Stage and screen actor Jonathan Groff returns as Special Agent Holden Ford in the Netflix thriller "Mindhunter," which looks at the Atlanta child murders of the 1970s and '80s this season. Nine new episodes await you. (Courtesy of Netflix)
Streaming review: “Mindhunter” digs into Atlanta child murders in its second season
Shot in tones of industrial green, cobweb gray and sulfurous, rotten-egg yellow, 2017’s Mindhunterreturns to Netflix for a second, nine-episode season with its palette and mood of endless dread intact.
Produced by creator Joe Penhall, David Fincher, Charlize Theron and others, the show reunites us with stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany and Anna Torv. They play agents Ford, Tench and Carr, mainstays of the FBI’s still-young Behavioral Science Unit, creating the research behind the now-familiar methodologies of profiling serial killers.
After some internal skullduggery at the end of last season, the agents have a new boss (Michael Cerveris). He wants the BSU “to go from cold-case call to the first call” — in other words, he wants to elevate the division from being a curiosity or joke in the eyes of other law enforcement branches to the FBI’s driving force in the hunt for serials.
With its almost subliminal, David Lynch-like soundtrack of rumbles and an unsettling background chorus of ringing phones, Mindhunter’s second season is on atmospheric par with the first. Plotwise, though, it sags a little. At times it feels like a routine police procedural rather than the unnerving original of its first incarnation. Maybe that’s because it reduces the rogues’ gallery of psychopaths.
Yes, we get a return visit with “coed killer” Edmund Kemper (reprised with creepy finesse by Cameron Britton), and we get to visit with Charles Manson (Damon Herriman, who also plays Charlie in Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood) and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz (Oliver Cooper). There also are recurring cameos by the BTK killer (Sonny Valicenti), still active and uncaught in Kansas.
Much of the season, though, is devoted to the culprit (or culprits) behind the Atlanta child murders of the late 1970s and early ’80s. On a local level, that should make the season super interesting, right? For me, it didn’t, though it’s interesting to revisit the (still) competing theories about the killings: the work of a single African American male, or a conspiracy among white racists?
Apart from the child-murder focus, the series has some weaknesses. A couple of narrative sidelines end up in cul-de-sacs that don’t advance the story line or let us discover more than we already knew about the characters.
It’s nice that Torv’s buttoned-up shrink gets an expanded personal life when she starts dating a groovy lady bartender (Lauren Glazier), but her emotional thaw is only temporary. In a larger subplot, Tench and wife Nancy’s adopted son Brian is implicated in a crime. While the idea is thematically (and maybe a little too much) on the nose, the story line declines into a series of scenes featuring Stacey Roca’s Nancy becoming increasingly brittle as her husband’s work keeps taking him away.
Atlanta plays a big role here. It’s ironic that, of all the series and movies shot in our city now, Mindhunter isn’t one of them. (Its main shooting location is the Pittsburgh area.) Still, the show’s art direction is shrewd and detailed, with pleasing visual lagniappes. Agent Ford gets taken to a meeting with concerned mothers at Paschal’s. And viewers as old as I am will enjoy a computer-generated glimpse, through the Omni International Hotel’s glass elevator at CNN Center, of the multilevel World of Sid and Marty Krofft, the indoor amusement park that opened and closed in 1976.
I wasn’t as turned on by the new season of Mindhunter, but it continues to be a provocative vehicle for raising questions about workplace ethics, and gender, sexual and racial politics. The series ends the Atlanta investigation on a welcome note of ambiguity and can still get under your skin.
Other worthwhile streaming options on various platforms included below.
Dead to Me
In wanting to surprise the viewer, this comedy-drama sometimes goes a little far with its plot twists and reveals. But it gives a terrific acting showcase to Linda Cardellini and especially Christina Applegate. The latter plays recent widow Jen, still grieving the hit-and-run death of her husband and dealing with her new life as a single mom. The former plays Judy, who befriends Jen at a support group for the recently bereaved. How and why the two women become so intertwined is too tricky to reveal. Basically, each episode springs an ever-bigger surprise. At 10 episodes, Dead overextends its welcome a bit. And Cardellini has to work very hard to make a nearly impossible character coherent. Applegate, moving with ease from comic sourness to genuine dramatic ballast, is the show’s revelation. She rightly earned the show’s one Emmy nomination, as lead actress in a comedy series.
In its unique mix of raunch, hilarity and melancholy, the original season of Fleabagon Amazon Prime was completely self-contained, adapted from the one-woman show that star Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and first performed at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. There was zero reason to try to wring a second season out of the material, but Waller-Bridge took on the challenge (only for this one last time, she’s said) and trounced all expectations.
If anything, the second and final season of the show may be even better than the first, especially in the way Waller-Bridge chose to turn her moments of direct address to the camera into a meta commentary on the very nature of the main character (never properly named) whom she plays. Still laugh-out-loud funny but ultimately moving in its final scenes, the show features a fantastic supporting cast: Bill Paterson as Fleabag’s feckless dad, Olivia Colman as her calculating stepmom-to-be and Andrew Scott as the “hot priest,” our antiheroine’s unlikely lust object.
Getting a jump start on the similarly themed Watchmen, coming to HBO in October, The Boys posits a world where superheroes are real. And to call them flawed is a Marvel-sized understatement.
Here, the whole superhero business is a profit-minded corporate program run by Vought Enterprises, with a sideline in propaganda and political influence. The company’s monolithic business is constantly imperiled, though, by its salaried superheroes’ vices: addiction (to drugs and sex), closeted sexuality and general thuggishness hiding behind a show of patriotism. (Antony Starr’s Captain America-like Homelander is the show’s most charismatic, messianic monster.)
Trying to defuse the heroes’ powers, and get a little personal revenge in the process (it’s complicated), the boys of the title are a vigilante named Butcher (Karl Urban) and a young man named Hughie (Jack Quaid, son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan). They’re aided by the newest member of the superhero squad, a nice Christian girl named Annie (Erin Moriarty), who discovers the hard way, on her first day wearing the cape under the name Starlight, that her heroes have feet of clay — and genitals they can’t keep in their spandex pants.
What distinguishes the eight-episode show, and sometimes weakens it, is its delight in going to extremes — whether through nasty jokes, or gory, CG-enhanced violence. Worth sampling, though, to see if it suits you. And it gives a great role to the long-unseen Elisabeth Shue as the den mother and ultimate puppeteer of Vought and its unruly family of superpowered ids.
Years and Years
Easily one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in the past several years, the six-episode future-shock drama Years and Years from Russell T. Davies (the original Queer as Folk and mastermind behind the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who) might be described as a series yanked from the headlines. Yet it’s truer to say that it speculates on what some of the headlines might look like in the next 10 years, if the world keeps falling apart.
The focus is on an extended family based in Manchester and London, including grandmother Muriel (Anne Reid), grandsons Stephen (Rory Kinnear), Daniel (Russell Tovey), Rosie (Ruth Madeley) and Edith (Jessica Hynes), as well as their various spouses and partners. What alternately binds and fractures the family is the charismatic, nationalistic politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) as she ruthlessly rises to power in the course of a decade.
Touching on Brexit, climate change, the refugee crisis, gay rights and the quickening insinuation of tech into every aspect of our lives and bodies, the series is endlessly inventive and sometimes deeply disturbing. Avoid spoilers to receive the show’s full impact. Years and Years is uneven. But as an example of an art form trying to interpret the world we live in in something close to real time, it’s something of a masterpiece.