Eleven seasons in, Criminal Minds is no stranger to new faces. After introducing – and saying goodbye to – Jennifer Love Hewitt last season, the long-running procedural will (temporarily) bid adieu to AJ Cook and welcome The Talk co-host Aisha Tyler in a major arc.
But despite losing a few core cast members in recent seasons (see: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Paget Brewster), the show’s loyal viewership keeps coming back for more. Executive producer Erica Messer tells The Hollywood Reporter how the show maintains its patented chemistry through those changes, what’s ahead in season 11 and what crossovers to expect on the upcoming spinoff Beyond Borders.
We left off last season with the reveal that JJ (AJ Cook) is pregnant. How much is that going to play into the beginning of Season 11?
We are going to be able to see her in the first episode with her little baby and we’re going to have her be on maternity leave for the first six episodes of the season. We wanted to play the reality of this is what happens when people have babies in the workplace. They don’t come back the next day. We’re playing that reality and we’ll even get to see AJ’s actual baby, which is something she did the first time when she had her first son. It’s truly a family affair.
Aisha Tyler has joined the cast this season. How is she going to play into the fold and what is she adding to the BAU?
She’s a forensic psychologist whose expertise has been studying and interviewing serial killers once they’ve been caught to see if they are able to stand trial. It’s a different skill set than our team in the field touching these guys, but she’s up of the challenge for that and really excited to join the best unit out there.
For those six episodes that AJ is gone and JJ is on maternity leave, Aisha will be our female in the fold with the team and helping them solve the cases. We love her so much that we’re hoping to extend her stay with us. The deal is not totally done yet so I can’t really talk about it but we are hoping to have her in quite a few more episodes this season, not just the initial six.
One of the things that makes this show so popular is that people love the chemistry between these particular agents. Therehave been a few exits and returns in the past couple of seasons though. How have you guys maintained that closeness and feeling of “a family affair”?
It really reflects real life in so many ways. It’s an anomaly, especially in this business, to work on the same series for eleven seasons. I bet a lot of people would argue they haven’t been at a job that long. When we just write the reality of it; that people come and go from your work life and you have to be really close as FBI agents out there in the field when it’s death every week. You pretty much have to have a bond and a short hand with one another to solve cases. When a person leaves it has an impact on the team but the team has to soldier on because the bad guys don’t stop. We always pay a certain amount of respect to it, but also again, living in the reality we have to keep moving. We can stop and be sad that someone is leaving but the truth is there is a bad guy out there that we need to stop.
Where is the team going in to season 11 and what are they trying to achieve?
The over-arching thing about organized bad guys that have a head start on us is really the central focus for all of our heroes. There are a lot of scary things. There’s a lot of when good guys stop bad guys, sometimes good guys become targets. We’re going to play all of that. We’re going to have our team embracing a new person and then bringing AJ back is this idea that life goes on. These guys with these jobs just keep doing what they do.
Are there any recent current events that have caught the attention of the writers’ room and are being wrapped into this season?
The one that we’re doing this season, and it’s an arc for the year, is something that happened in the real world: Silk Road was disbanded by the FBI. The idea behind that is that there were a lot of illegal activities happening behind that and a lot of bad people doing bad things and just because Silk Road is gone doesn’t mean that group of bad people won’t find a new space to continue to do illegal things. That’s the one this year that’s taken center stage.
Aside from that, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve already written a story and then the news breaks with something that’s very similar to our story. It’s more often that it happens that way than we are taking headlines and twisting to make them an episode.
How much Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders be embedded in the first half of Criminal Minds before the premiere?
It will be interesting once we have an airdate for Beyond Borders. There may be a version of having a cameo from one of those characters on Criminal Minds. Beyond Borders has a cameo from Joe Mantegna in the first episode so we want to keep alive that these two teams know one another and friendly with one another, but we’re not going to plan any massive crossover episodes or anything like that. It feels like that’s what the embedded episode did.
What else should fans be looking forward to in Season 11?
I think you are coming back to watch the bad guys you love catch the bad guys every week. There’s something familiar and comfortable with this group of heroes being on the air for 11 years. As always, we learn something new about everybody every season. Come back and find out more about what makes your heroes tick.
Criminal Minds returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.