These days, "Criminal Minds" is as much about the regular characters' personal lives as their bizarre cases, as Kirsten Vangsness certainly knows.
Since the show's start, the actress has been absent from only one episode as quirky tech whiz Penelope Garcia, who's reminded of an old romance in the new story Wednesday (Jan. 15) on CBS. The Behavioral Analysis Unit's latest serial-murder case prompts Garcia to draw upon her days as a self-styled hacker, which reunites her with a similarly skilled ex-boyfriend (guest star Paolo Costanzo, "Royal Pains").
"I've got different special episodes coming up," a clearly excited Vangsness tells Zap2it. "This first one was written by (series co-executive producer) Breen Frazier, and I promise you've never seen a 'Criminal Minds' like this. I've never seen one like this. It has some really interesting stuff, and Breen had to work really hard and do a lot of research for it. It was really fun to do."
Another "special episode" for Vangsness -- and for her castmates -- is the show's 200th, airing Wednesday, Feb. 5. The plot revolves around JJ's ( A.J. Cook) kidnapping, and her colleagues' search involves familiar faces from the past; former co-star Paget Brewster returns as Emily Prentiss, and Jayne Atkinson reappears as the now-deceased Erin Strauss. (Hint: Flashbacks are involved.)
"Then, the episode after No. 200 introduces Garcia's new boyfriend," Vangsness adds with evident pleasure. "We've seen him once. He's played by an actor named Stephen Simon, and he's this really great performance artist in Los Angeles.
"And in the 200th episode, Nicholas Brendon comes back as (fellow BAU 'techie' and sometimes beau) Kevin Lynch. I love this whole spectrum of boys that Garcia gets to frolic with. It's fantastic."
Also seen regularly in repeats on both A&E and ION, "Criminal Minds" is "a very difficult show for me to watch," Vangsness admits. "I love doing it so much, but I'm one of those people the show is just too violent for. I miss a lot of episodes because I don't have the stomach for it ... and I've noticed that my performing suffers when I watch the show.
"I will watch 'Parks and Recreation,' and I will act on 'Criminal Minds,'" concludes Vangsness. "That's how I get through the day."
Photo/Video credit: CBS