What drives people to kill? This is a question law enforcement and profilers have been trying to answer since the beginning of time. As humans, death is a subject that interests us, after all, it happens to everyone and can happen at any time. There are shocking and awful crimes that happen in the world. Yet despite this, they are fascinating, which is why there are so many series and documentaries about crimes. The most common theme in these series is murder. From serial killers, to the profilers, and detectives who work at catching them. Real-life crimes, to fictional ones, these stories all have one thing in common: they make us realize just how fragile the balance between good and evil really is.
If you have Netflix, you’ve probably been binging on one of the latest crime dramas, Mindhunter. The series is about two F.B.I. profilers from back in the 70s, who are trying to get into the minds of serial killers, in the hopes of figuring out what makes them tick. But this is not the only crime show that will interest those who want to learn more about the mind of a killer. Below are 15 interesting crime shows that further help to explain the criminal mind.
15. Criminal Minds
Criminal Minds is one of the most popular crimes series on television at the moment (and has been for several years). The show was created by Jeff Davis, and is about an American F.B.I. profiler unit based in Quantico. The unit is dedicated to getting into the minds of serial killers. What profiling does is essentially come up with a list of characteristics of the killer, as well as their victims. This data is then used to understand the perpetrator’s motivations in an attempt to stop them. The unit in this series works to assist the local police departments with solving crimes, especially those that are of a particularly violent nature. It also gives viewers a glimpse into how psychologically demanding this type of work can be.
Mindhunter is the Netflix series that came out in 2017. Set in the late ‘70s, the story revolves around two F.B.I. agents: an ambitious, young agent, Holden Ford, and an older veteran, Bill Tench. Both men are trying to set up the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, with the help of professor Wendy Carr. Their aim is to potentially catch serial killers by creating a profile for them. They are using their discussions with murderers who have already been convicted, to help them do this. The most interesting part of this series is that it is actually based on a book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit; by filmmaker and author, Mark Olshaker, and John E. Douglas, one of the F.B.I.’s former criminal profilers — so yes, he knows what he is talking about, and therefore the series is most likely to be fact driven.
13. Without A Trace
Without A Trace is a CBS TV series which focuses on an F.B.I. special unit that specializes in missing person investigations. When a victim goes missing, there needs to be someone who is dedicated to finding them, and this series is about the officers in a New York unit who are tasked with this job. With missing person cases it is critical to find a lead before the 72 hour period passes, because after this time, the hope of finding someone alive and closing the case, drastically decreases. The series ran from 2002 to 2009. According to trivia on IMDB, some of the cases have even been based on real-life cases, which is one of the most compelling reasons to watch it.
12. The Detectives
Not to be mistaken with the British comedy series of the same name, The Detectives, is a three-part documentary that was first aired in 2015. It focuses on the detectives who make up the Greater Manchester Police Serious S****l Offences Unit (reportedly the first dedicated assault investigation team in the U.K.) and how these individuals work hard to convict those who have been charged with a s****l offence. It also deals with one of the most shocking and widely reported cases in Britain, the allegations against DJ Ray Teret — who was convicted of assault on minors and is currently serving a sentence of 25 years behind bars. Filmed over two years, the docu-series traces the police investigation into Teret, a friend of Jimmy Savile (who allegedly abused hundreds of women and children during the peak of his career as a television presenter for Top of the Pops).
11. The Killing Season
The Killing Season is an American true crime documentary series which was first aired on A&E. The inspiration behind this series was the Long Island Serial Killer, who killed more than ten night workers between 1996, and 2010, and still remains at large. On the show, documentarians Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills investigate the Long Island Serial Killer but also explore other unsolved cases of serial killers; including the Eastbound Strangler, who killed at least four women, who are also believed to have worked as ladies of the night. Zeman and Mills dig into the cases again, and new information and possibilities are explored. Their research also reveals the challenges that law enforcement face when investigating crimes against night workers — they appear to be one of the most difficult crimes to solve.
10. The First 48
If you’re looking for another series to binge watch that may give you a little more insight into the criminal mind, or at least into how homicide detectives go about solving a crime, then The First 48 is one for you. The documentary television series was released on A&E, and focuses on homicide detectives who deal with real-life murders across the United States, and the critical hours following a crime. It reveals how detectives use clues such as forensic evidence and witness accounts to help determine what took place. There is something significant about the number 48 when it comes to solving a murder and it is reported that most cases are solved within this time frame. Although the show has not been without controversy. According to The Guardian, a legally innocent man was known as a murderer after appearing on the show, and The Star Tribune notes that the show refused to hand over footage which would have helped in a case.
9. Lie To Me
Lie To Me is a crime drama series that focuses on a how a group of highly trained individuals, led by Dr. Cal Lightman (played by actor Tim Roth), who using applied psychology to determine if someone is guilty of their crimes, or at least attempting to be deceptive. The group’s techniques include being able to accurately identify body language and micro-expressions — which are involuntary facial expressions that apparently occur within a fraction of a second. The most interesting part of this series is that it is actually based on the real-life psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman, who is an expert in emotions and facial expressions and the founder of the Paul Ekman Group. Most people don’t recognize micro-expressions, but according to the Paul Ekman Group website, they offer training to help individuals activate their emotional awareness and detect deceptive behaviour.
