Detective television shows always manage to raise the innate investigator we all have within us. The reason why people find detective shows so engaging is that there’s enough space to explore a wide variety of themes and genres. While some shows depend heavily on style, creating a noir-ish and violent narrative, others depend on pure substance. From the grimy ‘Mindhunter’ to the cerebral ‘Sherlock’, detective shows contain a large variety of narratives.
20. Perfume (2018)
‘Perfume’ is a German television series, originally known as ‘Parfum’ and is available on Netflix with English audio and subtitles. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, by Patrick Suskind, the show is set in the modern-day. A series of brutal murders show a pattern of missing scent glands on the corpses. This is traced back to a group of boys at a boarding school who had been experimenting with human scents, who also happen to know one of these victims. ‘Perfume’ has been received well internationally and follows the story of investigators Nadja Simon (Friedericke Becht) and Matthias Kohler (Juergen Maurer), along with Prosecutor Grunberg (Wotan Wilke Mohring).
19. The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015- 2017)
‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’ is a British period crime drama which is inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic ‘Frankenstein.’ Starring Sean Bean, who is also one of the producers of the show, the story follows Inspector John Marlott, a river police officer who chances upon a corpse made of body parts from eight missing children. Set in 19th century London, the crime may have been committed by a scientist who is determined to bring the dead to life. The critically acclaimed show drew in a large amount of viewership per episode. The show first aired on ITV Encore on November 11, 2015.
18. Hinterland (2013-2016)
This Welsh crime drama, also known as ‘Y Gwyll,’ which is Welsh for ‘The Dusk,’ is set in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion in Wales. This police detective drama follows DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington), who isolates himself in the town of Aberystwyth to escape his past in London. This doesn’t prove to be much of a respite as the town has some deep, dark secrets of its own. As he joins hands with the intelligent DI Mared Rhys (Mali Harries), they start solving crimes, including murder. The series is filmed in both Welsh and English, with each scene having been filmed twice.
17. The InBESTigators (2019-present)
Here is something great for the younger audience who are keen on watching a series in this genre. ‘The InBESTigators’ is an Australian television series that follows the detective agency run by children. With their office in Ezra’s (Aston Droomer) backyard, and led by Maurie (Anna Cooke), they come together with their individual set of skills to solve mysteries in the neighborhood. The other two members of the team are Kyle (Jamil Smyth-Secka), who is athletic, and also Ezra’s best friend, and Ava (Abby Bergman), known for her impressive social skills.
16. Giri/Haji (2019-present)
‘Giri/Haji’ is a British television series set in Tokyo and London with dialogues in Japanese as well as English. The title of the show translates to ‘Duty/Shame.’ Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) is a detective from Tokyo who goes to London in search of his brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka), who is presumed dead but also accused of murder. The murder that Yuto is associated with could start a deadly gang war in Tokyo. As Kenzo tries to get to the bottom of it all, he has to face some of the most dangerous bigwigs of the underworld in London and take care of his family back in Tokyo at the same time.
15. Marvel’s Jessica Jones (2015-2019)
From the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Jessica Jones” is about a former superhero who opens her own detective agency. Her brief career as a superhero ended as she accidentally killed someone because of the supervillain, Kilgrave (David Tennant). As Kilgrave is out on the prowl again, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) must stop him. She also has to deal with her personal life as she finds out that her mother is still alive. In addition to this, she must deal with the now-murderous Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), who is determined to prove that she is a fraud. The show, when released, was praised for the performances by Krysten Ritter and David Tennant and the way darker topics of rape and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder were handled.
14. Seven Seconds (2018)
Adapted from Russian filmmaker Yuri Bykov’s crime drama ‘The Major’ (2013), ‘Seven Seconds’ follows the African American citizens and Caucasian cops in Jersey City as they get involved in investigating the death of a young black boy. A limited series spanning over ten episodes, ‘Seven Seconds’ is a taut show which not only develops upon the crime and investigation but also explores themes of race relations and societal alienation. Created by Canadian screenwriter Veena Sud, the show is replete with classy performances, for which Oscar-winning actress Regina King went on to win a Black Reel Award for Television and a Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actress, TV Movie or Limited Series.
