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 because 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.
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 which has the flair for commenting on contemporary social issues, ‘Broadchurch’ is the one to watch.
8. Wallander (2008 – 2016)
Adapted from Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s ‘Kurt Wallander’ novels, ‘Wallander’ is a crime drama starring Kenneth Branagh as the titular police inspector and follows his detective exploits. Developed by British directors Philip Martin, Niall MacCormick and Benjamin Caron, the show has been praised for its cinematography, production design, writing and performance. A one-time Golden Globe nominee, the series is led by the brilliant performance of Branagh, who brings in the required composure and calm while maintaining the energy of a crime drama with elegance. Originally produced by Left Bank Pictures for BBC One, the show has since been picked up by Netflix for all the crime drama enthusiasts.
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 dark room 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 a 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 as to 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. Behavioural Analysis Unit (B.A.U.), who are given the task to analyse 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 which balances every aspect of the art, churning out an engaging plot which 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. River (2015)
A six-part crime drama television mini-series, ‘River’ follows the titular John River, essayed by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, a brilliant police inspector who is haunted by the murder victims whose cases he must lay to rest. The series is built around the complicated character of River, as the tonality and atmospherics blend to form a dark and dusky complementing narrative. ‘River’ breathes of intrinsic character development which helps viewers to understand the crime from the perspective of the protagonist while also understanding his character arc change through the narrative progression. Written by Welsh playwright and screenwriter Abi Morgan, ‘River’ has been praised for its slow-burning, edge-of-the-seat narrative.
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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 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. It has often been cited as one of the best crime drama shows in recent times.