Netflix has a lot to thank David Fincher for. After the streaming service outbid various prestige cable networks such as HBO and Showtime to win the rights to the American remake of House of Cards, which Fincher executive produced as well as directing the pilot, Netflix evolved from being the public’s favorite way to binge-watch their favorite shows. to a pioneering model of entertainment production and distribution in its own right/
House of Cards brought legitimacy to what many had considered a vanity project with no hope of profit or success, and now Netflix is home to a whole roster of award-winning, wildly popular shows that entice some of the biggest names in entertainment to the fold. The trailer for their upcoming show, Mindhunter, brings it all back full circle, as Fincher returns to the streaming service with an enticing new drama.
The trailer is a short yet unnerving peek into the world of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, interspersed with bloody Rorschach spots and suitably Fincher-esque visuals. This isn’t Fincher’s first foray into the serial-killer topic: Both Se7en and Zodiac demonstrated the director’s impeccable skill in handling the darkest of subjects with steely control and unbearable tension. While we’ll have to wait until October to see the show itself, we’ve put together a few things you need to know about the drama before it reaches our screens.
Mindhunter is based on the book of the same name written by Mark Olskaher and John E. Douglas, which documents Douglas’ time in the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit and his dealings with some of the country’s most infamous killers. Douglas is something of a legend in true crime circles. He created and managed the FBI’s Criminal Profiling Program, and travelled the country to interview some of the most famous killers and criminals of the 20th century. Douglas interviewed everyone from Ted Bundy to Charles Manson to David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, all as part of his study into the minds of killers, which he used to create profiles and determine patterns and motives in then-active criminals as a means to catch them.
As well as finding acclaim post-retirement for his books, Douglas has been a key inspiration for a number of fictional characters. Criminal Minds based Mandy Patinkin’s character Jason Gideon on Douglas, and he served as the direct inspiration for Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels. Elements of Douglas’s life and skills were also used in the TV show of Hannibal for the protagonist Will Graham.
While Mindhunter will not use Douglas and his colleagues as direct models for the story – the lead character, played by Jonathan Groff, is called Holden Ford – it’s safe to say that certain elements of his life will make it into the show. The show, set during the 1970s, will also feature a character based on FBI agent Robert Ressler, who worked on high profiles cases such as that of John Wayne Gacy and who many credit with creating the term “serial killer.” Little is known about which cases or killers the show will take on, if any, but they certainly won’t be short of material. The true crime boom of the past several years, pushed by the successes of the podcast Serial and Netflix’s own documentary series Making a Murderer, has ensured that such stories will always have a hungry audience.
THE CREATIVE TEAM
As well as Fincher returning to the executive producer role (and directing the pilot as he did with House of Cards), he will be joined by actress Charlize Theron, who makes a rare foray into producer mode. While she has lent her name to several films as a producer – including Monster, for which she won her Best Actress Oscar, and the upcoming Brain on Fire – her only previous producer experience in television was for the pilot of an NBC series based on the Hatfield-McCoy feud that was never picked up. While the pair have never worked together before, both have been trying to get a Mindhunter series off the ground for several years now, originally pitching to HBO, who never took it on. Now, with more networks and streaming services than ever, a show like this can thrive without studio meddling or fears of dealing with the watershed (although to Hannibal’s credit, that show managed to be staggeringly violent in a way that beggared belief for an NBC show).
Joining Fincher and Theron is playwright and screenwriter Joe Penhall, who will write the series. Penhall’s work in includes the book for the Olivier Award winning musical Sunny Afternoon (featuring the music of The Kinks), and scripts for critically acclaimed films such as The Road and Enduring Love.
Mindhunter provides a new leading role for Jonathan Groff, a Tony nominated favourite of Broadway who gained a whole bunch of new fans thanks to his hilarious portrayal of King George in the musical-turned-cultural phenomenon Hamilton. Outside of that, he’s shown his range in musicals like Spring Awakening and Hair, and plays like Red. Disney fans will recognize his voice talent from Frozen, in which he played Kristoff, and TV fans will know him from his time on Glee and the criminally underrated HBO series Looking. Mindhunter, where he’ll play the John Douglas stand-in, will be darker fare for Groff, who is best known for more genial characters. Let’s hope he’s prepared for the research (Scott Glenn, who played Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, famously met with Douglas to gain an insight into his work, and admitted to being mentally scarred by what he saw and heard as a result).
Joining him will be Holt McCallany in the role of Bill Tench (the stand-in for Robert Ressler). McCallany has been in everything from Alien 3 to Fight Club to last year’s Sully to this year’s blockbuster oddity Monster Trucks. He’s a classic working actor with plenty of bit parts to his name so hopefully Mindhunter will give him a chance to stand out from the crowd.
It’s been 4 years since Fringe ended, and Australian actress Anna Torv has worked steadily since then in a variety of smaller roles, but to sci-fi fans she’ll always be Olivia Dunham (or Fauxlivia). She’ll play Wendy, a psychologist based on Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, whose research has been key in treating victims of trauma and abuse.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Plot-wise, little is known about Mindhunter, with the trailer taking a creepy but cryptic stance to tease audiences. If Douglas and Ressler’s experiences are drawn from in a more direct manner, we could be introduced to takes on the crimes of the Manson Family, James Earl Ray (the assassin of Dr Martin Luther King), Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Chase, also known as “The Vampire of Sacramento.” The trailer hints at the team interviewing multiple killers, suggesting a possible procedural style approach with “crime of the week” episodes. Visually, the show seems more rooted in reality than, say, the baroque dream-like murders of Hannibal.
While information on the show is scant at this time, associate producer Bill Doyle was kind enough to give an interview to the Kittanning Paper, the local publication of the Pennsylvania town where filming took place this January. Doyle discussed the book the series is based on and called the show “a psychological thriller/crime drama, and not one where you’re supposed to be able to solve it at the end of the hour before they do.” While dark procedurals are common on television, thanks to the success of Criminal Minds and the CSI franchise, there is also a hunger for Sherlock-style investigative dramas where the minute details of crimes are examined. Fincher, a director known for his dedication to detail, seems the perfect fit for such a show. Whatever the case, crime geeks everywhere will be excited for Mindhunter.
Mindhunter premieres on Netflix in October 2017.