Jonathan Groff doesn’t play a Mormon in the new Netflix series “Mindhunter,” he just looks as if he’s playing one.
Set in 1979, “Mindhunter” (which starts streaming Friday) centers on Holden Ford (Groff, “Glee,” “Looking”), a young FBI agent who becomes a serial killer profiler before the terms “serial killer” and “profiler” were in use. About 16 minutes into Episode 1 (of 10), Holden meets a young woman in a bar and compliments her on her jumpsuit.
“What do you call that?” he asks.
“What do you call that?” replies Debbie (Hannah Gross). “You look like a Mormon. You look like my dad.”
“Is he a Mormon?” Holden asks.
“No, but he looks like one,” Debbie says.
“So does mine,” Holden replies.
Apparently, the dads dress like Holden — white shirt, suit, tie. And short hair when that was the exception to the norm.
But while Holden looks like a Mormon, he most definitely is not. And not just because he quickly ends up in bed with Debbie.
Holden isn’t trying to save souls, he’s trying to save lives. He thinks he can do that by talking to imprisoned serial killers so that he can understand them — and understand the serial killers who are still on the loose.
But first, he teams up with veteran FBI agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), and they travel the country teaching various police departments how to deal with murderers. Eventually, Holden convinces Bill that there’s merit to studying the psychology of killers at a time when that is not exactly an FBI priority.
“How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?” Bill demands of a skeptical superior.
Holden is based on real-life FBI agent John E. Douglas, who co-wrote (with Mark Olshaker) the book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” — the basis for this 10-part Netflix series, which is at once compelling and repellent. In the first two episodes (screened for critics), we don’t see the crimes, we see the aftermath — and one bloody event — in this exceptionally creepy series from executive producers David Fincher (“House of Cards,” “Gone Girl”) and Charlize Theron.
And the interviews with serial killers — beginning with Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton), whose crimes were unspeakable — are incredibly unsettling.
(In real life, Douglas interviewed a long list of high-profile murderers, including at least a couple with Utah ties: Ted Bundy and Joseph Paul Franklin.)
Yes, it sounds like “Silence of the Lambs,” because the character of Jack Crawford in the novels “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs” is based on Douglas. He was played by Scott Glenn in “Silence” and Laurence Fishburne in the TV series “Hannibal.”
“Mindhunter” is about a good guy trying to understand horrific evil, and the toll that takes on him. If you’re not disturbed by it, you’re not paying attention.