You know what I despise most about procedural crime shows? Their obsession with the grisly, gory details of murders and rapes and kidnappings. Beneath the thin layer of forensic technobabble and buddy-cop banter that most of these programs ostensibly revolve around, there lies a nasty, insatiable appetite for images of mutilated bodies and terrified women. Profiler-type shows are the worst of them all: their efforts to “get into the mind of a killer” extend the grim fetishization of murder to the perp as well as the victim.

The Formula:
Killer Instinct = Profiler + Silk Stalkings

Killer Instinct commits all these sins, and just to pile the abuse on, commits the most unforgivable televisual sin of all: it’s really boring. A dull, paint-by-numbers affair, the show is completely devoid of any interesting qualities. The characters are stone-faced cutouts, the mysteries are ripped from the pages of other shows’ scripts, the production and direction are uninspired. Grasping for a hook, the show latches onto the fact that it’s set in San Francisco, which, as the characters remind us more than once, is full of freaks. Seriously, that’s all they could come up with.

The Formula:
Criminal Minds = Profiler + House

Criminal Minds isn’t much better. It at least makes a bit of an effort to build around its characters, putting together a team of FBI detectives who mostly sit around spouting serial-killer trivia at each other, but are all worried about their boss, Mandy Patinkin, who plays the Lead With No Social Skills, a type that’s becoming pretty popular these days. As Patinkin marble-mouths his way through the show, you can see him counting down the days until he can work his way into a Shatner-esque revival through self-parody. It’s still a ways off.

The Formula:
The Night Stalker = Kolchak: The Night Stalker + The X-Files

Another popular genre of TV that’s obsessed with terror, death, and abjection is the evergreen category of X-Files/Twilight Zone knockoffs. The Night Stalker is a remake of the 70s horror series, following reporter Carl Kolchak (Stuart Townsend) as he tracks down things that go bump in the night, in particular the one that killed his wife. The show is freshened up for modern viewers by the addition of a partner, inserting the amazing Gabrielle Union as a Scully for Kolchak’s Mulder.

Like procedural crime dramas, The Night Stalker and its main character are obsessed with the gruesome details of death and mutilation, but unlike those shows, the emphasis is not on the bodies, but on the uncomfortable combination of repulsion and attraction they inspire in us. It also helps that the production and direction are a lot more inspired: in one scene, shots of a monster invading a home are intercut with a “Three Little Pigs” cartoon playing on the TV, the little pigs gazing out the window in terror at the beast coming in. Sure, it’s film-school montage stuff, but after watching crap like Killer Minds or Criminal Instinct or whatever, it’s a ray of sunshine.