13. Frequency (2016 – 2017)
Inspired by the American science fiction thriller drama, ‘Frequency’ (2000), which was directed by American filmmaker Gregory Hoblit, this 2016 adaptation follows Raimy Elizabeth Sullivan, essayed by American actress Peyton List, an NYPD detective in 2016 who discovers that she is able to communicate with her father via a ham radio, who had died way back in 1996. Together, the two start solving all the “unsolvable” cases. The show brilliantly manages to blend the fancy with the crime. It jumps in timeline creating a non-linear plot which is handled with maturity by American writer Jeremy Carver.
12. 1983 (2018 – )
Premiering on Netflix in 2018, ‘1983’ is a Polish crime drama about a law student, Kajetan Skowron, essayed by Maciej Musiał, and a cop, Anatol Janów, played by Robert Więckiewicz, who, decades after a 1983 terrorist attack, tries to expose a conspiracy that’s kept Poland as a police state and the Iron Curtain standing. Created and written by Joshua Long, the show is built on a gripping, edgy narrative. Netflix’s first original Polish series, ‘1983’ is a nice blend of a historical narrative and crime drama, as it develops upon Polish communism and expands over the conspiracy. With just eight episodes comprising the first, ‘1983’ can be easily completed within a day.
11. Marcella (2016-)
This ITV series focuses on the eponymous detective who returns to her duty as a police officer after a long interval and immediately starts focusing on a triple murder case. As Marcella investigates further on, she realizes this is the work of a serial killer. While she tries to track down this killer to the best of her ability, Marcella herself suffers from random blackout episodes whose cause remains unresolved. In the latter seasons, the gruesomeness of the crimes which Marcella has to solve increase, and so does her personal problems. The use of lights in this series creates a rather chilling mood and makes this series into a compelling watch.
10. Ripper Street (2012 – 2016)
A British crime drama, ‘Ripper Street’ follows Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, essayed by English actor Matthew Macfadyen, and his team of officers, who aim are up to the job of maintaining the law and order in a place once terrorized by Jack the Ripper. The show is set in 1889, six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. Created and written by Richard Warlow, the show has been praised for its gritty and resolute writing, coupled with the engaging performances of the lead actors. Spanning over five seasons, it is a pretty riveting experience for those who are interested in the infamous Jack Ripper Murders.
9. Broadchurch (2013 – 2017)
A British crime drama, ‘Broadchurch’ stars David Tennant and Olivia Colman as detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller, who solve complex crimes in the fictional town of ‘Broadchurch’. Premiering in 2013, ‘Broadchurch’ has been critically praised for its cohesive writing and performances of the lead actors. Created by British television writer and producer Chris Chibnall, the show is built on a strong foundation of detailed character development and the tone-defining cinematography by Matt Gray. The crime drama which was initially developed for British television network ITV has now been picked up by Netflix. If you are looking for an engaging crime drama that has the flair for commenting on contemporary social issues, ‘Broadchurch’ is the one to watch.
8. Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G (2018)
This limited crime anthology series is based on the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls in the late 1990s, which shook the rap industry. The series follows the dual investigations of Detective Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) and Detective Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson), who look into the controversial murders of the rap legends. ‘Unsolved’ features Wavyy Jonez as Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G or Biggie Smalls, and Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur. Five out of ten episodes in the series, have been directed by Emmy winner Anthony Hemmingway. The series saw a solid contribution from Greg Kading, who not only investigated the murders but also wrote a book ‘Murder Rap: The Untold Story of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations.’
7. Criminal (2019)
‘Criminal’ is actually a collection of four different TV shows under one single umbrella, with each of them taking place in a completely different country- France, Germany, Spain, and the UK. The approach the makers of this series have taken is rather bold. The story of each country runs for three episodes, and each of them focuses on a criminal being interviewed by the police. Despite the fact that each season’s cast comprises of actors and actresses from that particular country itself, the filming was done in one single studio in Madrid, Spain. The locations have also been kept to a minimum, with each story being set in a single interrogation room, a darkroom from which there is a one-way view inside the interrogation room, and a hallway or outside. It is extremely difficult to create a proper story and tell it in a suitable manner within such small confinement, but the makers of this series have really done a fantastic job in this regard.
