If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about most serial killers from pop culture (and even real life accounts) — they can be thorough and polite gentlemen, but under the garb of their charm lies a stone-cold murderer. Probably, that is what makes these stories so intriguing.
Over the years, there has been a growing interest in serial killer TV shows, which give viewers a glimpse of what goes on in the minds of some of the most ruthless killers. Multiple murders, unique techniques and gory scenes of crime characterise some of the best serial killer TV shows that have kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Whether it is about the fictional vigilante serial killer Dexter Morgan or real-life serial killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Sobhraj, serial killer TV shows make for great binge-watching options. Here’s our guide to the best ones that are sure to have you peeking through your fingers.
10 of the best serial killer TV shows that you must watch
Starring Golden Globes award-winning star Michael C. Hall as the lovable and charming Dexter Morgan, this is one of the best serial killer series. With eight seasons and a special show, Dexter portrays the conflict between the protagonist himself and committing crimes as heinous as murder. The show also stars Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan and John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer.
A forensic expert on blood spatter with the Miami Metro Police Department, Dexter turns into a shrewd and cold-hearted serial killer at night. This is because the trauma of a troubled childhood haunts him and manifests itself in his desire to kill. Additionally, since he works with the police, he has access to all the inside information to prevent and solve murder mysteries, helping him to leave no clue behind.
However, there’s a catch. Set in a bright and sunny Miami, Dexter’s victims are other serial killers. Full of dark humour, this serial killer show saw a revival through a mini-series titled Dexter: New Blood (2021-2022) which marks the end of the killings of Dexter Morgan.
In 2010, Steve Shill won Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series at the Primetime Emmy Awards for Dexter: The Getaway (2009). The same year, Michael C. Hall won Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Watch Dexter here.
Mindhunter (2017- 2019)
One of the best serial killer TV shows on Netflix, Mindhunter is set in the 1970s when FBI Special Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) joins FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit head, Special Agent Bill Tench (McCallany), to interview real-life serial killers.
The two, along with criminal psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), speak to serial killers to develop the field of criminal profiling, which was still in its nascent ages. Criminal profiling and identification of such murderers later led to the coining of the term ‘serial killers.’
Inspired by the 1995 non-fiction book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, the series had a mix of real dialogue from interviews of the serial killers and dramatisation of real-life events. Such was the brilliant performance by the cast that Cameron Britton, who plays the dreaded serial killer Edmund Kemper, received an Emmy nomination. Even the characters of Holden and Bill are based on the true story of former FBI Agents John E. Douglas and Robert K. Ressler.
If you are particularly intrigued by true crime stories and the workings of serial killers’ minds, then Mindhunter has to be on your list.
Watch Mindhunter here
The gory serial killer show aired on network television via NBC. It draws ideas from Thomas Harris’ novels — Red Dragon (1981), Hannibal (1999) and Hannibal Rising (2006) — the show is all about gruesome killings by a predator who seems refined and elegant and has a unique dexterity with the knife.
When FBI special investigator and criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) visits the brilliant forensic psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to get behind the psyche of violent serial killers, little does he know that he is indeed talking to a dreadful serial killer. The relationship between the two forms the basis of the show.
Hannibal is a multi-faceted man. Besides being a brilliant psychiatrist, he is an excellent chef, as well as a perpetrator of cannibalism. While he can whip up elegantly plated dishes made with the victim’s limbs, he also, at times, goes to extreme lengths as he tries to get into Graham’s mind and manipulate him.
Watch Hannibal here
Should you trust all that you see? This Netflix series is going to make you doubt everyone around you.
Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is the typical lovable, charming boy next door. However, if it is your ill luck, you will be unearthing his dark secret. He is obsessively romantic and if he desires you, you are in for some unforeseen turn of events. In the first season, he falls for a girl at a bookstore but soon begins to manipulate and control every aspect of her life. When things don’t work out, the psychopathic serial killer surfaces.
However, after multiple murders, Joe moves to Los Angeles for a fresh start. While he tries to escape his past, Joe meets someone who desires him equally. However, he gets caught in his own game by the end of the season.
The latest season shows a married Joe, but the dangers are far from ending.
Watch You here
Bates Motel (2013-2017)
They say no one is born evil. And this is one of the best serial killer TV shows that explores this concept, by going back in time to show what led Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) to become the notorious killer that he is in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho.
