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The Biggest Similarity Between Criminal Minds And Dexter

At a glance, "Criminal Minds" and "Dexter" couldn't be more different. True, both shows are loosely about the same subject, but otherwise they're on opposite ends of the crime drama spectrum. "Criminal Minds" is a network police procedural that followed a group of mostly honorable specialists in the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI for 15 total seasons on CBS. While some storylines do cross over into multiple episodes, "Criminal Minds" is usually a "case of the week" kind of show. 

And then there's "Dexter." First of all it's a Showtime series, with all the violence, nudity, and adult language that entails. The title character is nobody's idea of an ideal law enforcement officer — he's about as anti-heroic as an antihero can get. While "Criminal Minds" does have its own interesting characters, "Dexter" is a fundamentally character-driven show that's all about murderous blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) and what makes him tick. The BAU has seen many faces come and go, but there's no "Dexter" without Dexter. 

But there's one thing both shows have in common, and it's in how the main characters are designed.

On Criminal Minds and on Dexter, it's always personal

At their cores, "Criminal Minds" and "Dexter" are both TV shows about hunting and catching criminals. On "Criminal Minds," that's straightforward — the BAU profiles and apprehends violent offenders. Dexter Morgan hunts criminals too, in his own very unique way — he hunts killers vigilante style and dispatches justice himself. But the biggest similarity between both shows is that both the members of the BAU and Dexter have been traumatized by violent criminals. And on both shows, that trauma gives them unique insights into how criminals think. 

One big detail that sets the characters on "Criminal Minds" apart from those of other network police procedurals is that the BAU agents often have dark pasts. Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) was sexually abused as a child. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) grew up with an abusive mother. Hotch (Thomas Gibson) had to listen to a serial killer murder his former high school sweetheart. These experiences motivated them to pursue careers in law enforcement. And often, the cases they investigate hit close to home.

"Dexter" works similarly. As a child, Dexter witnessed the violent murder of his mother. Whether or not this caused him to become a serial killer or just awakened the murderous impulses he already had is up for debate. But it certainly had an enormous impact on Dexter's life. As a serial killer who hunts other killers, Dexter understands their impulses, which makes him adept at hunting them — sometimes even more so than his colleagues at the Miami P.D.

It's not exactly a new idea to suggest that the best person to catch a criminal is someone who was previously victimized by a criminal themselves. But "Criminal Minds" and "Dexter" show how the same general storytelling trope can inspire two completely different TV shows.