“Mindhunter” feels a lot like “The Zodiac Network.” That’s what I thought when I watched the first couple of episodes of the new Netflix series over the weekend — and then watched the last eight before the night was even over. It’s not an easy binge; the subject matter is grim, and it has a gradual, methodical pace. But one episode leads right into the next like chapters in a page-turner, and I’d finished it before I knew it. It deserves consideration this coming awards season.
The 10-episode psychological drama — which was renewed for season two months before it premiered — was created by Joe Penhall, who previously adapted Cormac McCarthy‘s novel “The Road” for the big screen in 2009. He wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes, based on the nonfiction book “Mind Hunter” about FBI agent John E. Douglas, who pioneered criminal profiling and was previously the inspiration for the Jack Crawford character in “The Silence of the Lambs.” But the signature stamp of the series is David Fincher‘s. He executive produces the drama and directed four episodes (the first two and the last two), and it feels like quintessential Fincher, exploring the obsessive thoughts and behaviors of people on the dark fringes of human experience the way has done in “Seven,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” “The Social Network” and “Gone Girl.”
But I think the closest comparisons, as I suggested above, are “Zodiac,” which is similar in that it recounts a real-life serial murder investigation, and, perhaps surprisingly “The Social Network,” which isn’t about crime but is about a young man whose inflated sense of genius alienates him from others and even from his own humanity. The stakes are different, of course: in “Social Network” it was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), and in this case it’s Special Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), whose curiosity into criminal psychology gradually gives way to obsession, blurring the line between himself and the killers he’s studying.
Groff, a musical theater actor with two Tony nominations and TV appearances on “Glee” and “Looking,” seems like an unlikely choice for an FBI profiler in a dark thriller, but the against-type casting is part of the effect. Groff’s performance here is like nothing I’ve seen from him before, and his boy-next-door persona makes his hubris and obsessiveness all the more unsettling. There’s also a mesmerizing guest performance by Cameron Britton as real-life serial killer Edmund Kemper, but that’s an awards spotlight we can revisit in the spring.
Critics like it too, awarding it a score of 78 on MetaCritic. Allison Keene (Collider) says it’s “extraordinary.” Matt Roush (TV Guide Magazine) calls it “unusually cerebral and chillingly absorbing.” Daniel D’Addario (Time) describes it as “curious and thoughtful.” And the lead performance by Groff is “immediately persuasive,” according to Keith Uhlich (Hollywood Reporter), and “supremely controlled,” says Jen Chaney (Vulture).
Basically “Mindhunter” is Fincher for those who like Fincher, and we know the Golden Globes do. He won Best Director for “The Social Network,” which also won Best Drama Picture, even though the Oscars eventually went with “The King’s Speech” in both categories. Then Fincher was nominated for directing “Gone Girl” even though the motion picture academy ultimately snubbed everyone from that film except lead actress Rosamund Pike. And another Fincher-produced Netflix drama, “House of Cards,” won lead acting awards for both Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, who have both been denied at the Emmys thus far.
What’s more, the Globes aren’t skittish around serial killers. Michael C. Hall won Best TV Drama Actor for “Dexter” in 2010 even though he was never able to win an Emmy for that role. The Hollywood Foreign Press has also awarded shows about dark, obsessive characters for Best Drama Series in recent years like “Homeland” and “Mr. Robot.” And they typically enjoy the bragging rights of being the first awards group to embrace a show; this will be one of the freshest shows in mind, having just premiered in October.
What do you think? Does “Mindhunter” deserve Globe nominations? And then maybe industry guild and Emmy nominations after that? Discuss this and more with your fellow TV fans in our forums.
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