Erica Messer knew that if the “Criminal Minds” franchise could come back after being canceled in 2020, she would have no problem getting the gang back together. That’s just what Messer did for “Criminal Minds: Evolution” scheduled to launch Nov. 24 on the streaming service of Paramount+.
Messer, who is the executive producer and writer of the series, says, “I called everyone in the summer of 2020 and said, ‘If this thing happens, how many of you would want to come be a part of it?’ And unanimously, everyone wanted to be.
“We never wanted to go away to begin with. We knew that there were plenty of stories to tell. And so for us to be able to bring this back in a new, different way, to do serialized stories and really dive into Zach’s character, getting to know an UnSub for ten episodes, is something we’ve never been able to do before.”
In “Criminal Minds: Evolution,” the FBI’s elite team of criminal profilers come up against their greatest threat yet, an UnSub who has used the pandemic to build a network of other serial killers. As the world opens back up and the network goes operational, the team must hunt them down, one murder at a time.
Original cast members continuing their roles include Joe Mantegna, A.J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Aisha Tyler, Adam Rodriguez and Paget Brewster. Zach Gilford joins the cast as a recurring guest star in a season-long arc. Matthew Gray Gubler, who played Dr. Spencer Reid, and Daniel Henney, who played Matt Simmons, are not in the first season but the door is always open for their return if “Criminal Minds: Evolution” continues.
It was easy to get the cast members to reunite because they were all fighting for it to return. They all spent what they thought would be the final season enjoying each moment. But, their passions for the show never dimmed even after CBS pulled the plug.
The fact the actors wanted to return to the show was a blessing for Messer but it also created some writing headaches. Some of the characters had gone off to other jobs such as Kirsten Vangsness’ Garcia working for an environmental company. Those story elements had to be considered in putting the new episodes together.
“Criminal Minds: Evolution” gives Messer a chance to address some of the complaints fans of the series had regarding the “Criminal Minds” finale. She knew that no ending was ever going to please everyone because so many loyal viewers didn’t want the show to end.
She stands by her approach for the finale of staying true to the characters and the world where they lived. Messer’s approach was that being honest with the writing was the best that they could do for the show and characters.
Aisha Tyler, who reprises her role as Dr. Tara Lewis, heard mostly good comments regarding the finale.
“I feel like a lot of the shows that end, people are always dissatisfied. People were mad about the ‘Sopranos’ finale. People were mad about the ‘Lost’ finale,” Tyler says. “I think we heard as many good things from fans about how much they loved this family and how they were going to miss them as we heard that they were dissatisfied by any one element about the end of the show.
“I think saying good-bye to a show that has been running for 15 seasons is painful. And so the most vocal people, you’re going to see them but that’s like the tip of a very large iceberg of people who loved the show and were mourning it and were mourning the loss of these characters.”
Joe Mantegna, who plays David Rossi, takes a more direct approach to his evaluating the reaction to the finale. He suggest that the only ones that should be upset are the ones that were dumb enough to cancel “Criminal Minds” in the first place.
There was no problem for Messer in coming up with the plot for the first season. Having the episodes deal with a person organizing serial killers came to Messer during the COVID pandemic.
“I just thought, I know why I’m watching some of these true crime things, because I sadly can’t turn it off. I am fascinated by all of it,” Messer says. “And I thought, ‘Gosh, what are serial killers doing right now? Are they using this time to study the greats and read up on this stuff?’
“It would spin me out and freak me out. Then when Paramount+ said, ‘You want to do this?’ I was like, ‘Yes, and I have a story.’”
The first season of “Criminal Minds: Evolution” will consist of 10 episodes. Two episodes will be available on Thanksgiving Day and new episodes will be available each Thursday on Paramount+. CBS will broadcast the first episode at 10 p.m. Nov. 24.