“Criminal Minds: Evolution” premiered on streaming service Paramount+ in November of 2022, picking up where the original “Criminal Minds” series left off upon its cancellation in February 2020. While the series may be sporting a new subtitle and now exclusive to streaming, showrunner Erica Messer considers “Evolution” to be “Criminal Minds” Season 16, rather than the sort of reboot/sequel that’s becoming increasingly popular in major media franchises.
Nevertheless, things aren’t entirely the same as before, given that “Criminal Minds: Evolution” introduces some major revelations to its core characters’ storylines. One particular difference compared to prior seasons is the fact that, rather than progress entirely episodically, “Evolution” Season 1 revolves around a singular big bad. In fact, the villain in “Criminal Minds: Evolution” is likely inspired by a real-life killer.
This criminal mastermind, named Elias Voit (Zach Gilford), leads a group of killers he organized online, meaning that the heroes of “Evolution” must also track down his subordinates. In Episode 5 of “Evolution,” the “Criminal Minds” team must investigate one of these killers, who turns out to be the son of a Virginia senator named Benjamin Reeves, portrayed by a young actor named Luke Benward. If he happens to look familiar, it’s likely from one of the following roles.
Nearly two decades before joining “Criminal Minds: Evolution,” Luke Benward kicked off his acting career as a child, leading a feature film for the first time upon the release of “How to Eat Fried Worms” in 2006. According to his IMDb profile, Benward was only five years old at the time of his very first acting role, in the Mel Gibson war drama “We Were Soldiers,” which premiered in 2002. So, when Benward went on to star in children’s comedy “How to Eat Fried Worms,” though his acting career had already been underway for years, he was still only eight or nine.
In “How to Eat Fried Worms,” Benward plays a boy named Billy whose family moves cities. At his new school, some of Billy’s classmates begin to bully him, leading to a bet that requires Billy to eat a total of ten worms to win. Succeeding in this unlikely task and overcoming his bullies effectively become the dual focuses of the film as it progresses.
While acting seems to be Luke Benward’s primary artistic outlet, the young performer was at one point involved in the music industry too. According to an archive of his discography, his sole release as a musical artist is an EP titled “Let Your Love Out” from 2008, presumably recorded before he was even a teenager.
Benward also appears as one of two principal characters in a music video for the single “Concrete Angel” by acclaimed country singer Martina McBride. In it, a young girl suffers from abuse and neglect from many of the authority figures around her, and Benward portrays a young boy that proves to be the only one sensitive to this girl’s plight. This video was shared to McBride’s official YouTube page in 2009, where it’s been viewed more than 54 million times, making it the most-viewed video she’s released online by a considerable margin.
Unsurprisingly, given the young age at which Luke Benward started acting, a significant number of his performances are in Disney releases. These include the R.L. Stine film adaptation “Mostly Ghostly: Who Let the Ghosts Out?,” monster hunter comedy movie “Girl vs. Monster,” and an original sci-fi film titled “Minutemen” that premiered in 2008. Benward, Jason Dolley, and Nicholas Braun of “Succession” fame portray the central trio in “Minutemen,” and Benward eventually appeared alongside Dolley once again when he briefly joined the Disney sitcom “Good Luck Charlie.”
Dolley plays one of three older children in “Good Luck Charlie,” tasked with caring for their younger sister Charlie (Mia Talerico), as referenced in its title. Benward joins Season 4, which aired in between 2013 and 2014, as a boy named Beau. He serves as a love interest for oldest sister Teddy (Bridgit Mendler). Eventually, Teddy and Beau date, before Beau’s departure from Teddy’s life becomes the focus of Season 4, Episode 16, titled “Bob’s Beau-Be-Gone.”
Luke Benward continued to maintain his relationship with Disney following his “Good Luck Charlie” story arc as one of the two leads of a Disney Channel original snowboarding movie titled “Cloud 9,” which premiered to the network in 2014.
“Cloud 9” stars Benward as a retired snowboarder named Will Cloud, who trains an up-and-comer named Kayla (Dove Cameron). When Kayla first meets Will, he’s working at a dog kennel, having decided to leave the snowboarding world behind after botching an original trick he came up with that serves as the film’s title. In typical fashion, Will wants nothing to do with snowboarding when he first meets Kayla, before learning to admire her passion and agreeing to pass his knowledge on to her. Of course, Kayla wants not just Will’s snowboarding expertise but to successfully land his Cloud 9 trick herself. Kayla’s ability to perform the Cloud 9 ultimately becomes pivotal to winning a snowboarding competition at the film’s climax.
Viewers whose introduction to Luke Benward was as a serial killer in “Criminal Minds: Evolution” might understandably be surprised to find out that many of the actor’s past credits were in child-friendly films and TV series. One role that seems to have paved the way for his “Criminal Minds” appearance is that of Buddy in the Nicholas Cage thriller “Grand Isle,” which premiered in 2019.
Cage stars in the film as a volatile military veteran, whose wife Fancy (KaDee Strickland) becomes interested in Buddy, a man that they contract to repair their home’s fence. Soon Buddy is entangled in the married couple’s decidedly broken dynamic, all of which is intercut with a flash-forward police interrogation hinting at Buddy’s complicity in a resultant crime. The subject matter of “Grand Isle” is just about as adult as could be, suggesting that, between this and his “Criminal Minds” role, Benward may be looking to divorce himself from his family-friendly past and prove he’s a capably nuanced actor in his adulthood.