Just over a month ago Netflix debuted a remarkable new series that is their least bingeable series yet. I mean that as a compliment, I assure you. David Fincher’s Mindhunter is a show about serial killers that’s informed by actual serial killers. Creepy, right? It’s also one of the smartest, funniest, and best-acted series you’ll see on any network, cable, or streaming venue (I hope that covers them all).
Even though all 10 of Mindhunters episodes dropped on October 13, it’s taken me a while to get through them. Each entry is very deep, dark, and dense — this is not the kind of material you can burn through in a weekend. Nor should you, some of the situations, dialog, and visuals will give you nightmares.
Mindhunters explores the origin of the FBI’s serial-killer profiling system, which might sound a wee bit boring but the execution (no pun intended) is so top-notch that even the most mundane office drudgery is elevated. The pacing in this show is sleepy, and it’s far more cerebral than action-oriented, but do not assume that it’s slow. This show lives and breathes tension, but it also knows how to laugh, believe it or not. For example, there’s a montage sequence during the second episode following the series’ two leads — Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff — living on the road, brushing their teeth, snoozing in airports, and struggling to sleep in expressway motels, which might be the funniest and most effective use of montage I’ve ever seen.
While the show is focused on depicting the birth of criminal profiling, it’s actually far more interested in conveying how the process of interviewing dozens of murders impacts these two agents, both personally and professionally. The acting is incredibly solid, but it’s surpassed by a level of screenwriting that you’ll only find in high-end prestige films — it’s that good!
I must warn you, however, that Mindhunters depicts real life criminals and their horrible crimes. The serial killers you’ll meet in this show are real — some still very much alive. The actors portraying these monsters often describe their heinous acts in shockingly graphic detail — some of the dialog is taken directly from actual FBI prison recordings. I don’t know how any of these performers endured the subject-matter (whiskey, probably).
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t also comment on the era, too. Mindhunters is set in the late 70s, after Vietnam and Nixon, obviously. The remarkable accuracy of the cars, music, locations, and the general state of the country expressed in this series are unparalleled — it’s like being yanked directly into the worlds of Serpico, The French Connection, and Taxi Driver.
Finally, Mindhunter is also a road show, strange as that might seem. The agents travel to countless small towns across the country, sharing their knowledge with local cops — from working-class New England fishing villages to rust belt industry towns of the Midwest to farming burgs outside of Sacramento. The viewer is along for the ride too, watching it all through the windows of the agent’s crappy blue chevy Nova (a shout-out to Beverly Hills Cop, y’all). We also spend a lot of time inside a bunch of state and federal prisons — the conditions within are haunting and oppressive, as they probably should be.
Netflix, as I’ve written many times before, lives and breathes nostalgia, and it’s on full display in Mindhunter. Each episode is packed with period detail, including a bunch of fantastic 70s rock tracks, plus everyone smokes, drinks, and eats terribly — it’s a wonder anyone survived the decade! This is an important series, it pulls no punches, and it is 1000% for adults. Mindhunter is the best series on Netflix, and that’s saying something.