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Investigation Discovery Finds Its Hannibal Lecter

Investigation Discovery is big on serial killers, but finding new wrinkles for its true-crime programming can become a bit of a challenge. After all, TV probably has more shows devoted to these prolific criminals than have ever been documented in reality.

Enter “Dark Minds,” a cold-case show whose mild twist is at least enough to capture the imagination: It’s very own Hannibal Lecter, helping crime author M. William Phelps and criminal profiler John Kelly examine unsolved killings.

Only we never see the killer, known only as “13,” whose insights are provided via altered phone conversations so muffled that they have to use subtitles. It’s a gimmick, naturally, but shrewd strictly in terms – as so many of these programs do – of providing a theatrical reference through which viewers can process what they’re seeing. (Just to make the link explicit, ID refers to the show as “a real-life ‘Silence of the Lambs,’” only without the part where he eats his captors.)

Otherwise, the eight-part series is more of the same old, same old, opening with a look back into the Valley killer, who claimed seven female victims a couple of decades ago. Phelps dutifully looks up the one surviving victim, finds an anonymous source and talks to current law enforcement, who have to pretend they’re really interested in this long-dormant mystery.

As has become status quo with such fare, there’s also a lot of creepy music and dramatic recreations – all part of an exploitative formula that achieves what TV movies once did, only in half the time, for less money.

Think of it as TV’s equivalent of popcorn fare – or perhaps in this case, a cheesy side dish to be consumed with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

“Dark Minds” premieres Jan. 25 on Investigation Discovery. Geoff Fitzpatrick and John Luscombe are the exec producers.

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