It can get frustrating to see a series with all the necessary pieces for success fail to come together. One such example is tvN’s 2017 Korean remake of popular, long running American series Criminal Minds (크리미널 마인드). Despite its stellar cast, the series is unable to give the characters they play much depth. And that in turn makes the cases of the week feel more procedural than they should be. It’s that failure of connecting the characters with the audience, a common trait of Korean dramas, that ultimately keeps the series from rising above the sea of television crime thrillers.
Criminal Minds follows a team of criminal profilers at National Criminal Investigation. Veteran profiler Kang Ki Hyung (Son Hyun Joo) leads a team comprised of newly recruited detective Kim Hyun Joon (Lee Joon Gi), agent and behavioral analyst Ha Sun Woo (Moon Chae Won), technical analyst Nana Hwang (Yoo Sun), NCI media liaison Yoo Min Young (Lee Sun Bin) and genius, two doctorate holder profiler Lee Han (Go Yoon).
While I have stumbled upon just a few random episodes of the American original during its 15 season run, I’m definitely not familiar with its characters or stories. But I am certainly familiar with the American crime procedural. It’s my understanding that in addition to adapting the American characters for this Korean remake, they also adapt specific stories and cases of the week as well. And that’s how this series plays out over its 20 episodes.
Criminal Minds plays as a strictly procedural drama. Cases of the week are actually spread out across one, two or even three episodes. With some cases starting and wrapping up in the middle of an episode. Each case may be interesting on paper. And the gory depictions of the crimes committed are definitely not in the common Korean drama vein, giving the series unique visuals.
But what holds the series back is its failure to establish our main characters as fully-developed people with depth. One thing that is common with Korean dramas is there is a certain amount of focus given to help build up its main characters. Even in crime dramas or psychological thrillers, procedurals included, the heroes (and sometimes antiheroes) get just as much focus as each case of the week. A good thriller can manage to intertwine each case into the grander story arc of the series and its characters’ own personal stories.
Criminal Minds does not do that. Even as each of the members of the team take turns being put in harm’s way throughout the series.
A lot of the potential in Criminal Minds is in the interactions of the members of the team with each other. And for Hyun Joon, Sun Woo and Ki Hyung, it’s them having to deal with their pasts and baggage as well.
The main three are loosely connected by a murder case years ago and it provides a basis for the series-long antagonist (who really only shows up in a few of the episodes).
But they are never given enough time to develop those stories past a few minutes every so often. Randomly inserted scenes of home life or flashbacks from the past don’t automatically provide the depth needed to make the characters more than just cardboard cutouts.
The almost paint-by-the-numbers, superficial personalities of each character, in turn, affect how each of the cases come across. The lack of dynamic relationships and personal growth for the characters make each case feel flat and uninteresting. You want to be invested in these characters as they fight criminals and work to bring justice to the victims. (Which are many over the course of 20 episodes.) Instead, it is as if you’re watching bored salarymen clocking in and clocking out of their cubicle jobs.
There is a lack of suspense even when the series employs red herrings that more often than not are resolved in the most predictable of ways. The series does a lot of telling and not showing.
Since it’s a series about criminal profilers, huge chunks of episodes involve the team describing possible suspects. And that’s fine. But they do not balance the technical side of the story with perhaps flashier action sequences. Or even just exciting take downs and ultimately arrests of the perps. At the very least, in an effort to make up for the lack of character development.
Criminal Minds is certainly not a character driven series. And that’s a shame considering our six main characters and the actors who portray them have so much unrealized potential.
Watching Lee Joon Gi and Moon Chae Won in this series after having watched their excellent turns in Flower of Evil is a fascinating experience. On one hand, it is great to see their chemistry fully utilized in Flower of Evil. On the other hand, it only makes the way they are wasted here on Criminal Minds all the more egregious. A romantic angle certainly couldn’t hurt here. But even just the basic working relationship never advances past co-workers. That coldness as characters extends beyond the screen, even when there’s obviously unrealized chemistry between them.
Veteran Son Hyun Joo who should be able to lend a sort of gravitas to the series is instead downplayed and diminished as Ki Hyung. Even when some of the series’ most emotional moments involve his character. (As well as the always great Kim Kang Hoon as Ki Hyung’s young son.)
Yoo Sun, Lee Sun Bin and Go Yoon, meanwhile, get their biggest moments when it is their turn to be put in danger by the perp of the week. But even those episodes for them make them almost interchangeable with the victims of the week. That is instead of perhaps using those focus episodes on them to fill out their characters, backstories and personalities.
That is the unfortunate case for all six of our main characters. And ultimately that lack of character development affects how the rest of the show is received.
Perhaps in an effort to remain faithful to the American original, Criminal Minds forgot to actually adapt the series for a Korean audience. (Including a non-Korean audience who consumes Korean drama.) That sort of awkwardly jarring disconnect present here is sad and frustrating. A lot of great potential is lost. A great cast is wasted and underused.
If a simple, by the book procedural is your cup of tea, Criminal Minds Korea may be what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for some depth and something extra with your crime drama, Criminal Minds Korea will definitely have you looking elsewhere.