Though the series is pictured as a prequel to the film, its setting is in the modern day. The series shows Norman and his mother Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) at their namesake motel while the two share a very strange relationship. Norman is obsessed, sharing an almost Oedipal complex, with his mother who he thinks has killed his friend and his mother. She, on the other hand, covers up for his murders.
While Hitchcock portrays the adult serial killer, this A&E television series shows the teenager with a troubled childhood that severely affected his mental health, sending him on a murder spree.
We can assure you that if you see Highmore in The Good Doctor (2017- ) after watching his performance in this five-season serial killer show, you will be amazed by the actor’s versatility.
Watch Bates Motel here
Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)
If true crime, real-life criminal minds and an astounding murder score pique your interest, Netflix has this outstanding series for you. It takes viewers back to the gruesome days of one of America’s most macabre serial killers.
Accused of innumerable rapes and murders in the 1970s and even before, Ted Bundy was sentenced to death and executed in Florida in 1989. A handsome Ted became a sort of celebrity during his trial period and garnered huge media attention, especially after he fled from custody in Colorado in 1977. His trial also became well publicised due to his unmissable charm and intelligence.
The Netflix docuseries unearths some significant interview tapes with the killer himself as well as his family, friends, surviving victims, law enforcement officials and others. Although only four episodes long, it reveals several unknown facts and details about the serial killer that many may still not know.
Watch Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes here
The Serpent (2021)
Documenting the life of the infamous ‘bikini killer’ Charles Sobhraj, The Serpent is another true-crime series on Netflix.
This stylish and exuberant serial killer targeted backpackers who followed the ‘hippie trail’ in the 1970s in Thailand. He first drugged them, robbed their passports and belongings, and ultimately killed them. Another unique quality of this diabolic killer was that he used his dominating charm and personality to get by trials and jail officials. He even attracted female inmates while in prison.
Tahar Rahim plays Charles in the series. The docuseries follows him and his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) as they travel the world selling gems for a year until a Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg started probing the murder of two Dutch tourists which led him to the wormhole of this killer. The series is a dramatisation of all the reportedly real-life events.
Watch The Serpent here
The Raincoat Killer: Chasing A Predator In Korea (2021)
When a young Yoo Young-chul surfaced as one of the most devilish serial killers in South Korea in 2004, he garnered worldwide attention.
This Netflix true-crime docuseries chronicles the gory murders and a hunt for this serial killer. Yoo battered his victims, who were mainly sex workers and rich elderly people, with hammers and burnt them, too.
The infamous case and its gruesome details of cannibalism led to the debate over the serial killer’s death penalty as well.
Watch The Raincoat Killer: Chasing A Predator In Korea here
Prodigal Son (2019-2021)
Prodigal Son is quite different from other serial-killer shows, as it adds a slight biblical angle of the prodigal son to the primary theme.
Tom Payne stars as Malcolm Bright in the lead role. Malcolm is a former FBI profiler who works with the NYPD. He has a unique ability to analyse a murder from the point of view of the killer and is also well-known among his peers for turning in his serial killer father Dr Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), aka The Surgeon. When another serial killer goes on a killing spree just using Martin’s methods, Malcolm turns to his father.
Watch Prodigal Son here
Indian Predator: The Butcher of Delhi (2022)
In the 2000s, the Indian national capital, New Delhi, was wrecked by heinous serial killings. When the police started probing the case, more horrifying details began to surface with beheaded and mutilated bodies found all over the city. In a turn of events, the killer sends the police an open letter, challenging them to catch him.
Based on the infamous serial killer Chandrakant Jha, this three-episode-long docuseries is directed by Ayesha Sood. The horrid killings, police investigations, the witch hunt for Jha and his subsequent arrest make this one of the most morbid shows on serial killers.
The Hindi-language series features Altaf Hussain as Chandrakant Jha, Manjit Singh as Sunder Singh and Pankaj Sharma as Narendra Kumar.
Watch Indian Predator: The Butcher of Delhi here
(Main image: Hannibal/ Photo by NBC/Brooke Palmer/NBC – © 2015 NBCUniversal Media, LLC/ IMDb; Featured image: The Serpent/ Netflix)
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong