Arguably the new wave of sympathetic psychopaths was ushered along with help from Dexter Morgan, Showtime's serial killer of serial killers. For Dexter: The Final Season — the series' eighth — Dex (Michael C. Hall) matches wits and bits with The Brain Surgeon, yet proves to be one of the show's “off” years. There's a reason the finale failed to garner much buzz: It's not as good a send-off as the show deserved.
Dexter's roots stem from Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic head doctor made most famous by Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning performance in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. Whereas the loose Lecter franchise hasn't worked so well across five films, it defies expectations as NBC's prequel. Hannibal: Season One depicts Lecter's (Mads Mikkelsen) partnering with FBI Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) to solve a most gruesome string of killings — so gruesome that “killings” seems tame. Performances are top-notch, with both Mikkelsen and Dancy putting their own spins on the characters. It's a delicious, decadent, deviant delight. Dig in!
Owing a considerable debt to Lambs is Fox's The Following. As seen across 15 episodes of The Complete First Season, a current alcoholic and former FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) manipulated through mind games by superintelligent killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who worships Edgar Allan Poe. Never mind that Carroll is behind bars — he has a legion of loony followers running amok in public, doing his devious deeds for him. Created by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, The Following is — like Hannibal — full of moments that will have viewers in disbelief over intensely graphic and violent scenes that somehow aired on prime time. Some of the hours in the back half really spin their wheels and Lord knows how Williamson and company will make this concept at play for the second season and beyond, but Bacon channels his best 24-era Kiefer Sutherland to keep the creepiness working.
It's not all about the guys, either. Thanks to the UK's ITV, the luminous Kelly Reilly continues her plum role as DI Anna Travis in Above Suspicion: Set 3.The series' last batch, these three episodes have her tracking the murderer of a bitchy actress, but as with the previous sets, what makes this show a superb procedural is less the crime and more the chemistry between Travis and her superior (Ciarán Hinds). Theirs is a formula as winning as Mulder and Scully.
Speaking of Scully, The Fall: Series 1 finds The X-Files'Gillian Anderson fronting a BBC procedural all by her lonesome, and it's a corker, as they say on the other side of the world. Spooling out slowly (in a great way, mind you) across a mere five eps, her brilliant but socially flawed detective Gibson is brought into Belfast, Ireland, to help the locals crack a case that has left them clueless. It involves the deaths of pretty young women, and we watch as the culprit — family man / grief counselor Spector (Jamie Dornan) — attempts to keep hold on both his lives. It's a phenomenal, utterly absorbing crime novel that just happens to be made for TV. Quite frankly, I think it deserved all the awards love that instead went to BBC's Elisabeth Moss-topped Top of the Lake.
Finally, and arguably the most popular, is another BBC gift:
Sherlock: Season Three, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as that most famous of highly functioning sociopaths: Sherlock Holmes. Like the previous two years, this season is built with a trilogy of 90-minute episodes, which is like getting three full-fledged feature films at once, except that Sherlock is better than most movies. I can't say that junior year is the finest for Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson, as too much time in the opener is spent on “Where you been?” and not enough time on “Whodunit?” Similarly, the next delves heavily into Watson's wedding before digging into a mystery, so by the time the show is afoot on its superior footing, the season is over. Still, one hardly can complain when the results left standing are this out-and-out wonderful. Here's hoping Cumberbatch's rise in Hollywood won't prevent another year or two. —Rod Lott