Millennium vs. Profiler

Essay by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997


These two shows were part of the crop of new offerings this season. Superficially, there are many similarities between both programs:

Premise

MILLENNIUM: In Chris Carter's latest incarnation, Frank Black (Lance Henrikson) is a former FBI agent that worked in the Violent Crimes Section as a 'profiler'. He left the FBI after someone sent him polaroids of his wife and child and he felt powerless to protect them. He moved back to Seattle and joined the Millennium Group, a shadowy anti-crime private enterprise. However, at the end of the pilot episode, he received some polaroids of his wife and child, taken in Seattle. Somewhere, the mysterious stalker is watching him.

PROFILER: In the NBC series created by Cynthia Saunders, Sam Waters (Ally Walker) is a former FBI agent that worked in the Violet Crimes Section as a 'profiler'. She left the FBI after the 'Jack-of-All-Trades' killer began stalking her, eventually killing her husband. She moved out into the country with her daughter, until the FBI asked her to come back to help them solve cases. However, at the end of the pilot episode, she received a message from 'Jack-of-All Trades'-- 'Welcome back Sam'. Somewhere, he is watching her.

Special Skills

MILLENNIUM: Frank Black seems to have an uncanny ability to get into the mind of the killer, and see things through the eyes of the killer-- almost like a psychic link.

PROFILER: Sam Waters seems to have an uncanny ability to get into the mind of the killer, and see things through the eyes of the killer. According to series creator Cynthia Saunders, Sam is not psychic-- she is merely observant and intuitive in her work.

The Look

MILLENNIUM: Cinematic look and feel. A gritty and dark atmosphere, with excessively graphic images. Very disturbing for network television.

PROFILER: Cinematic look and feel. Not as gritty and dark as Millennium, and the violence is more implied, instead of being given a visceral treatment. Still, considerably intense for what NBC normally shows.

The Music

MILLENNIUM: Mark Snow-composed rich string soundtrack that brings out the atmosphere of dread that permeates the series.

PROFILER: Rich string soundtrack that brings out the atmosphere of dread that permeates the series.

So which series is the better one?

The problem with this type of genre is that it can quickly settle into a 'serial killer of the week' format, which is very boring. What is needed is some kind of a developing story-arc, a mythology, to keep up the audience's interest. Another requirement is to have stories that focus on the secondary characters-- to provide backstory on the characters and to give them challenges that help them grow.

Though Millennium started off with high expectations and hype, it seems to be developing into a shock-value 'serial killer of the week' kind of show. The majority of the stories have focused on Frank (except for one, "Dead Letters", starring Space:Above and Beyond alumnus James Morrison), which is probably due to design. There has not been much fostering of the secondary characters (for example, the peripheral characters of the X-files-- Skinner, CSM, Krycek, etc.). As a result, the episodes have unfolded in a mostly-systematic manner:

1. Opening shot of some gruesome murder.

2. Frank gets the call, takes a look around, sees flashbacks of the act, etc.

3. Frank finds some obscure clue buried nearby, carved into the body, etc.

4. Frank goes home and worries about raising a family in a world full of depravity.

5. Frank catches up with the killer, and has a conversation about motivation, etc.

6. The killer is caught, dies, etc.

7. Frank goes home and tries to reconcile the depravity he sees everyday with his desire to keep his family safe.

The story arc of the mysterious polaroid stranger has fallen by the wayside since the early episodes. There has not been much exposition on the Millennium group, nor their mission, nor the anticipated chaos that is supposed to engulf the world at the end of the century, which really gives you nothing to hook you in. Hopefully, these issues will be explored in future episodes.

Profiler, on the other hand, has the beginnings of a good series. Though Sam Waters is the central character, there is more of an ensemble cast in this series, and some of the episodes have gone into some examination of the peripheral characters, giving them something to do. Furthermore, the 'Jack-of-All-Trades' story arc has been gaining momentum since the pilot episode, with revelations being made about him as the series develops. In fact, one episode was dedicated solely to developing the story arc, when Sam found out the logic behind Jack's seemingly random killings-- all the people he killed were people that were from Sam's life... from the doctor that delivered her when she was born, to the librarian in the bookmobile when she was young, and finally her husband. Finally, Profiler does not rely on shock value as much as Millennium, and the violence is implied, so it is certainly less 'exploitational'.

So in the end, Profiler seems to have the momentum to carry it and be a worthwhile series... as long as it can overcome the horrid Saturday 10:00pm timeslot. Millennium, with its template-approach in its episodes, lack of an engaging story arc, and 'exploitational' qualities (which is getting backlash from SIGs and advertisers), seems to be on shaky ground. But then again, the networks never seem to follow logic when it comes to making decisions about programming.


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