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'Criminal Minds: Evolution' Began With Showrunner Erica Messer Wondering What Serial Killers Were Doing in the Pandemic

The continuation of 'Criminal Minds' will follow a prolific serial killer who became a legend during the pandemic.

Danielle Turchiano
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From left to right: Paget Brewster and Aisha Tyler in 'Criminal Minds: Evolution'

Paramount+

The last television audiences saw of the Criminal Minds gang, it was February 2020, and the world looked very different, both on-screen and off. With the aptly titled Criminal Minds: Evolution serving as the next chapter in that crime drama's saga, they are embracing the changes.

"In the premiere they're going to discover there's been a prolific killer on the loose since 2005 and he's [earned] legendary status in the pandemic," showrunner Erica Messer revealed during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the series. 

That killer, known as an "unsub" (unidentified subject) is Elias Volt, played by new cast member Zach Gilford, and he will taunt the team over the course of the new 10-episode season.

That emphasis on serialization is also new for the storytelling, perhaps aided by the fact that the series will now stream on Paramount+ and premiere with its first two episodes (on Nov. 24), rather than following the old linear network format on CBS. But the specific serial killer storyline is one that came to Messer because of her own personal fascination with true crime.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when time was on everyone's side, she began to wonder what serial killers were using that time to do. "Are they just studying the greats?" she thought. So, when Paramount+ called to inquire about restarting the series, she had the story all teed up.

Creating this continuation series wasn't as simple as finding one complicated bad guy for the team to chase, though. Because Criminal Minds came to an end with the beloved Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) going down a new path to work with an environmental research firm, there was some work to put in to figure out how the whole team could reunite to work together again. While they did find a way for Garcia to return, Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Matthew Simmons (Daniel Henney) won't be appearing in the show. But they won't be forgotten, Messer said, calling out that their desks are still there.

Additionally, one very important team member is going to be in crisis, which sends ripple effects through the rest.

"We wanted to honor this journey of grief that a lot of people have been through, certainly since we've last seen them, and we put that burden onto Rossi's shoulders," Messer explained. "The whole team is worried and suffering with him and for him."

Criminal Minds: Evolution will premiere on Nov. 24 and then stream new episodes weekly on Thursdays through Dec. 15 before taking a break until Jan. 12, when it will finish the run with weekly episodes up to and including Feb. 9.