8. America’s Most Wanted
America’s Most Wanted is a television programme that had actors reenact some of the most awful crimes — including the murder of a spouse, the murder of an armoured car driver, and a man who reportedly killed his two teenage daughters as part of an “honor killing.” The footage from the actors was then mixed in with on-camera interviews, creating an interesting juxtaposition. The crime reconstruction helps viewers to get a better understanding of the actual crime, but also offers an insight into just how cold and calculated some of these killers are. The show also had a hotline number which encouraged people to call in, and give information about the crimes; therefore assisting law enforcement and reportedly leading to the captures of multiple criminals who were, at the time, still at large.
7. Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice is a British television drama, produced by the BBC One. The first series focused on the crimes of a single person: a young man. The story goes as follows: he meets a woman, the two get drunk and high together, she goes back to his house and in the morning he wakes up next to her dead body. He fails to remember his actions but is tried and convicted of murder. It also focuses heavily on the criminal justice system, and how his life was destroyed because of it. The second season again focused on a single crime, but this time at the hands of a woman who had stabbed her abusive husband to death. The story follows how she reacts after the murder, and how she was processed through the criminal justice system, and shows the differences between how a female and a male (from the first season) are treated. But what makes this show especially interesting, is that the story is told from the main character’s point of view.
6. Criminals At Work
Each episode of Criminals At Work shows two separate incidents of how people have witnessed wrongdoing in the workplace. The docu-crime series was produced for Sirens Media and is actually based on factual events — which in my opinion is always more interesting! The stories are told using several different viewpoints, including coworkers, reporters, and law enforcement; which makes for a complete recount of what really happened, and allows viewers to see the crime from many approaches. This makes the viewer feel as if they were there when the crime took place. The point of the show is not so much about the crimes, but rather about human nature. It wants you to ask yourself how well you really know someone. It’s also a scary reminder that crimes can be committed by the people who you least suspect.
5. American Crime
John Ridley’s American Crime was released on ABC and was initially met with a lot of excitement. There were three seasons before the network canceled the show, and all three seasons are very different! The first season is about a botched robbery, the second deals with assault allegations in a private school — members of the school’s basketball team are accused by a classmate of abuse. And the third season is about the problems that undocumented agricultural labourers face when moving to the United States. Some of these challenges include living in poverty and having dealings with the criminal underworld. So while they travel to the United States for the American dream, very few of them actually experience it. The series has received ten Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and has an all-star cast including Felicity Huffman, Grant Merritt, Kira Pozehl and Timothy Hutton — so it’s definitely worth a watch!
4. Cold Case
A “cold case” refers to an investigation that has no new leads or evidence. The case is usually inactive for several years, and this is the premise of the Jerry Bruckheimer-created show, Cold Case. The story revolves around a fictional female detective based in Philadelphia, who was assigned to the cold case section of the homicide squad. Her job is to focus on the old cases and try to approach the crimes with a fresh outlook to piece together what really happened. This process can be arduous, and it’s extremely challenging investigating crimes that date back decades, and often lack DNA or a physical crime scene. However, what makes this particular series so thrilling, is because it tends to focus on the victims of the crime rather than the crime itself: so, instead of being science-driven, this series plays on human emotions.
Profiler is an American crime drama that was aired on the NBC network. The story is about a forensic psychologist Dr. Sam Waters, who works in one of Atlanta’s violent crime force units. Her job is to help solve crimes, especially ones that are particularly violent in nature, by getting into the mind of a killer. Another interesting aspect of this show, is that Waters has her own motivations for being a profiler: she is desperate to find the man who killed her husband years prior, and still remains at large. While she is dedicated to her work, she is constantly looking for clues about the identity of this killer who haunts her daily life. It’s a job that is psychologically demanding, and lingers with the profiler even when they’re not on the clock.
2. Blue Bloods
Unlike many of the other entries on this list, CBS’ Blue Bloods is not so much about the crimes as it is about the police officers who solve them — and one police family in particular. Set in New York, the focus of this series is the Reagan family, headed by New York Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (portrayed by Tom Selleck). Rather than delve too deeply into the minds of killers, this show chooses to focus on the dynamics in a family filled with people who chose to dedicate their lives to the law; a retired cop, a police commissioner, a respected detective, a district attorney, and a rookie cop. The multi-generational family get together for Sunday dinner to discuss their careers, and have moral and ethical discussions. For some, this is the highlight of the show, while others hate it.
Bones is a hugely popular TV series which ran from 2005 to 2017. What’s interesting about this show is that it’s more about the evidence than the actual crime. Fans of the criminal mind will be interested in this show, because it is based on forensic archaeology (locating and recovering buried human remains) and forensic anthropology (examination of human skeletal remains). The show is reportedly based on the Temperance Brennan novels, as well as the life of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. The show helps viewers understand how important the evidence in a crime is, but also has two different sides of the argument because while the main character, Temperance Brennan’s work is based on science and evidence, F.B.I. special agent Seeley Booth believes in faith and intuition.
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