Mindhunter drags us back to the place where the serial killer craze began

Review: The Netflix show, based on a real-life FBI unit, shouldn't work but it does

Mindhunter: effectively a prequel to every single thriller and horror movie that’s emerged in the last 50 years

Mindhunter: effectively a prequel to every single thriller and horror movie that’s emerged in the last 50 years

 

Mindhunter surged back to Netflix this week, bringing another round of procedural thrills to the online streaming behemoth. The show’s first series depicted the origins of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit, who didn’t just write the book on serial killers, but actually coined the term. Set up in the mid-1970s, they brought their psychological insights to cold cases, and interviewed some of the most notorious killers of their day – with Ed Kemper, Richard Speck and Jerry Brudos already having been featured in the first series.

It’s an inspired idea for a TV drama since, by hook or by crook, Mindhunter is effectively a prequel to every single thriller and horror movie that’s emerged in the last 50 years. The BSU are the real-life prototypes for all those psychologically astute criminal profilers that have since been a staple of crime fiction, the type who can read a suspect’s handwriting and give you his postcode, or place one foot inside a crime scene and shudder with a full-body flashback to the killer’s painful childhood. The BSU are the primordial blob from which Clarice Starling, Alex Cross and Kay Scarpetta all spread, like a Rorschach splatter slowly forming into a butterfly, or an uncanny likeness to your parents having an argument.

Fincher’s chilly tone works perfectly for a show about grim thoughts and latent urges

Cleaving much closer to real events, Mindhunter ditches the pyrotechnics in favour of a brooding and thinky tone, centred mainly on their core cast of three, who acquit themselves well once again. Jonathan Groff’s Holden Ford is the young buck with the solid B-movie charisma of a prince in a direct-to-VHS Disney sequel, or a photocopy of Cary Elwes. Bill Tench is exactly the stoical, granite-browed character you imagine when you hear a name like Bill Tench, played with great, gruff charm by the equally macho-sounding Holt McCallany. Meanwhile, Anna Torv’s Dr Wendy Carr expands on her implacable “voice of reason” role in season two, by acquiring a little added depth to her character’s personal life. There is also an uptick in appearances from well-known monsters and serial killers, with some inspired casting for a few of the more recognisable faces whose identities I won’t spoil here.

Intangible aura

If you enjoyed the first season, this is very much more of the same: a curious blend of the compelling and the mundane that’s held together with some intangible aura of quality. The show is executive-produced by David Fincher, who also directs the first three episodes of this series. Even those he doesn’t direct, however, are clearly informed by his style, as if the entire thing has been run through a Fincher Insta-filter. His chilly tone works perfectly for a show about grim thoughts and latent urges, right down to the extremely Fincher-esque yellow tinge that coats every frame. This jaundiced wash suits the creepy vibe, although it does sometimes look as if the show was filmed inside a plastic container that you put curry in once and ended up ruining forever.

The show pays loving attention to period set decoration, conjuring a world of shiny rotary phones, muted paisley airplane seats, and cribs you imagine came with an ashtray attached. But it is odd that, for all its qualities, so many things about Mindhunter should make it less watchable. The acting can be pitch-perfect one moment, curiously wooden the next. The script is heavy with exposition and unloads data at you faster than a speeding Freudian slip, while Joseph Hill’s excellently eerie score can raise scenes to a pitch of angst entirely unearned by what’s happening on screen. I suspect that the things that make Fincher’s movies impeccable, vacuum-sealed gems of detail simply aren’t replicable on the smaller screen and with the smaller budgets of streaming television, and the results here can sometimes be closer to airless than airtight. In the end, enough of his surface-level class pervades to cover the cracks left in that shortfall. Despite the odd creak in the floorboards, the show still has a knack for sneaking up and dragging you, yelping, into the darker places of your mind.

There has now been a more equitable distribution of plotlines throughout the entire cast

Elsewhere on Netflix, GLOW has returned for a third season, which sees its lovable band of limber ladies take up a Vegas residency, although less airtime is expended on the floor shows themselves this time out, in favour of perfectly pitched character side-plots filled with solidly delivered emotional beats. GLOW is a simple show that has only improved by shedding its original narrative hierarchy, which usually saw stars Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin take the A plot, with everyone else relegated to a smattering of low-stakes Bs and Cs. There has now been a more equitable distribution of plotlines throughout the entire cast, as they grapple with relationships, professional fallout and the internal dynamics present in any group of people who beat each other up every night for money.

Masterstroke

Freeing the wider cast to soar in their own paths has proved a masterstroke, since all are funny, watchable, and work beautifully as an ensemble. Few shows are this good at generating emotion and drama from characters who, let’s face it, could have their entire arc traced on the back of a napkin. GLOW is hardly treading new ground, or probing new depths of the human psyche, but it generates as much charm per minute as anything else on TV. Its third season has ascended the turnbuckle of sweet, character-driven comedy once more, and dived from the top rope right into the bloody face of my heart.

It’s not necessary to enjoy fishing to love this show, which is handy

A far cry from the sadists and spandex of our first two offerings, this last pick may just be the best thing on TV at the moment. Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (BBC2, Fridays, 8pm) takes you on a six-episode angling expedition with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, criss-crossing the beauteous scenery of Britain to track trout and catch carp. The pair, best known for their parts in some of the most iconic British comedy shows of the 90s – The Fast Show, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, Harry Enfield and Chums, Shooting Stars – decided to recover from recent heart scares by unwinding, both figuratively and literally, on a fishing trip around Britain.

It’s not necessary to enjoy fishing to love this show, which is handy since the closest I’ve come to rod fishing is entering an airport Harry Ramsden’s holding an oversized Toblerone. But I do like spending time with the show’s almost preposterously genial hosts, who let the gentle, languid pace and lovingly taken scenic shots serve as backdrop to meditative chats about life, ageing, mortality and Welsh hotel rooms. This is heartwarming, heart-healthy telly that you’re going to want to catch before it’s gone.

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