Top menu

Dear incompetent ‘Criminal Minds’ writers: Allow me to introduce you to Wheeling, W.Va.

Above: West Virginia documentary viewed by “Criminal Minds” script writers

Has a TV show or movie ever used your hometown as a setting? Did it seem the writers never even bothered to look up your town on Wikipedia?

So. The April 2 episode of “Criminal Minds,” called “Blood Relations,” supposedly took place in the city across the Ohio River from my hometown. The writers of the show called this town “Wheeling, W.Va.,” and called the time period “now,” but it seemed to have been set in a CBS backlot last used for “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Here’s the TV Guide synopsis:

Two murder victims are found in a West Virginia backwoods community. The investigation reveals that the homicides may be linked to a long-simmering feud between two families.

OK, two West Virginia cliches so far. Let’s continue:

  • We hear lots of funny cornpone southern accents.
  • The families started feuding over moonshine, but recently graduated to meth (a cliche two-fer).
  • A main criminal goes by the name “Mountain Man.”
  • The names of the characters include Cissy, Magdalena, Malachi, and Miles (cue banjo).
  • And, of course… incest!

All in all, a fun trip through Almost Heaven.

As this USA Today critic said:

Because of course, in Hollywood, when you think of West Virginia or Kentucky or the entire Appalachians, all your tiny mind can think of is the Hatfields and McCoys.

But there’s a much deeper level of writer incompetence: Wheeling is not a southern city.

Hollywood's "backwoods community"

This “backwoods community” is a blue-collar, Rust Belt, predominantly Catholic (but see comment), gritty northern town of 28,000. It’s “southern” in the way Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis are southern — Wheeling is due east from those cities, right on Interstate 70. Also, having a major interstate cut through your city is a clue that it’s not necessary “backwoods.”

Wheeling is even north of the Mason-Dixon line. Thus, Wheeling residents don’t talk southern. They sound similar to Pittsburgh residents, because Wheeling is barely an hour from that steel city. The closest southern accent is two hundred miles to the south.

No criminal hiding in the woods would call himself “Mountain Man.” Wheeling is not in the mountains. It’s in a river valley among the foothills of the Appalachians. The mountains, like the accents, are hours away.

And the people there are given annoyingly normal Midwestern names. (“Cissy”? Really? You have got to be kidding me.)

If you Hollywood writers want to beat this city with cliches, listen to Billy Joel’s “Allentown.” Although that city is on the other side of Pennsylvania, Joel’s song reflects the culture and challenges of Wheeling a lot better than the banjos of deepest Appalachia. Union thugs, cigar-chomping steel barons, factory whistles, hard hats, greasy-spoon cafes filled with geezers wearing trucker caps — those are the cliches that we who know Wheeling would at least recognize, even if they are of course just cliches.

Those who defend such creative liberties because it’s just a TV show have a shallow understanding of fiction. The purpose of placing a story into a different setting is to add authenticity, not to subtract from it. A little research on the part of the writers of “Criminal Minds” would have helped write a stronger (maybe even less cliched) story, based on the actual interesting little city that is Wheeling. Placing a horrific fictional crime in our city would have been rather thrilling, and would have gained thousands of fans for the show. 

So, TV writers, as Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” And if you don’t know, find someone who does. We out here in the backwoods would thank ye kindly.

UPDATE: Related post from years gone by: “The X-Files: I Want To Believe the Rocky Mountains Can Stand in for West Virginia.”

UPDATE 2: If the show didn’t want to bother with researching the city that its fake team was going to fake visit, then why not invent a fake town? I recommend Hooten Holler, down south in Podunk County, just past Petticoat Junction.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

No small career

How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about (arithmetic), and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?

G.K. Chesterton

We give no quarter with these criminal music puns


Not that my household needs much of an excuse to start a punning war. But this story that happened across Facebook recently was too, too much to resist.

Music Teacher Caught Selling Tubas for Drug Money


As I announced: “Music teacher hits a new low: Steals tuba to sell for heroin. May the punning commence.”

