An overview of the new crime tv thrillers of 2014/2015 and a reflection on the best police-themed shows of the 10’s in a top 10.
It is not uncommon in certain circles to prefer the better foreign detectives & thriller tv shows over British & American crime tv shows. Whether it is out of pretentiousness (remember yourself or someone else insisting on using the foreign title? (and probably mispronouncing it)) or out of the feeling that English-spoken detectives lack authenticity, it is clear that many a seasoned crime tv watcher has experienced the recent influx of foreign crime television as a breath of fresh air. And I am not arguing that it has not been so – British crime thrillers could be quite a bore, and most American crime thrillers turned into superficial formula-generated products for mass consumption.
However, after having watched most foreign crime series up to 2015 (with Scandinavian police series as frontrunners) I could not help but realize that true innovation is still coming from America and Britain. The Danish detective The Killing (Forbrydelsen;)) is a good case in point. Enthusiastically heralded for its authentically grim tone and its clever storytelling, The Killing also swept me off my feet initially. However, in season 3 I had to admit that its characters were actually rather one-dimensional and downright cliché, and that screenplay-wise a true transformation had actually never occurred. Fortunately, now British and American show runners have caught up with the flavor foreign television had to offer, and make it come out beautifully by moving away from the cities to explore regional America. Regional tv America is no longer an ‘anywhereland’, but is given its own local identity, Twin Peaks style. For this reason, and because of its innovative dialogues and its cinematic atmosphere, I have awarded a number one place to the HBO 2014 detective show True Detective, a show that brings together everything good in modern television. That is why that in this article I am restoring the English-spoken police series to their rightful place – at the very top. Not to say that foreign crime thrillers are no longer relevant, certainly not. Below you can have a quick peak at what to expect from detective and crime television in 2015.
11 Best detective and thriller tv shows of the 10’s – 2010 to 2014/2015
The great thing about this list is that they all can be considered to be must-see thriller tv shows. You cannot go wrong, trust me.
11. Hannibal (2013 -)
Created by Bryan Fuller
Don’t trust me too quickly. This one is perhaps not to everyone’s liking. Despite one of Denmark’s finest actors, Mads Mikkelsen, portraying the blueprint for serial killers, Hannibal, the show at first feels slightly artificial. Apparently it did not take a dip in the visual authenticity pool like other the shows below have done, but try and get through the first episodes and you will start appreciating it. It is much better than CBS’ Elementary that also revives a famous literary character, and showrunner Bryan Fuller adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter character is clearly the best drama NBC has produced in quite some time.
10. Homeland (2011 -)
Created by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
I have never been quite as blown away as most critics, but the international espionage tv thriller Homeland deserves a mention on this list. With its fourth season being highly anticipated for 2014, it remains one of the best watched shows out there. The premise of the tv show is straightforward – a war hero and prisoner of war returning from Iraq is welcomed back to the US as a lost son, but a female CIA officer suspects him of being turned. The show not only gives us an insight into the intelligence work countering international terrorism and crime, but takes us on a paranoia trip as Clair Danes’ character suffers from mental illnesses. There are few shows with such surprising and mind-blowing plot twists as Homeland so you better hold on tight. If you are looking for a more low-paced international crime drama, you should check out The Americans below.
9. Banshee (2013 -)
Created by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler
HBO’s sub-tv factory Cinemax produced a show that is one of the rawer thriller tv shows out there, and is definitely one of the best action tv shows I have ever come across. And indeed, it sets itself apart from the rest with long and tough action scenes backed up by sufficient dramatic development. By no means a sophisticated screenplay, but set in a small American town near an Amish community, it has more than enough to offer atmospherically. And as I am no fan of action films in general, I guess it is quite an accomplishment that they have got my adrenaline pumping. It is about an ex-convict who wants to get back with his former partner in crime and lover who has moved to this small American town and made a life for herself. In order to win her back he stays in town, and pretends to be the new local sheriff. Banshee’s second season is to be released in 2014 on HBO TV.
8. The Bridge (Bron/Broen – 2011 -)
Created by Hans Rosenfeldt
A Danish/Swedish production that stepped out of The Killing‘s shadow and made the Scandinavian crime genre its own. Although its main characters might be more unusual, with the police woman being autistic, and with us getting to know more about their private lives than in The Killing, the show is actually a lot more conventionally a thriller show than you might think. In this sense it relies much heavier on the thrilling aspect, and less on the whodunnit aspect. The storyline itself, with as its starting point a dead body that is found exactly where Denmark and Sweden are bordering and forces the two countries to work together, has inspired several remakes. An US one with the Mexican and American police working together, and a British-French one (in the Canal Tunnel).
7. The Americans (2013 -)
Created by Joes Weisberg
At first glance one might expect this international spy thriller to be one of American formula-driven television series I was talking about above, but it is so much more than that, and came as quite a surprise to me. It has managed to build up a sizeable fan-base in just one season, and that is mainly because of Kerri Russel’s solid performance as a femme fatale, and the show’s low-paced sophisticated screenplay displaying great nuance. It is inevitable to make some comparisons to that other espionage thriller Homeland, and I feel The Americans tops that show because it is more than just a thriller, it is an unusual family drama as well. It is about two Russian spies who have been undercover in the US for years, with even their kids not knowing their parents work for the KGB.
6. Justified (2010 -)
Created by Graham Yost
Timothy Olyphant already proved himself to be the modern-day television version of Clint Eastwood in HBO’s Deadwood (2004), and in Justified he takes the cowboy thing to a whole new level as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. In a sense Justified is everything you are not expecting it to be. As a show that is praised because of its great casting, it succeeds in combing great comedy and drama actors to render something quite new. At times it is relying too much on its gritty atmosphere, dialogue and quirky characters, but also plot-wise it is worth your while. Especially in the first seasons. This FX show is already in its fifth season now, so if you jump on the bandwagon now you have quite a lot to catch up on.
5. Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel/BBC two 2013 -)
Created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Perhaps not a small town in the States, but we see the theme recurring. This Sundance Channel co-production, taking place in New Zealand, follows a female detective who returns to her hometown, and is asked to take on a case. A young girl who tried to kill herself by drowning in a local lake turned out to be raped and abused. In her search for the guy who did it, she has to overcome some buried childhood trauma’s of her own. In the lead we find Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss who gives a great performance, and turns it in to a great psychological drama. Perhaps near the end the show gets a little too metaphorical, but it remains thrilling throughout, and make me hopeful for the upcoming thriller series from Sundance in 2014. Read more in the Sundance Channel section.
4. Broadchurch (2013 -)
Created by Chris Chibnall
According to many not only the best thriller or detective show of 2013, but the best tv show over-all. The charm of the show is comparable to True Detective, but even more so to Twin Peaks, in the sense that zooms into a little village and slowly lays bear its secrets. It is a great contribution to the small town murder mystery sub-genre, and quite possibly has created the best population of a tv town so far. The characters living in Broadchurch are easy to relate to and they evoke genuine sympathy and understanding on the part of the viewer. Next to that its smart plot makes you feel just as paranoid as the two detectives on the case. I do have to warn you that the ending is a bit of a letdown, and the epilogue is unequivocally cliche. Season 2 is coming in 2014, and the US is releasing an American remake title Gracepoint in 2014 (don’t ask me why).
3. Sherlock (2010 -)
Created by Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat
Sherlock is not yet another Sherlock Holmes brand rip-off. This British BBC Detective show takes the most famous fictional private detective to modern-day London, and finds an excellent form to do so. Sherlock, played by the incredibly talented Benedict Cumberbatch (now also with a great role in 12 Years a Slave), describes himself aptly as a ‘highly functional sociopath’, but as the series progresses, we find that his kind heart pierces through (perhaps a bit too much in season 3, almost de-mystifying him). Together with his loyal friend Watson, he solves incredibly complex cases in the heart of London loosely based on original Arthur Conan O’Doyle stories. Season 1 and 2 are definitely must-see detectives as they are incredibly fresh and genuine, but in season 3 in 2014 the show unfortunately moves a little too much away from the original stories, and takes too much advantage of humor and Sherlock’s sensitive side. We will have to wait for a while in 2015, but we do know that it will get a Christmas special in December 2015.
2. Fargo (2014)
Created by Noah Hawley
Based of the acclaimed crime drama by the Coen Brothers, Fargo is a crime series that strongly reflects the dark humor of the film. Bringing films to the small screen is not always a good idea, but here they have done everything right. The show is funny, refreshing, odd, but also incredibly suspenseful. It is a different way of relating to characters, as they are rather caricatured, but it still works. It is a show that does not keep the viewer in the dark, but shows everything that is happening – it is therefore extra noteworthy that it remains so addictive and exciting. Season 2 of Fargo will return with a new cast & story in 2015.
1. True Detective (2014 -)
Created by Nic Pizzolatto
Am I being to premature? Only one season, and I am already placing this new mysterious dark crime thriller released in January 2014 at the very top of the list. Perhaps it is indeed a bit premature, but I do not see how it could possibly go wrong. It is looking to be more of an in-depth psychological investigation into the characters of two police men against the back drop of a serial murder case than that is is a conventional detective show. Set in Louisiana, one can taste the atmosphere of Southern gothic novels, and combined with the pessimist existential monologues by Matthew Mcconaughey, you get sucked into the story feeling pleasantly disquieted. You can read about this show in much more detail in the HBO tv show section.
Update: Let’s hope we can expect something similar in 2015 – this time it will take place in California, and again Hollywood stars are casted: Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrel & Rachel McAdams. Vince Vaughn has said in an interview that the summer of 2015 season will be much different.
Interested in my favorite crime shows from the perspective of the criminals? Check out the ‘Cool’ new Gangster TV Shows up to 2014 – Reflections on Mafia TV article.
Upcoming new crime television in 2015
Is there still room for more upcoming thriller tv shows in 2015? Sure there is, but it is a highly competitive scene. Almost all of my above mentioned tv shows of the 10’s are still going strong, and have returning new seasons scheduled for 2015. I have already revealed that the new best returning 2015 detective tv shows are probably True Detective and Fargo, and it is discussed above. Let’s here briefly have a look at what else looks promising.
I should also mention Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off that is to be released in 2015. The first reviews are in, and it is looking good!
A series that has the feel of a Scandinavian crime series, but is English-spoken. The series mainly stands out because of its location – it is set in the Arctic where a small town gets shaken up by a brutal murder. You can already watch the show online, as it had its release in January 2015. I found the first pilot very promising.
Show me a Hero (2015)
The fact that Oscar Isaac (A most Violent Year) is starring in this one, is reason enough to go watch it. He was tremendous in a the slow (not so) crime drama A Most Violent Year, and it is great to see him have a go at television. What is an even better reason to watch it is written by David Simon, the writer of the Wire, arguably the best tv show ever. Show me a Hero is a crime drama about Mayor Nick Wasicsko taking place in 1987 during Yonkers, New York’s worst crisis w;hen federal courts decided public housing should be build in the white, middle class side of town, dividing the city in a bitter battle fueled by fear, racism, murder and politics.’ It is scheduled for later this year.