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Why do serial killers rule crime shows?

Who doesn’t like a couple of good murders? If you’re a TV crime show, you definitely do. And if you’re a crime channel, you positively love them. Especially if they’re executed by serial killers. Think about it. If someone told you they were going to make a TV series about a boy who likes murdering pets and who grows up to become a serial killer, what would you think? Even if you’re not as squeamish as I am (I’ve often ‘seen’ entire films with eyes squeezed shut), you’d have to admit — it’s not a very, um, charming idea. And if there was such a character in a TV show, you’d expect him to be the villain, the Bad Guy, the antagonist. Well, if you’ve seen Dexter, you already know that you would be completely wrong.

tv Updated: Nov 19, 2011 01:04 IST
Poonam Saxena

Who doesn’t like a couple of good murders? If you’re a TV crime show, you definitely do. And if you’re a crime channel, you positively love them. Especially if they’re executed by serial killers. Think about it. If someone told you they were going to make a TV series about a boy who likes murdering pets and who grows up to become a serial killer, what would you think? Even if you’re not as squeamish as I am (I’ve often ‘seen’ entire films with eyes squeezed shut), you’d have to admit — it’s not a very, um, charming idea. And if there was such a character in a TV show, you’d expect him to be the villain, the Bad Guy, the antagonist. Well, if you’ve seen Dexter, you already know that you would be completely wrong.

As Dexter Season 6 (that’s the latest season, it opened in the US only in October) gets all set to premiere on Fox Crime, I can’t help but wonder (yes, I seem to do a lot of that these days) — what makes Dexter so compelling? Whenever I’ve watched the show, I’ve found it fairly stomach-churning. For a start, there’s Dexter’s job — he analyses blood patterns at crime scenes. As career options go, it’s a bit, er, grisly.

On top of that, he’s a secret serial killer (yes, he only kills bad guys, but he kills them mostly because he has an urge to kill). And yet, despite the gore and high queasiness quotient (or maybe I’m just more faint-hearted than your average viewer), Dexter is a really popular guy with TV audiences.

Even if your protagonist is not a serial killer but a detective or a homicide cop, serial killers are never too far away. They’re like hardy perennials — scriptwriters keep pulling them out of their bags every season.

Take the latest episode of Criminal Minds Suspect Behaviour that I watched on Star World. (It’s an American police drama series — I think there are more homicide cop shows in America than there are homicide cops). So in this episode, the cops are trying to track down a serial killer who preys on women, especially hookers. By the end of it, I was ready to become a serial thrower-up. Think the worst — distressed families, dismembered limbs, the works.

Our desi channels also have crime shows but they are not as stomach-churning as their American counterparts. They may not be as slickly produced but they have their loyal audiences. CID (Sony) is probably the best example – it’s been on air for about 14 years now, and it still gets excellent ratings. That’s quite a feat for a show playing to an audience constantly fed on a diet of family soaps. (But perhaps the audience for CID is primarily male?) Whatever the case, ACP Pradyuman, Daya, Abhijit and company are as familiar to desi viewers as American TV cops are to their audiences.

Many of the CID episodes are quite high on plot twists and turns. Now of course there is also Crime Patrol on Sony, based on real-life cases, with a fairly gritty feel.

But Indian crime shows — the few that we have — aren’t as obsessed with serial killers as American shows are. I hope it stays that way.