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The first season of Netflix’s Mindhunter—released back in October 2017—failed to grab me. But the just-released second season, with its first three episodes directed by executive producer David Fincher, kept me watching.

The show plays as sort of a “greatest hits” for serial killers, as an FBI division investigates the motivations of some of history’s most notorious real-life killers in the late 1970s. The main investigative plot has the team searching for the Atlanta child murderer(s), which occurred between 1979 and 1981, but it also involves the BTK serial killer. The team interviews David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) and Charles Manson. Of note: Manson is played by Damon Herriman, who also played Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, albeit it only for a few seconds.

The show stumbles a bit when it comes to Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) dealing with family drama. It’s one subplot too much for a show that has a lot of subplots. Jonathan Groff, who annoyed me during the first season, gets a little more interesting as the angst-ridden agent who is champing at the bit to sit across from Charlie Manson.

Mindhunter: Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Way back in 1992, several states and Canada attempted to boycott or outright ban the sale of Eclipse’s “True Crime” trading-card series, a hot-selling item depicting notorious serial killers instead of baseball players, replete with artful portraits and murder stats. In pre-Internet days, this was an outrage.

Fast-forward 20 years later: People can’t get enough of serial killers—books, podcasts, Etsy subcategories (go ahead, search it) and, of course, TV series. Movies? Not so much, because you can’t spell “serialization” without “serial”: Only so many murder victims can be squeezed into a two-hour flick, but a six-to-13-hour serialized TV show? Now we’re talkin’ respectable body counts.

Here are eight of the best serial-killer TV shows currently available in the streamverse (“all killer, no filler” setup not included—you’re welcome):

Mindhunter (Season 1 on Netflix): FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathon Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) team up with psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to learn from incarcerated murderers how to profile future serial killers—it’s 1977; this isn’t a thing yet. The individual backstories and character quirks are slowly unveiled over 10 episodes featuring the trio kicking against skeptical Bureau pricks with their “egghead” approach, but it’s the killers themselves who steal the show. Particularly, Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) is such an intelligent, amiable nerd that it’s almost easy to overlook that he decapitated his own mother and had sex with her severed skull. (“Head” joke goes here.) Producer/director David Fincher lends Mindhunter a tense, cinematic sheen, but he should can his music director. (Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”? Really?)

The Killing (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): Based on Danish TV series The Crime, The Killing debuted on AMC in 2011, back when the cable network was still trying to figure out how to blow all of its new Walking Dead money—turns out dark prestige crime dramas were not the way to go. As the title implies, The Killing initially followed a single case of a teenage girl’s murder, but the murder count eventually escalated—we’re still more-or-less in serial-killer territory here, so relax. Seattle Police Det. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is wholly unique in the cop-show genre in that she’s a real, three-dimensional person, not a “troubled genius”; likewise, The Killing is a slow, slow burn that subverts the episodic payoffs of Law and Order-type series in favor of a moody long game. (Maybe a little too long: Season 4, which went straight to Netflix, was unnecessary.)

The Fall (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix): Yes, Jamie Dornan was terrible in Fifty Shades of Grey, but to be fair, everyone was terrible in Fifty Shades of Grey … I mean, never saw it. In British series The Fall, he’s Belfast family man Paul Spector, a serial killer who stalks, strangles and then stages women after cleaning them and painting their nails—other than the whole murder thing, he’s almost boyfriend material. He meets his match in Det. Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who discerns his identity early on, setting up a tense, quasi-sexy twist on the psychological thriller. Dornan is effectively deadly-dreamy, but Anderson’s zero-bullshit woman-on-a-mission is the real draw here. (After this, it’s easy to see why she doesn’t want to go back to playing second fiddle on The X-Files.) The Fall wraps tidily at 17 episodes total, with little fat or filler.

Marcella (Season 1 on Netflix): If The Fall is the gold standard of contemporary British crime dramas, 2016’s Marcella takes the silver—but it’s still deeper than most American cop shows. (God, I’m such a hipster.) This one comes from producer/writer/director Hans Rosenfeldt (who created FX’s late, great The Bridge—another murder-y thriller), with Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies, The Girlfriend Experience) in the title role as a troubled London detective pulled back into the case of a suddenly-active-again serial killer. Marcella also has 99 problems: Her husband (Nicholas Pinnock) has just left her for a younger woman at his legal firm; said woman is among the killer's latest victims; Marcella suffers from rage blackouts from which she sometimes awakens covered in blood (!). Friel is fantastic; Season 2 arrives later this year.

Hannibal (Seasons 1-3 on Amazon Prime): This actually aired on primetime broadcast network television—though some NBC affiliates opted to pre-empt it after they finally figured out that Hannibal, based on not-at-all-obscure film The Silence of the Lambs, was about a serial-killing cannibal. And a dandy one, at that: Lead Mads Mikkelsen so artfully and lovingly crafts human-based dishes, an argument could be made for giving him his own Food Network show. Likewise, producer Bryan Fuller—who went on to realize, then abandon, American Gods—uses gorgeously gory imagery and psychological density that somehow thrived within standard TV constraints. Hannibal is a prequel, chronicling his pre-Lambs days assisting the FBI in tracking like-minded (but, of course, inferior) serial killers. A 39-episode work of pure art.

True Detective (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Now): In True Detective, creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto envisioned an anthology series that would introduce new plots and casts in subsequent seasons—and he screwed himself by producing an incredible first run, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turning in some of their most memorable performances ever. The two play disparate detectives (Harrelson’s Martin Hart is a linear-thinking traditionalist; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is hyper-smart profiler who monologues about the futility of existence) investigating an occult-style murder in 1995 Louisiana. The twist: The two are telling the story from their own viewpoints in the present, being interviewed by police about a similar recent killing. And don’t believe the haters about Season 2: It holds up … just not quite as well.

