We’re deep in the true crime era of pop culture.
For a while now, it hasn’t been so weird to be into serial killers and unsolved murders. Podcasts like “Serial” paved the way for “My Favorite Murder,” and the Investigation Discovery channel is chock full of schlock-y crime recreations with dramatic voice-overs (and by God are they fun to watch — as fun as these sorts of things can be).
And that’s not even considering the TV dramas inspired by past murders, high-profile kidnappings and unsolved police cases.
With so much true crime out there to consume, it can be hard for a show to set itself apart. Netflix’s “Mindhunter” manages to hit many of the “in” things about TV and true crime media right now.
Based on the book of the same name, “Mindhunter” follows young FBI Special Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) as he works to better understand the types of criminals that would eventually be known as serial killers. Ford is based on retired FBI agent John Douglass, the book’s author, who helped progress what is now the bureau's Behavioral Analysis Unit (the CBS show “Criminal Minds” revolves around the BAU).
Ford is joined by Special Agent Bill Tench (played by Holt McCallany and based on Robert Ressler, Douglas’ real-life partner), a gruff and gravelly senior agent, and Dr. Wendy Carr (played by “Fringe” star Anna Torv), a Boston College professor who helps them with their analysis of criminal behavior as well as ways to apply their observations in the field.
Set in the 1970s, “Mindhunter” also taps into the trend of period dramas, and knowing it’s all based on real life lends an excitement. It certainly had me pulling out my phone to Google whether that really happened — and in most cases, the answer is yes.
But the true hook of the show is the serial killers Ford and Tench interview. The actors who portray these infamous people are spot on in terms of looks and mannerisms. Cameron Britton, the actor who plays Ed Kemper, the Coed Killer, got wide praise for his portrayal.
Regularly directed by David Fincher, the series doesn’t shy away from the reality of the murders the killers perpetrate. It’s a dark, slow build sort of a show.
The first season covers Ford and Tench getting their study of killers off the ground and dealing with a misstep by the arrogant Ford. The just released second season picks right up after the first, with the unit receiving the support from the upper brass that it needs — with appearances by the Son of Sam and Charles Manson.
Ford also gets tangled up in the Atlanta Child Murders, which was a controversial situation in real life, and I was thrilled it was featured in the second season.
Start here: Season 1, episode 1
The first season only has 10 episodes (and the second has nine), so binge watching isn't as big of a commitment as far as these things go. It’s worth it to track Ford's journey and how his approach to understanding killers builds throughout the series.