crime scene unit. Remember, one of them even sent Grissom dioramas. A taunting letter is one thing, but a diorama? 
I mean, I wanted to win the science fair too when I was a kid, but my hostility at losing never became a murderous rage. And even if it did, I’d pretty much abandon the actual science project at that point.

5) There are no references to past life-threatening and life-altering incidents–This always annoyed me about episodic television. Most cops never have occasion to pull their guns in their entire career, yet these shows make it the norm. Ok, fine, but how about a few lines of dialogue to indicate their amazement at the frequency of these life-threatening situations? L & O has had multiple cops die from being shot on the show. Sara was abducted and Warrick was shot to death on CSI, and every single episode of Criminal Minds ends with a different cast member being threatened and nearly murdered by a serial killer, yet these past experiences are rarely referenced again, either for the sake of a character development, or as a means by which to help shed light on a new case. Would people really apply for these jobs if they stood a good chance of dying at the end of each shift? Is crime scene investigation in Miami really as dangerous and action-packed as fighting in Nam?

This clip perfectly illustrates my point. It’s from the episode, “Blinded,” directly following the episode “Svengali,”shown in #4. Perhaps while being dressed down, Casey might have mentioned the serial killer she just put away, reminding Jack that she used some of the very chicanery she’s being reprimanded for, to do so. She might also mention that practically every episode from the past involves Jack himself walking a fine line towards disbarment.

6) The black guy has an attitude problem–On Law and Order it was Jessie L. Martin, the tough-as-nails former Rent cast member, who had the attitude problem. On CSI, Warrick isn’t a hothead, so much as a loose-cannon gambling addict. And of course on Criminal Minds, Derek Morgan is the angry black. What’s odd is that despite their issues, these characters are also shown to have very high competency at their jobs. It’s almost like the producers need to justify how an African-American man is able to do what these men do, so they force the writers to provide the characters with an edge, in order to illustrate their struggle–black men coming from rough environments and achieving against all odds. Patronizing.


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