With the streaming release of BBC One’s Inside Man from creator Steven Moffat — which briefly trended in the Top 10 among Netflix’s most popular titles, the romanticization of terrible human beings and their gruesome crimes is gaining more and more traction among audiences. In the spirit of Hannibal Lecter, and coming off the heels of another Netflix hit, DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story — which was recently renewed for two more installments by the streamer, Inside Man is the latest offering in what is becoming almost its own subgenre, one that is capitalizing on our insatiable appetite for taking the lowest form of humanity and presenting them wrapped up in a nice, neat bow for our viewing consumption.
Shows based around serial killers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and the Zodiac Killer can’t be produced fast enough to satisfy our morbid curiosity. What is at the heart of our desire to see these people on screen, and why do killers fascinate us with their macabre mentality?
Solving Cases From Death Row
In Inside Man, Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, The Lovely Bones) plays Jefferson Grieff, a prisoner on death row awaiting execution for the grisly murder of his wife and her dismemberment. From behind bars, Grieff uses his acumen for deduction and a Ph.D. in criminology to help solve mysteries that no one else can.
With his unmatched intellect and insight, Grieff leverages his unique gifts for special items and favorable treatment from the facility’s warden, Casey (Dylan Baker). People with high profile cases come in off the street with cases the police and private detectives have given up on and present the facts to Grieff, who then works with them to solve the seemingly unsolvable. Ever the charmer, the quick-witted and clever inmate sees what others can’t and helps to bring closure to grieving victims and families.
Our Fascination With the Brilliantly Deranged
The question worth asking is: What is with our growing fascination with these cold-blooded killers, and why do we continue to feed the beast that is glorifying the lowest form of human being? Inside Man even revolves around a young journalist, Beth Davenport (Lydia West) who can’t get a story on Grieff to her readership quickly enough, so she strikes a deal to sit in on one of his cases.
One can make the argument that it makes for great television — if you look at the ratings and reviews for Inside Man, it’s undeniable — but it goes deeper than that. It’s impossible to scroll anywhere among the available TV options without finding a true crime show, or a Netflix feature that teases us with the dastardly deeds of horrific criminals and their brutal natures. Inside Man and Monster are hardly alone, and it’s as ubiquitous as it is concerning. There seems to be something inherent in us, the viewing audience, that loves the thrill of getting close to the beast without actually being in any real danger. Like going to the zoo, we love to see all the rare and exotic animals, but only as long as the dangerous ones are at a safe distance in their cages or trapped inside our television screens.
The Origins of Our Obsession
People have had a fascination with criminals since the beginning of time. The only thing that has changed is the way we observe them, and how they’re portrayed to the viewing masses. Inside Man is just the most recent example. If you look at what really brought the brilliantly deranged mind squarely into our living rooms, you’ll probably end up finding that the genesis was with the Hannibal Lecter franchise and specifically, The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Though the release was initially a big-screen hit, it was the haunting gaze and brilliant mind of the psychopath that left us almost hypnotized. It led to the inevitable television iteration. Hannibal, which ran for three seasons and starred Mads Mikkelsen as the refined cannibal. The fact that it was met with critical acclaim was almost a fait accompli. Although Hannibal is taken from the source material Red Dragon (2002), it all traces back to Sir Anthony Hopkins and the man in the blue jumpsuit. Once his quid pro quo sessions with Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) got their claws into us, they never let go.
It’s Just Human Nature
The next time you sit down in front of your TV to enjoy Inside Man or any of the numerous other options that glamorize the machinations of the demented mind, ask yourself: What is it about this material that has us glued to the screen? The answer is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s just human nature. It resides within all of us.
Unfortunately, we can’t get enough of deranged brilliance, and the streaming viewing hour numbers don’t lie. Dahmer, Inside Man, and the thousands of true crime reality shows like Dateline and Snapped are merely the continuation of industry executives making money off our obsession with the evil that men do to one another — and who can blame them? They’re just doing their jobs, and we are more than willing to reinforce them with huge ratings in return.