Launched as a backdoor pilot last spring, this show focuses on an elite team of super-profilers who work out of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) in Virginia and get into the heads of criminals whose cases have baffled the local police.

Their leader is Sam Cooper (Forest Whitaker), a somber workaholic who really gets into the head of his quarry. His associates include Beth Griffith (Janeane Garofalo) and computer whiz Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), who can deploy Google better than any man or woman alive. (She comes from the mother ship, "Criminal Minds.")

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Wednesday night, someone in Cleveland has kidnapped two little girls - one black and one white, from separate parts of town.

MY SAY On paper, Whitaker seems like an inspired choice for a "Criminal Minds" spinoff. Anyone who can channel Idi Amin (as he did in the 2006 movie, "The Last King of Scotland") should be able to channel a cop who can then get inside the mind of a psycho kidnapper.

But that's a lot of channeling: maybe too much. Cooper tends to be a lugubrious cipher who drifts in and out of characters. One minute, he's a street-smart cop; the next, he's mind-melded with the head of his prey, muttering semi-coherently about the inherent logic of a kill as if he were the killer himself. Dr. Jekyll in one frame, Mr. Hyde in the next. It's a potentially interesting balancing act, but the first couple of episodes seem to smother Whitaker's talent - or maybe he's the one doing the smothering. There's not much zest to this performance, and you start to wish he'd channel a little more passion.

BOTTOM LINE Competent spinoff, but the formula tends to wear like a straitjacket on Whitaker.

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GRADE B-