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Criminal Minds: Evolution - Everything You Need To Know

After 15 seasons of highly-watched procedural drama, "Criminal Minds" ended its run on CBS, with the genius profilers and bad guy hunters at the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit taking down a particularly cruel and crafty "unknown subject" (or UnSub) known as The Chameleon, and then going on to other law enforcement adventures. Barely a year later, per Deadline, CBS's streaming sibling Paramount+ made moves toward reviving "Criminal Minds" for Season 16.

Despite that early vote of confidence, the "Criminal Minds" revival got off to a rocky start. After quite a few starts, stops, and hiccups, with long-time original series star Paget Brewster even declaring the reboot unlikely if not impossible, "Criminal Minds" came back in a daring new format and available to viewers in a whole new way. The brand new "Criminal Minds: Evolution" debuted on Paramount+ on November 24 — Thanksgiving Day — with new episodes dropping weekly through February 2023.

Here's everything there is to know about the latest incarnation of the BAU-based, good vs. evil saga, "Criminal Minds: Evolution."

What was the plot of Criminal Minds: Evolution?

TV has become increasingly serialized in recent years, but part of the appeal of "Criminal Minds" appeal was its ability to keep viewers coming back with an old school, case-of-the-week format. Per Deadline, "Criminal Minds: Evolution" abandoned that format, presenting itself more like a limited series, with the plot focused on a single, major case that unfolded over the course of its entire 10-episode run. That's departure is a big part of why "Criminal Minds" was rebranded as a standalone project titled "Criminal Minds: Evolution."

The crime story this time was too big, complex, and harrowing for a single installment of "Criminal Minds." The hunted suspect, or "UnSub," as they're known in show and BAU parlance, is a mastermind who built a collective of serial killers who connected with one another during the pandemic. When the world shut down, they quietly prepared a killing spree in concert and bid their time, waiting for the world to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns so that they could murder on a grand scale. It's up to the BAU team to track down each of these killers and destroy that deadly network.

Meanwhile, per TVLine, the BAU endured some internal political drama, with Emily Prentiss's job as leader of the elite squad called into question by a new deputy director with something to prove.

Who starred in Criminal Minds: Evolution?

"Criminal Minds" is as much an ensemble drama series as it is a crime procedural, and any new season or revival of the franchise would need to include at least some of the familiar faces playing the characters that anchored the show and kept viewers coming back episode after episode for a decade and a half. According to Deadline, six longtime "Criminal Minds" cast members agreed to return to the series early in its pre-production stage, provided they were available and could work out agreeable contracts. When the series was officially green-lit, per Deadline, all six actors were locked in.

Joe Mantegna will continue to portray Senior Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi, Paget Brewster will once again portray SSA Emily Prentiss, Adam Rodriguez will be back as Fugitive Task Force Agent Luke Alvez, Kirsten Vangsness returns as BAU technical analyst Penelope Garcia, A.J. Cook comes back as SSA J.J. Jareau, Josh Stewart will play, Detective William LaMontagne Jr., and Aisha Tyler will once more play forensic psychologist Dr. Tara Lewis. Zach Gilford ("Friday Night Lights," "Midnight Mass"), per TVLine, will play a new character named Elias Voit, a cyber-security company's operations analyst, who also happens to have an obsession with death and a troubling inner darkness. And according to Deadline, Nicole Pacent ("Call Me Kat," "Westworld") will play a recurring character named Rebecca, a Department of Justice lawyer with some bad news for our protagonists.

There are two notable omissions from that "Criminal Minds" cast list. Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid) isn't likely to return, as he's looking forward to new roles, rather than backward at one he played for 15 seasons, nor is Daniel Henney (Matt Simmons), due to his commitments to Prime Video's "The Wheel of Time."

Who was the showrunner for Criminal Minds: Evolution?

