Mandy Patinkin will be 70 in two days.
It was he who played Gideon, the original leader of the FBI's fictional BAU, its Behavioral Analysis Unit, the place where all the best profilers gathered together to stop all those serial killers out there.
The TV show in which Patinkin did this was called "Criminal Minds." It was a hit from its premiere in 2005.
Patinkin, nevertheless, quit the series cold, the way he had once quit "Chicago Hope." This time was different. He eventually gave an interview to New York magazine in which he baldly declared "the biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do 'Criminal Mind' in the first place ... I never thought they were going to kill and rape all those women every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality."
I understand his problem. I watched the show from its very first episode. The rise of the Profiler as the new eminence of American crime fiction had captured me from its beginning with Michael Mann's "Manhunter," his movie made from "Red Dragon" the novel by the demonic Thomas Harris. THE pulp imagination of our time. Harris gave us the profilers ("Profiler," etc., on TV and "The Silence of the Lambs") and, before that, the apocalyptic attack tale that he launched with his novel "Black Sunday" about the blimp that attacked the Super Bowl.
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Even though I've always been part of the audience for "Criminal Minds," I haven't always been happy about it. I am a sucker for noir tales and have been since I was a pre-teen. I used to go to the North Park Theatre and thrill to Edmond O'Brien double bills like "D.O.A." – in which the hero walks into police headquarters to report his imminent murder – and "Shield for Murder" – in which a string of murders is performed by a corrupt cop.
"Criminal Minds" is the place where TV profilers came into their own in a combination of "noir" and horror fiction. I've always admired the ultra-dark lunacy of the writers' imaginations at the same time that even I was moved to shake my head after seeing them and muttering to myself "man that was one sick piece of work."
Well, "Criminal Minds" is back. You can't keep a sick show down. It's now called "Criminal Minds: Evolution" and it premiered, yes, on Thanksgiving night. A second episode can be seen streaming on Paramount. What might be called "Mandy's Problem" with the show has now been incorporated into the show itself: The key continuing plot is about the character who successfully escaped the BAU for a life of teaching kids to make butter-soaked cookies and organizing dance extravaganzas on Zoom.
That, as I'm sure viewers guessed, would be Penelope, the resident computer genius whose sunbeam personality always collided with vile and hideous information that brought the BAU ever closer to the dregs of humanity.
The new evolved "CM" is about getting the gang at the BAU back together to go after the ultra-sick puppies the show's writers can either find or invent. Penelope is the most reluctant of them. But she is the center of the new "CMs" allegory of the show's cast's problems with being on it. Her new on-air way of offsetting all the darkness is to play rap while doing her research and inputting.
The show's backstage existence was almost a corollary mess. Patinkin's private misery with the dark sadism was the first public indication. But soon, the show's glum star Thomas Gibson's own behavioral difficulties proved too onerous to tolerate. As the star/director of one episode, he kicked the episode's writer in the shins. He'd had, it was said, other problems. I've always felt that a good satiric TV show could be made about putting a TV show like "Criminal Minds" on the air.
Try to imagine, what it must be like to show up for work and read the latest scripts to come from the writers. There's little doubt to me that there was a black humor strain to their weekly wonderings "how crazy can we be?" A lesser-known fact about the show is that Stephanie Birkitt, who had previously been so delightful on the air with David Letterman as his off-hand staff wiseacre – and so scandalous off the air when Letterman admitted on the air that his affair with her had caused him to be blackmailed – functioned for one season as a writer on "CM" and a story editor.
You could, with little effort, see the plots of "Criminal Minds" as a kind of long, multi-episode "Aristocrats" joke for those who insist that the more Gothic things get, the funnier they are.
But it always seemed to me you've got to feel for the actors who made their livings on it, no matter how comfy those livings were.
As it is, one of the show's most popular actors – Matthew Gray Gubler – refused to be on the newly "evolved" "Criminal Minds."
While Kirsten Vangsness has been pretending to be the BAU's unhappiest functionary – on the show, she truly hated the BAU's work – its post-Patinkin star has been Joe Mantegna and, thereby hangs another fascinating tale about "CM's" return.
Mantegna is now 75 years old. And he looks it in the new "CM." His gray hair is carelessly groomed and his beard is off-white. He dresses like an old retired guy at leisure in his basement who couldn't care less who sees him.
He is, in the new show, still stricken by the recent death of his wife.
Don't look now but let me introduce the most fascinating development indicated by the show's return.
We've got something new all over America.
Let's call it Restoration Culture. Preservation has turned into the newest algorithm in the online universe. Cancel culture is waning.
The newest generation that has come to the fore is the dreaded Legacy Generation. America has become a bit of a Septocracy. Our presidents have been 70 for a while now. Geezers and semi-geezers have been backsliding into leadership for their perceived wisdom – or simulation of it.
Mantegna is the star of this thing. Sam Waterston, at 82, is in the revived "Law and Order." Will Petersen, at 69, was in the revived "CSI." Kevin Costner and Sylvester Stallone are riding high on small screens.
Paget Brewster, on "CM," has a gray spot in her hair to remind viewers she's in her early 50s.
And there's Patinkin, just about to be 70.
I can't wait to see what Patinkin, a Legacy star, will bring back in TV's Era of Restoration.