Joe Mantegna reprises his role in ‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’

For Joe Mantegna, who returns to his best-known role as David Rossi in a rebooted, streaming “Criminal Minds: Evolution” this Thanksgiving, the new title is accurate.

“I think we’ve evolved in a lot of ways,” Mantegna, 75, said in a Zoom interview. “First, two and a half years have passed — and the world has moved on. I mean, with everything called pandemic, this, that, the other.

“And the show evolved by being on Paramount+, a streaming service. We should always push the envelope anyway, but now we’re pushing it even harder. Because we don’t have those same settings, it’s grittier, darker in terms of looks, sound, language, everything.

“Which is just a benefit because it’s a lot more realistic than we’ve ever been able to do before in what we represent and the organization we represent.”

“Criminal Minds” ranks among the most successful series in broadcast history. An insight into the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) and the agents who profile and track serial killers nationwide, the show spotlights Rossi, the lead analyst.

Can new fans who haven’t seen “Criminal Minds” tune in and follow what’s going on? Or do you need to know the context because it is, after all, the 16th season?

“I think if someone just caught an episode they could still figure it all out,” Mantegna replied. “But hopefully it will generate more interest and it’s quite easy to do: they can just go back and watch 15 seasons of ‘Criminal Minds’, over 320 episodes, to do it.

“But the storyline of this particular season in these 10 episodes that we’re doing, they can understand a lot if someone didn’t have the ability to watch anything before.”

The series reveals week after week the not so hidden underside of society. “When people ask me about the show, they always say, ‘Would you like to do a dark, scary, weird show?’ And I always say no.

“That’s exactly what it is: it’s a spectacle. I say, ‘Talk to people who are actually doing this for a living.’

“Yeah, these are tragic things that happened to this David Rossi character. But listen, everyone has a story. No one gets a free ride. And that includes Joe Mantegna. And that includes you, and then includes everything the world on the planet.

“In other words, we can all, if we’re in a hurry, say, ‘Well, yeah, I’ll find dark parts of my life from things that I wish hadn’t happened. We all have that. My feeling is that it’s okay. It’s my job as an actor to portray that.

‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’ airs Thanksgiving night with two episodes on Paramount+