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The Real Reason Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders Was Canceled

In the spring of 2016, CBS decided to give a second Criminal Minds spin-off a shot in the form of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. It had been a number of years since the last attempt with the semi-disastrous Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, the one-season wonder that even Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker could not save. This time, showrunner Erica Messer decided to try taking the concept of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (or BAU) to international landscapes, focusing on a special squadron of FBI agents called the International Response Team. 

This team was meant to swoop in and save Americans caught in the statistically-unlikely crosshairs of serial murderers that operate abroad. Gary Sinise starred as Jack Garrett, accompanied by co-stars Alana de la Garza as Clara Seger, Daniel Henney as Matthew Simmons, Tyler James Williams as Russ Montgomery, and Annie Funke as Mae Jarvis.

It's true that the capacity for serial murder exists in people as part of the human condition, unbound by geographical location or individual cultural values, so this show sought to put that twist on the sometimes-drab everyday world of stateside crime procedural tropes. The 26 episodes of Beyond Borders, though, were instead accused of laziness, casual racism and xenophobia, and being just plain old boring. Here's why Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders had its television passport revoked.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders got off to a rough start

Right out of the gate, Beyond Borders wasn't terribly well-received. The show's cast was introduced via backdoor pilot, in a crossover episode during Criminal Minds' tenth season, offering a nice leg-up for the new show's characters to garner interest.

That changed with the full-season pilot episode almost a year later, which opened to near-universal critical panning. Some were gentle — The A.V. Club review seemed mostly bored with the whole thing, for example — but others, like USA Today, tore the pilot apart with particular vehemence, clearly disgusted with the episode's intimation that the American coeds murdered in the show deserved what happened to them. (Why? Because other white girls died in Thailand a year before, and they should have read about it before traveling there. Nice.) 

The review went on to disparage the show's xenophobic thesis: "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."

The Hollywood Reporter took serious issue with the notion that one can just take Criminal Minds' serial-killer-of-the-week formula and drop it into other countries for Americans to swoop in and save the day, writing, "On Criminal Minds, unsubs are aberrations, but on Beyond Borders, they're products of their non-American environments, lurking in wait for tourists, young tourists, as their parents huddle at home in misery."

Slate went on later in the year to cite Beyond Borders (along with a few other programs, to be fair) as part of its argument that CBS was intentionally and directly catering to racist Americans for easy ratings.

Poor thesis, poor characterization, poor logic

Criminal Minds worked because of its well-drawn characters, combined with what was (at first) a pretty grounded approach to a procedural through the eyes of a specialized law enforcement department that actually exists and captures the public's imagination. The BAU is real, even if Criminal Minds took the methodology and science attached to it to melodramatic extremes as time and seasons wore on.

By contrast, an "international response team" does not exist within the FBI as a concept or actual titled division. The entire idea that the FBI can just appear in any given foreign jurisdiction on Earth and assist, much less control criminal investigations involving Americans traveling abroad in any kind of situation short of a major terrorist incident is, well, laughable — and it's the kind of railroading attitude that the FBI has been trying to overcome with domestic law enforcement groups for decades. It's a significant plot point in many episodes of original-flavor Criminal Minds that the BAU can't just show up at a local precinct and demand to run point on a case just because they think some serial murder is afoot. How did producers just forget that little fact?

On top of this generous interpretation of how international crime fighting works, critics referred to the show as generally dull and lacking in good character development — arguably the most important factor in the mothership show's success. "All of these characters are nothing more than vague sketches, first-draft passes that never went through the rewrite stage. The actors themselves seem to know that they're slumming it, doing the bare minimum to get paid and lazily delivering lines that never really land," The A.V. Club's review opined.

The final nail in the coffin for Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders

Despite the poor reviews and even some very good questions about the show's inclination to jingoism and stereotyping, the first season of Beyond Borders performed relatively well ratings-wise — well enough for CBS to justify a second season, at least. The show received a second 13-episode order, setting the stage for the jaw-dropping sixth episode of that season, entitled "Cinderella and the Dragon." 

The episode is set in Singapore, and is quick to inform audiences of the stereotype surrounding the country's strict laws punishing criminals — even going so far as to cite the 1994 public caning of an American teenager for vandalism, which is likely the only thing about Singapore many Americans have in their cultural memory due to the minor international incident the conviction caused.

On top of the hand-wringing around Singaporean law enforcement culture, apparently almost everything presented in the episode about the country was at least partially incorrect, leading to ire on social media; one blog counted twenty inaccuracies about Singapore and its culture, and one of Singapore's foremost social satirist bloggers, Mr. Brown, made two Facebook videos mocking those inaccuracies. Criticism didn't stick to the casual blogosphere, either — the largest English-language Singaporean newspaper, The Straits Times, reported on the negative response as well.

The viewership of the second season averaged nearly half the numbers of the first, so that certainly drove Beyond Borders to its fate, but this level of pointed international press probably added real sting. When May of 2017 came along and networks' bubble reports went public, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was officially canceled, never to go globetrotting again.