After serving on the writing staffs of early 2000s TV favorites like "Alias," "The O.C.," and "Charmed," Erica Messer joined "Criminal Minds" in its debut season in 2005. She'd pen 52 episodes of the series in all, both as a staffer and the show's head writer, also earning promotions to supervising producer, executive producer, and showrunner. Messer remained a chief figure on "Criminal Minds" until it ended its long run in 2020, but returned in much the same capacity for the revival, "Criminal Minds: Evolution," once again in the position of showrunner.

Messer's contributions are so vital to the creative voice and day-to-day production of "Criminal Minds," both in its original form and in its revived "Evolution" format, that the show contractually couldn't happen in its preferred form without her. According to Deadline, production studio ABC Signature signed a deal to return to "Criminal Minds" in late 2021, and none of the original series' actors could ink their contracts until Messer's was finalized.

How are critics and audiences responding to Criminal Minds: Evolution?

Among the top 40 most-watched broadcast shows in its debut season, "Criminal Minds" would be a top 10 hit by 2010, and still ranked in the top 30 during its fifteenth and final season. It's much easier to watch broadcast TV than it is to seek out a show on a subscription-based streaming service, particularly a relatively new and unproven one like Paramount+, but the "Criminal Minds" fans showed up for "Criminal Minds: Evolution." According to Deadline, the revamped series quickly established itself as one of Paramount+'s top five most streamed original series. The most ardent "Criminal Minds" fans seemed to like the new season, too. "Criminal Minds: Evolution" tallied an audience score of 81% on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, a higher figure than the show could muster for its latter broadcast seasons.

The original "Criminal Minds" was never an outright critical hit or awards magnet; it earned only three Emmy Award nominations over 15 seasons, all for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. TV writers who reviewed the show found it middling and formulaic, according to Rotten Tomatoes. But not "Criminal Minds: Evolution," a certified critical smash with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score. "'Criminal Minds' accomplishes a difficult feat for any long-running procedural," wrote Max Gao of The A.V. Club in a representative review. "It finds a way to add new (and somewhat surprising) layers to characters who have graced the screen for more than a decade."

Where to watch previous seasons of Criminal Minds

According to Deadline, a big part of the reason why Paramount wanted to revive "Criminal Minds," and specifically for its burgeoning Paramount+ streaming service, is not just because it was a well-regarded, long-running show with a large built-in audience and name recognition. It's because "Criminal Minds" was a low-key smash as a digital offering. The hefty, 324-episode library of existing "Criminal Minds" episodes became one of the most popular shows to ever be available on Netflix that originated out-of-house, on a broadcast network. 

"Criminal Minds" is no longer available on Netflix, the service that made it a streaming hit, but it's easily found. As of March 2023, the full gamut of 15 seasons' worth of the original "Criminal Minds" installments are currently exclusive to paying Hulu subscribers and on Paramount+. "Criminal Minds: Evolution" is available only on Paramount+, the streaming sibling of the original series' network home of CBS.

Will there be more new episodes of Criminal Minds?

One thing there's no shortage of is "Criminal Minds" episodes. The original series produced more than 300 episodes for CBS between 2005 and 2020, not to mention another 10 in the form of the reboot-meets-revival-meets-sequel-meets-spinoff "Criminal Minds: Evolution," a Paramount+ exclusive.

"Criminal Minds: Evolution" represented a departure from the older show's case-of-the-week concept, with one grand crime story told over the course of the entire limited series. That experiment apparently worked, because another round of episodes of "Criminal Minds," under that specific and self-contained "Evolution" banner, is forthcoming. In January 2023, before the entire season had even been unveiled to the public, Paramount+ was so pleased with the results that it ordered another season of "Criminal Minds: Evolution," according to Deadline. Production is slated to start sometime in 2023, and it sounds like viewers can expect more of the same from the revamped crime drama. "We're thrilled to bring even more twisted storylines to our loyal fans," Paramount Streaming executive Tanya Giles said in a statement. "Fans have quickly embraced this new season with its more serialized elements. There are still many dark twists and turns yet to come for the BAU."