If you're worried about missing your serial killer fix now that Showtime has announced Dexter's upcoming eighth season will be its last
, I wouldn't worry too much. Serial killers on TV are having a moment right now.
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When Dexter started back in 2006, the titular character was a murderous lone wolf on the TV scene. Besides CBS procedural Criminal Minds, serial killers weren't getting much love on the dial. And there's an argument to be made that while Dexter puts viewers in the blood-soaked drivers seat, Criminal Minds at least takes the perspective of the FBI unit working to put serial offenders behind bars.
Flash forward to 2013 and within the last six months or so there have been at minimum six shows with serial killers at the center of the action. Besides the small screen serial killer stalwarts in Dexter and Criminal Minds, American Horror Story's second season featured a serial killer named Bloody Face (two generations in fact).
But the more surprising trend is the rapid proliferation of serial killer fare in the last few months alone. Since January the small screen has been slayed by FOX's Poe-obsessed killer in The Following, NBC's creepy cannibal Hannibal, and A&E's Hitchcockian origin story Bates Motel.
Not enough murder, terror, and mayhem for you? Well then boy, are you in luck. Because don't worry, there are more killers on the way. A&E, not content to be merely the home of a young Norman Bates, has ordered a serial killer drama called Those Who Kill starring Chloe Sevigny and James D'Arcy. And FX is now getting in on the action with their new drama The Bridge, based on a Scandinavian series about a border-hopping serial killer the network has transposed to the Mexican border.
Why are serial killers the new zombies (who were in turn the new vampires) of the TV universe? And what makes these shows continually nab ratings, even as their plot mechanics often strain credulity? (I'm looking at you, The Following.)
In a world that is surely scary enough on its own, for some reason we seem to seek out monsters on our small screens as well. What was once the place of police procedurals and cop shows has slowly but surely bled into prestige dramas and action-thrillers. It used to be that at the end of the episode you could rest assured that the cops would catch the bad guy. Now, that very same bad guy might be the series protagonist.
Flawed and unlikable protagonists have become the norm on cable since the days of Tony Soprano and have continued with the evolution of characters like Breaking Bad's Walter White. Now even the networks are following suit, premiering creepy and skin-crawley shows literally centered around the guy in the face mask from Silence of the Lambs. An actual cannibal is now headlining a TV show.
But the question is, when will we hit our saturation point with serial killers? When will we tire of turning on the small screen and watching torture and death? Why are life-and-death stakes the only ones that seem to matter on television these days? Meanwhile shows like NBC's critically adored yet low-rated Parenthood, about the normal struggles of an extended family, fights to get renewed for a new season.
I'm not saying we should do away with the serial killer genre entirely. In fact, I watch at least half of the serial killer shows mentioned above. But perhaps television should take a look at the kind of drama it prioritizes and the kind of stories it wants to tell.
Like most trends, the serial killer show will most likely burn bright and fade fast, as more and more networks pile onto the bandwagon and develop programming centered around the worst of humanity. This is the TV model: one network has a successful show and every other network immediately commissions a knockoff.
Viewers get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Eventually a new trend will take hold. (What supernatural creature is left? Leprechauns? Centaurs? There's a sexy show in there somewhere. You're welcome, The CW.)
Hopefully the next trend has a lower body count than we're seeing on television at the moment. The best drama, after all, doesn't always need murder to raise the stakes.
What do you think? Are you loving the creepy serial killer trend or are you tired of it already? Sound off in the comments!
(Image courtesy of FOX, A&E, NBC, and Showtime)