So, saved for posterity and your amusement, our Facebook exchange:

  • Jon Swerens Also accused of trying to score some blow. #2punsin1
  • Joe Carlin Her bass instincts sunk her to a new low. Call in the brass & march her off to jail.
  • Mary E. Swerens String ‘em up!
  • Jon Swerens Boy, is she in treble with the law.
  • Mary E. Swerens She needed to drum up some money…
  • Jon Swerens … but the cops snared her.
  • Mary E. Swerens #rimshot
  • Sarita R. Swerens Tubad I don’t know much about music, I’d be making some puns.
  • Jon Swerens It’s a felony to be caught with a band substance.
  • Jon Swerens By pleading, she staved off a harsh sentence.
  • Mary E. Swerens Who orchestrated this plan, anyway??
  • Jon Swerens That would be the key to the case.
  • Jon Swerens Hate to think they’d be trumped-up charges.
  • Jon Swerens At least she got her one sousaphone call.
  • Sarita R. Swerens That one was clef-er. But we can stop harping on about it now?
  • Jon Swerens She’s got a high-powered lawyer from D.C.: Al Coda.
  • Jon Swerens That’s how I woodwinda case.
  • Jon Swerens That’s what you get when you piccolo-life boyfriend.
  • Mary E. Swerens We’re just oboeing our way through this all by ourselves. Where is everyone??
  • Jon Swerens Hope they reed her her rights.
  • Sarita R. Swerens Maybe you should just give it a rest…
  • Mary E. Swerens “…anything you say can and will be used against you in a coda law…”
  • Hope Banks Do you all realize how wonderful you are? I so enjoyed reading these comments. I would try and make a pun but puns are not my forte.
  • Jon Swerens She tried to act natural, but not being too sharp, the police caught her flat-footed, although it was accidental.
  • Sarita R. Swerens I was trying to compose a pun with ‘sharp’, but you stole it. I feel minorly disappointed.
  • Jon Swerens It’s a major bummer, I know.
  • Sarita R. Swerens Your tone denotes sarcasm.
  • Jon Swerens Of course, she’ll get a suspended sentence.
  • Jon Swerens And on that note, with a measure of satisfaction and some concerted effort, we’ll put her behind bars, the perfect finale, a fitting cymbal of justice.

Why Wheeling flipped out: Jealousy, love, and the importance of a good name

Backwoods Wheeling

The Upper Ohio Valley is really, really fired up about that “Criminal Minds” portrayal in its “Blood Relations” episode on April 2. My blog post about the TV show has been read by more than 26,000 people so far, crazy considering Wheeling’s population is not much more than that.

On the opposite side, you’ll find cynics turning a fire hose on the mob with two categories of dismissal:

  • “It’s just a stupid TV show.”
  • “It’s just a stupid city.”

So, those of you who are upset, let’s talk. The Rolling-the-Eyes Set is embarrassed that you care this much. And let’s face it: Have some of you let your anger take control of your faculties? Oh yeah, so maybe consider turning down the heat to a rolling seethe.

But I’ll tell you straight out: I’ll take overreaction and outrage over detachment and disdain any day.

Anger is better than apathy. Anger isn’t good, of course. A lot of people need to grab a PBR and calm down a notch. But your anger shows that you think something is at stake with the portrayal of Wheeling in such an inaccurate way.

Reputation matters:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1

So, when the city you love is hit with a double-layer crapcake of not only misinformation, but misinformation from an entirely different region, what is that feeling, rising in your soul?

It’s love.

Love is jealous, in that old definition way: “fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.” Everyone who has lived in Wheeling, or grew up there and now lives elsewhere, can list Wheeling as one of his possessions, as something to protect and be vigilant about.

Ah, you’re ignoring all the problems in Wheeling, say the naysayers.

For right now, yes. Love does that sometimes. But apathy never fixes anything. Apathy is too afraid to care too much, afraid to look ridiculous.

But love is ridiculous. It’s the ridiculousness of the fanboy.

Reject the “cool shaming.” Embrace your love for Wheeling.

Remember, though, that loving a city can be like loving an older brother with a gambling problem. Oh, how he can neglect his duties! He shuns offers of assistance. Sometimes, we have to distance ourselves, just to keep our sanity. But man, we always wish the best for him and cheer for every glimmer of hope.

Also, and very importantly, no one outside the family gets to take a shot at him.

So, writers of “Criminal Minds,” as you fly from coast to coast, I hope you can keep a lesson in mind. This jealous love for our city? This is how true blood relations work.

Photo of downtown Wheeling courtesy of Joseph A on Flickr