Serial killers. Soft-spoken weirdos with haunting eyes and unspeakable desires. And in the other corner, the cops who clean up after them, track them down, and try to bring them to justice.
Sounds like fun summer TV viewing, eh? Well, that's what the Fox network is counting on, and based on the success of procedural crime shows such as CSI and Law & Order, maybe they're right.
The Inside, a series that premieres at 9 tonight on Fox, focuses on an FBI Violent Crimes Unit in Los Angeles that investigates the most heinous of serial crimes. The ensemble cast is headed by Rachel Nichols (The Amityville Horror) as rookie FBI agent Rebecca Locke, who is recruited for the elite team of criminal profilers despite an almost complete lack of field experience.
Though she's pretty and smart - and what young cop isn't, at least on television? - Rebecca carries a dark secret from her past: She was snatched from her bed at the age of 10 and held captive for 18 months before escaping. But it turns out that her traumatic experience, which she has tried for years to forget, is one of the main reasons she was chosen for her new job.
The head of the unit, wily veteran agent Virgil "Web" Webster (Peter Coyote, The 4400), has selected members of his team not just for their investigative skills but also for some special attribute that each brings to the job. In Rebecca's case, it's her childhood abduction, which Webster thinks has given her a unique insight into the tortured minds of both villain and victim. (Thus the show's name: Rebecca gets "inside" their heads - get it?)
Another member of the team is agent Paul Ryan (Jay Harrington, Summerland), who tells Rebecca that his special gift is "a conscience" - something that their manipulative boss seems to lack. To catch the bad guys, Webster has no problem browbeating his agents, or even putting them into harm's way if it will help close a case.
Coyote, a veteran character actor, brings a stern-faced strength and gravity to his role, and a bit of a sinister quality as well. He's not your typical gruff-but-goodhearted TV police commander, and it's easy to imagine that he might have a few dark secrets of his own.
The creative team for The Inside has some good pedigrees, with Tim Minear (The X-Files, Angel), Howard Gordon, (24), and David Fury (Lost). Their new show is stylish, dark, and graphic, full of moody music, quick cut-aways, and gory scenes of victims.
(An interesting aside: It's the first TV show in memory that's had any of its action take place on a Los Angeles subway. I'll bet plenty of viewers don't even realize that L.A. has a subway system.)
The first episode opens with a member of Webster's own profiling team becoming the ninth victim of a gruesome killer whose trademark is mutilating the victims' hands and faces. It's that murder that creates the vacancy that Rebecca is summoned to fill.
One team member remarks that it seems a little cold to be replacing the deceased agent while her body is still warm, but another points out that it's perfectly in character for Webster.
"We're just moving parts in his machine," he says. "He's not disrespecting anyone. He's just replacing a fan belt."
The show's similarity to The Silence of the Lambs - young, inexperienced FBI agent tries to get into the heads of psychos - is so unmistakable that it's even acknowledged in the script. During the first episode, one of the unit's members refers sarcastically to the young newcomer as "Clarice Starling," Jodie Foster's character in that 1991 movie.
The Inside, which is the network's only new scripted offering for the summer, bears little resemblance to the show as it was first conceived last year. At that point, it was planned as a 21 Jump Street-type series featuring a young FBI agent going undercover in a high school, with Rachel Nichols in the role of the agent.
By the time the concept was reworked, however, Nichols was about the only part that remained - still playing the FBI agent, but given an unsavory beat that's nothing like any high school you or I have ever seen.
Contact Mike Kelly at email@example.com