6. The Sinner (2017 – )
An anthology crime drama mystery, ‘The Sinner’ follows the crimes committed by seemingly ordinary people and analyzes why the crime is committed. Based on the novel ‘The Sinner’ written by German crime writer Petra Hammesfahr, the show is a crisply written crime drama which is further elevated to new heights by the performances of actors Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman. The show has received high critical praise for its direction and the aforementioned performances. It has received two Golden Globe nominations and one Primetime Emmy, to name a few. In addition, the show has also been renewed for a third season on USA Network, which will later premiere on Netflix for a worldwide viewership.
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5. The Blacklist (2013 – )
‘The Blacklist’ follows Raymond “Red” Reddington, essayed by James Spader, a former U.S. Navy officer who has turned into a high-profile criminal, and is on FBI’s hit list. Bizarrely, he voluntarily surrenders to the FBI after evading capture for decades. However, he sends a proposition where he has the list of the most dangerous criminals in the world that he has compiled over the years, which he’ll hand over in exchange for immunity from prosecution. In addition, he insists on working solely with a rookie FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen, essayed by Megan Boone. The show is smartly written and it perceptively develops upon the procedural elements. A critical darling, most critics have immensely appreciated the dark tonality and James Spader’s engaging performance as the notorious criminal.
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4. Criminal Minds (2005 – 2019)
A police procedural crime drama, ‘Criminal Minds’ follows an elite group of profilers of F.B.I. Behavioral Analysis Unit (B.A.U.), who are given the task to analyze the nation’s most dangerous serial killers and their crimes to anticipate their next moves before they commit the crime again. Created by American writer and director Jeff Davis, ‘Criminal Minds’ is a brilliant piece of crime drama that balances every aspect of the art, churning out an engaging plot that is further complemented by superb performances by the cast. Premiering in 2005, the show spanned over fourteen seasons, with the fifteenth one being the final, which was released in January of 2019. The critical and commercial success of the show has led it to spawn a whole franchise, including a spin-off, a South Korean adaptation, and a video game. Originally premiering on American television show CBS, ‘Criminal Minds’ has now been taken by Netflix.
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3. Signal (2016)
‘Signal’ is a South Korean fantasy series starring Lee Je-hoon (as Park Hae-young), Kim Hye-soo (as Cha Soo-Hyun), and Cho Jin-Woong (as Lee Jae-Han). The series has been well received by critics and viewers for its story and performances, making it the tenth highest-rated Korean drama in history. With hints of supernatural, three detectives solve cases that have been filed as cold cases for years. A mysteriously found walkie-talkie allows Lee Jae-Han, a detective from 1989, to communicate with Park Hae-young. Park Hae-young is a cold case profiler in 2015 who, along with Lee Jae-Han and Cha Soo-Hyun, form a team. They solve cold cases that lay unresolved and also prevent potential crimes.
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2. Sherlock (2010 – )
‘Sherlock’ is a British crime drama based on the classic mystery books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Developed by English writer Mark Gatiss and Scottish writer Steven Moffat, the show follows the iconic duo of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson solving seemingly unsolvable crime in a modern-day setting, i.e. 21st century London. The show, which debuted in 2010, is led by the perceptive performance of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the gifted Holmes and British actor Martin Freeman as the loyal best friend Dr. Watson. The two actors bring out a “buddy-comedy” feel to the crime drama. In addition, the writing by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, and Stephen Thompson help in raising the stakes of the crime to engage the viewers to its world. Divided as a three-episode series, with every season airing in two years, every episode has a running time of 90 minutes which thus keeps the viewers engaged with no narrative breaks.
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1. Mindhunter (2017 – )
Adapted from the non-fiction crime book ‘Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit’ (1995), written by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, ‘Mindhunter’ is set in the early days of criminal psychology, in 1977. It revolves around FBI agents Holden Ford, essayed by Jonathan Groff and Bill Tench, played by Holt McCallany, along with psychologist Wendy Carr, who founded FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit within the Training Division at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
The show then portrays their horrifying interviews with imprisoned serial killers that help the FBI to catch and understand such future potential serial killers in order to understand how they think, with the hope of applying this knowledge to solving on-going and future cases. Developed by the modern master of thriller and suspense, David Fincher, ‘Mindhunter’ has all the classic Fincher elements that make for an engaging watch.
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