The world rebuilt in LA

The cast of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (from left) Alana De La Garza, Gary Sinise, Tyler James Williams, Annie Funke and Daniel Henney.
The cast of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (from left) Alana De La Garza, Gary Sinise, Tyler James Williams, Annie Funke and Daniel Henney.PHOTO: SONY CHANNEL

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders 'travels' to destinations popular with Americans, but the set is actually in Los Angeles county

By venturing to countries such as Thailand, Mexico, India, Cuba, Turkey and Japan, the new show Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders offers a slightly less parochial take on the typical American crime procedural.

The series' creator Erica Messer and star Gary Sinise are hoping this adds to the genre's already considerable appeal internationally and helps it emulate the success of series such as the CSI and NCIS franchises, which have consistently topped the list of the most-watched TV dramas in the world since the 2000s.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, Sinise says it never ceases to amaze him how well these crime dramas travel.

"I had a lot of good fortune with the CSI: NY series that we did for nine seasons," says the 61-year-old who, as the star of CSI: New York (2004-2013), is a veteran of the procedural.

"I'd go to these different countries and actually discovered that the show is very popular, and people seem to enjoy seeing it every week.

"And I discovered this when I travel with my different USO tours and with different things that I do around the world," he says, referring to the United Service Organizations trips celebrities make to overseas US military bases to boost troop morale.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is already off to a promising start in South-east Asia, where it debuted on AXN on March 17 and topped all pay-television English-language programmes.

According to AXN, the show captured an 80 per cent viewership share among English-language general-entertainment channels in Singapore alone.

The new show - the second spin-off of the popular Criminal Minds (2005-present), which is about Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who use behavioural profiling to catch criminals in the United States - features cases involving hostage-taking, extortion and other criminal activities resulting from increased cross- border travel, globalisation and technological advances.

But creator Messer and the show's other writers are not going too crazy as they tweak the successful American procedural formula, where a different case is typically presented and solved every week.

The series will thus remain US-centric, travelling mainly to destinations popular with American tourists and examining cases involving US citizens on foreign soil.

Sinise reveals that the storylines will feature Belize, India, Morocco, Egypt, France, Haiti, Spain and South Africa in the first season.

The pilot episode is set in Thailand.

Messer, who has written and produced for Criminal Minds, Alias, Charmed and The O.C., says: "Going to Thailand for our first episode really made sense, given all of our research and that these young folks nowadays do a lot of backpacking - not in Europe, as was always the trend, but to other countries and venturing out.

"So we went with what is happening in the world and applied that to a lot of our episodes."

In the episode, three young American volunteers go missing in the South-east Asian kingdom and the International Response Team - an elite FBI team tasked with cases involving American citizens abroad - investigates their disappearance.

But the show was not filmed there.

Sinise, who plays team leader Jack Garrett, marvelled at how the show's set designers managed to transform the outskirts of Los Angeles county into these far-flung destinations.

"I mean, it's amazing how much you can find here in Los Angeles. And we have a great set designer who's done a remarkable job," says the actor, who won a Golden Globe for Truman (1995) and an Emmy for George Wallace (1997), both TV-movie biopics.

Budgetary concerns underpinned the decision not to film overseas, so the show was extra careful about finances even as it went to extraordinary lengths to recreate foreign cities, Messer says.

"Our incredibly talented group of production designers and on-the- ground producers and line producers are able to find these places within our budget.

"And it was amazing. We were literally all over Los Angeles. We were down in San Pedro and we made these floating markets that you would have a hard time believing were in Los Angeles."

She believes the results of the crew's attention to detail - which included using an 18,180-litre recycling water truck to recreate Thailand's monsoon season for some sequences - were extremely convincing.

Sinise - who is married to actress Moira Harris, 61, and has three children aged 12 to 27 - says the goal is also to expand the horizons of the average viewer.

"We'd like to take our audiences to places that they haven't been and show them, you know, different environments. And that's what's really interesting about the show - every week, you're going to tune in and we're going to be in a different place in the world."

While Messer says the writers have so far "purposely stayed away from any stories involving terrorist attacks" because it can cut too closely to real-life events and sensitivities, the series will have to deal with terrorism eventually.

"It's happening in the world... (and) we're an international crime show," she says. "But it felt like for these first 13 episodes, we're keeping it a little more to smaller stories."

•Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders airs on AXN (StarHub TV Channel 511) on Thursday at 9.45pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'The world rebuilt in LA'. Print Edition | Subscribe