These days, we’re used to shows based around criminal profiling. Unsubs are not a term alien to audiences and we’ve been enthralled by the hunt for serial killers from Hannibal‘s titular character to the Fisher King in Criminal Minds. Netflix’s latest addition, David Fincher’s Mindhunter, will explore the origins of criminal profiling in the FBI, coining the term ‘to catch a killer, you must think like a killer’.
It’s an intriguing premise, set in an era where serial killers were an alien presence; the very notion of delving into the psychology of what motivated them, a horrifying thought. In many ways, Mindhunter acts as a forerunner for many great TV shows that looked into criminal profiling to catch its killers.
Here are five other shows that adopted criminal profiling into their premise. Warning, some minor old spoilers for shows gone by…
The X-Files (1993 – 2002 / 2016 – Present)
While The X-Files focused most heavily on the supernatural, a surprising number of cases broached the genre only lightly; David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder was a criminal profiler before being given the X-Files and he uses those detective skills, working with Scully to catch a whole host of dark and psychopathic figures.
There are a number of episodes that hugely influenced later shows like Criminal Minds. Scully worked with Luther Lee Boggs in season one to catch another killer, while Mulder’s assessment and hunt for death fetish Donnie Pfaster made for one of season two’s most chilling episodes. From Robert Patrick Modell (AKA Pusher) to child killer John Lee Roche, The X-Files gave us some of the most notorious serial killers ever seen on television.
Cracker (1993 – 1996 / 2006)
Not quite a criminal profiler in the traditional sense, Robbie Coltrane’s criminal psychologist Fitz worked with the Manchester police as a consultant, tracking a number of serial killers, rapists and criminals. Thanks to a commanding performance by Robbie Coltrane and some truly gritty, shocking moments, this brought something fresh to British crime procedurals that made it one of the cultural TV icons of the nineties.
There was no gloss to the protagonists of this show. Robert Carlyle’s Albie, fuelled by revenge for Hillsborough and attempting to claim the same number of victims was a killer filled with raw, brutal rage and his murder of Christopher Eccleston’s DCI David Bilborough was one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history. The multi-episode stories also allowed the show to explore the criminals as much as the main characters, charting their descent and explore the dark and tragic outcomes of their crimes.
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Profiler (1996 – 2000)
While Criminal Minds might be the mainstream standard, it was not the first attempt to base a series solely around an FBI-style investigative unit. Profiler ran for four seasons between 1996 and 2000, focusing on Ally Walker’s Dr. Sam Waters, a detective with the Violent Crimes Task Force, a federal agency working with the FBI, ATF, and other crime-solving agencies.
It’s interesting that Criminal Minds came five years later, keeping the gloss of US crime procedurals but being willing to go a little darker too. Profiler may have set a basis for this type of show, but it didn’t quite have the edge of its successor and was soon improved upon.
Special mention: Millennium
Profiler lasted one season longer than Chris Carter’s Millennium, which took the serial killer stories of The X-Files and focused on Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black, a consultant with the Millennium Group and a Will Graham-eqsue ability to get into killer’s minds to solve some truly dark and depraved murders. Given Carter’s involvement, there was a more supernatural edge to these stories, while delving into some truly dark and horrific crimes. It’s perhaps the show’s darkness that prevented it from lasting longer.
READ MORE: Catch up on our TV Rewind through Millennium
Criminal Minds (2005 – Present)
This was the show that made criminal profiling truly mainstream. The FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU) has followed a time of criminal profilers for 12 years and counting. That’s almost three hundred episodes of serial killers, exploring the darkest depths of America’s underbelly.
While the sheer number of episodes means that some killers and stories are stronger than others, the show has continued to deliver gripping moments, week on week exploring the psychology of what drives someone to kill. Backed by a strong, ever-evolving cast, Criminal Minds is a show others will try to emulate; but in this age where crime procedurals are two a penny, few will deliver criminal profiling with quite the finesse as the team at the BAU.
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Hannibal (2013 – 2015)
The Will Graham of Thomas Harris’ novels has often served as a template for film and TV-based criminal profilers; with everyone from Millennium‘s Frank Black to Luke Cage‘s Misty Knight demonstrating the ability to get into a killer’s mind by thinking like they do and imagining themselves in the crime scene. Hugh Dancy delivered a nuanced, absorbing performance as the FBI criminal profiler, tracking some truly horrific murder cases with the aid of Mads Mikkelsen’s Doctor Hannibal Lecter.
While seasons two and three strayed from the starting premise – a prequel to Red Dragon – as Graham became more absorbed in the twisted manipulations of Lecter before hunting him down, the first season was pure criminal profiling at its best as Will worked with Lecter to track down some truly depraved individuals, even at the cost of his own soul.
READ MORE: Examining Hannibal Lecter on screen
Mindhunter has a fine tradition to follow and with a intriguing premise – the origins of criminal profiling in the FBI – should prove to be another thrilling addition to the host of shows that proceeded it. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.