On a balmy Friday night a couple dozen expats gathered beside the lagoon here on Ambergris Caye for an outdoors screening of this week’s episode of the spin-off CBS show “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.”
Since its original TV airing on Wednesday, expats and Belizeans all over this tiny country have been convulsed in paroxysms of laughter. To be honest, some have been convulsed in paroxysms of rage.
This week, the elite FBI team lead by a heavily botoxed Gary Sinese drops into Belize to find a young American honeymoon couple who have gone two days without posting anything on social media, thus raising suspicions of foul play.
Let me say this: We all know Hollywood makes stuff up. That is what they do. That is their job and we mostly appreciate it.
From the opening backdrop of an expansive white sand beach, dotted with colorful umbrellas, this show got Ambergris Caye all wrong.
Oh, we have colorful umbrellas — mostly green with the logo for Belikin, the national beer, on them.
We do not have expansive white-sand beaches. We have mostly small, narrow beaches and, more and more likely, retaining walls erected to fight the erosion.
We all loved that the team landed their huge jet on the mainland at the international airport north of Belize City, then drove to the island in an SUV and one motorcycle. They checked into the U.S. consulate in San Pedro, the island’s only town, except that the U.S. only has an embassy in the capital, Belmopan, 66 miles inland from the coast.
The real-life U.S. Embassy staff recently made its once-a-year official visit to San Pedro to tell us how little help they could be should we get in a bind, an ironic counterpoint to this show’s whole premise. They are very nice people, however.
From there, the show took a share turn toward the absurd. I can only imagine that the writers and staff researcher scored some incredibly good ganja, the high from which they still haven’t come down.
They added barren rocky hillsides to an island that is barely a foot above sea level and lush with tropical growth. They had beautifully paved roads for the mandatory chase scenes. We drive on mostly rutted dirt roads and paving stones.
Tourists were renting SUV’s and Jeeps on an island that rents out only golf carts and bicycles, our primary modes of transportation. Granted, macho FBI agents chasing bad guys in golf carts wouldn’t fly in a TV drama that tries hard not to be a comedy, not deliberately.
The bad guy kept his victims in a cellar. In all of Ambergris Caye you will not find a cellar. The water table is inches below the surface.
The bad guy followed some kind of Aztec warrior code in an area that has been exclusively Mayan for centuries.
The good guys dredged a bay for bodies — about as cliche as you can get. We have no bays. We do have a barrier reef that tempers the rough Caribbean waves.
Perhaps the saddest thing was the show’s insistence that the people of Belize all speak Kriol, when the official language is English. In fact most people speak English, Spanish and Kriol. It got worse as the FBI team’s linguist “translated” a tow truck driver’s babble — my Kriol-speaking friends were baffled by his babble. I love that the linguist talked over the top of the man’s Kriol, translating his words before he’s actually said them. Those FBI folks are amazing.
Here’s the Kriol scene:
We were equally baffled at how a tow truck got on the island, as we have none.
It just goes on and on.
And I get it.
An Amazon-exclusive series called “Mad Dogs” supposedly takes place in Belize but it is shot in Puerto Rico, which shares a kindred environment. The background is plausible, even if the plot isn’t.
And there isn’t a street or neighborhood within 60 miles of Hollywood that we haven’t seen in moves and TV shows a hundred times over. But we accept that because the movie settings are often generic.
Some might disagree, but I think we live in a smarter more-aware world. And Hollywood hasn’t quite figured that out. Or just doesn’t care.
Certainly the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Ambergris every year wouldn’t be fooled by a show shot on the cheap — but neither would the millions who look at videos and photos of this island online through social media.
People don’t demand rigid authenticity but some decent stab at plausibility.
I’m told that the few establishing scenes used in this episode were shot by an expat Canadian filmmaker, Matthiew Klinck, much beloved by the island people for a telenovela pilot he shot here over a year ago. “Criminal Minds” was his last assignment before he was brutally murdered earlier this year.
I think the only thing the “Criminal Minds” episode got right was the periodic appearance of a fussy resort representative, clipboard cradled in her arm, who was more obsessed with the resort’s image than solving an inconvenient murder mystery.
We’ve got a lot of those.
Last night’s screening at a popular outdoors dining spot called The Truck Stop was a hoot. Mostly.
People are proud of this island, and as fully aware of its limitations as its pleasures.
This show felt almost like a smear campaign.
Especially the portrayal of Aztec cannibal rituals. Hey, I’m not kidding!
As one Facebook poster asked “Are they deliberately trying to drive away tourism?”
Now that is Ambergris Caye.