Bates Motel (Seasons 1-5 on Netflix): The origin story of young Norman Bates (played to maximum creep-out effect by Freddie Highmore) doesn’t quite end where you think it will, knowing Psycho lore, but the journey is profoundly N-U-T-S. Norman loves his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga, who was rightfully nominated for all the awards for her fiercely protective/alluringly unhinged portrayal). Like, really, really, really loves her—we’re talking Lannister-level “Incest Is Best” fan fiction. He also has blackout-and-kill episodes, not to mention the occasional tendency to become Norma, posh vintage dresses and all. Thing is, you genuinely feel for the kid, and Bates Motel’s other surprisingly fleshed-out characters as well. Even when going off the rails, the series maintains its eerie, suspenseful trajectory toward an end you only think you know.

Dexter (Seasons 1-8 on Netflix): The murderer who only takes out murderers—Dexter! Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of self-narrating Miami PD forensics specialist Dexter Morgan swept pop culture when the Showtime series debuted in 2006, and “Dexter” became shorthand for “serial killer.” The more-recent shows on this list make Dexter look like a relative lightweight in comparison, but at the time, it was dark stuff, and Seasons 1-4 are unassailable as great, twisty drama (Season 4, with John Lithgow’s acclaimed Trinity Killer turn, in particular). Dexter had a sly, underlying sense of humor as well: “It’s said there are seven stages of grief. I suppose killing someone with my bare hands in a men’s room was my way of working through the anger stage. Whatever the other six stages are … I don’t have time for them”—that’s comedy. Maybe just skip Seasons 5-8.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

Published in TV

In her new weekly series I Love You, America (series debut Thursday, Oct. 12, Hulu), comedian Sarah Silverman is “looking to connect with people who may not agree with her personal opinions through honesty, humor, genuine interest in others, and not taking herself too seriously. … Silverman feels it’s crucial, now more than ever, to connect with un-like-minded people.” If you’re skeptical of Liberal Elite Hollywood’s motives for hanging out with Red State rednecks while promising to not to shit on them, join the club. But it’s a promising chat show/travelogue setup, and Silverman is more capable of pulling it off sincerely than, say, Chelsea Handler. She still does that thing on Netflix … doesn’t she?

With a cool title like Mindhunter (series debut Friday, Oct. 13, Netflix), you’d expect sci-fi series loaded with psychic warfare and exploding heads, or is that just me? Sadly, this Mindhunter is another cop show, starring Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany as FBI agents who interview imprisoned serial killers to analyze their motives to help solve current cases … zzz. So far, so Criminal Minds, but Mindhunter—singular? There’s two of ’em!—is produced by David Fincher, who delivered at least a couple of good House of Cards seasons, and co-stars Aussie treasure Anna Torv, absent from ’Merican TV since the 2013 demise of Fringe, so there’s that. Maybe one exploding head, just for me?

I had no idea that today’s kiddies were clamoring for a reboot of ’70s Saturday-morning cheese lump Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (series re-debut Friday, Oct. 13, Amazon Prime), but here it is. The original S&SM was part of the Sid and Marty Kroftt acid-trip factory that included H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville, as well as the proto-superheroine Strong Female Characters of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. This iteration seems more aimed at ironic-nostalgia-hungry Gen-Xers than children, but at least David Arquette found work (as Captain Barnabas, a local loon out to expose the Sea Monsters as “real”), and we get The Roots’ updated version of Sigmund’s theme song. So where’s the Lost Saucer remake?

Do we really need another cable dramedy about how tough it is to be a comedian? When it stars ex-Saturday Night Live-er Jay Pharoah and is helmed by Tim Kapinos (Lucifer, Californication) and Jamie Foxx (everything else), maybe. White Famous (series debut Sunday, Oct. 15, Showtime) is essentially Foxx’s story, centered on a black comic (Pharoah) on the rise who’s straddling the line between street cred and mainstream (read: white) appeal. While White Famous offers few insights into Foxx’s real career (even when he shows up as himself in the first episode), it does make it abundantly clear that SNL blew it with the talented Pharoah. As a “prestige” series, this is more Dice than Louie.

Speaking of wasting perfectly good comedic talent, have you seen 9JKL (new series, Mondays, CBS)? That filler half-hour between The Big Bang Theory and Kevin Can Wait? Oh yeah, no one watches “live” TV anymore—it’s all on-demand with your Hulus and your Rokus and your Flibberzoos. It’s safe to say no one is “demanding” 9JKL, not even to justify the $9.99 they blew on CBS All Access for Star Trek: Discovery. Mark Feuerstein, David Walton, Elliott Gould, Linda Lavin and Liza Lapira, funny people all, star in the most forgettable family sitcom since … well, damn, I’ve forgotten. Chances are, by the time this column finally reaches the Interwebs, 9JKL will be canceled. Never mind.

Much in the same way that White Famous seems like a stylistic throwback, Loudermilk (series debut Tuesday, Oct. 17, Audience/DirecTV) could be a lost early-2000s comedy from the trope dawn of AA (Asshole Antihero). While White Famous is a misuse of a young actor like Pharoah, it’s perfectly OK in the case of Loudermilk, because the titular Loudermilk is played by been-there comedy vet Ron Livingston (sorry, Ron—loved ya in Office Space). Loudermilk is a former alcoholic and, even worse, former rock critic, who hates pretty much everything and everyone. Sounds familiar, but as scripted by one Farrelly brother and a Colbert Report writer, and delivered by Livingston, Loudermilk really works.

Published in TV