A few days ago (Sunday 28th December) I posted the first part of our countdown of this site’s best crime dramas of the year (OK, I admit… my favourites), and now it’s time to go through numbers six to one. If you missed the first part on Sunday, I mentioned a whole heap of dramas that came very close to being included in this, ahem, hugely prestigious list (Shetland, Matrioshki, Quirke et al). It just goes to show that there are some terrific writers and performers currently working in the genre, and there’s no doubt that we’ve been spoiled over the last year. If anything the very fact we can make a list of any sort shows the depth of acting, writing and directing talent out there. Anyway, here we go… six to one.
6. Glue, E4
At once a paean to the beauty and simplicity of rural life and a damnation of the insularity of it all, Jack Thorne’s Glue was the teenage Broadchurch. It told the story of a group of 18-year-olds who lived in an unnamed village, who either worked on farms or on the local stud farm. Their lives went around and around in circles, and for kicks they appropriated whatever they could (silos, for jumping in; class A drugs, to help with the jumping). Their lives changed forever when one of their own, 14-year-old Cal, was found face-down, dead in the mud. From there on in Glue peeled back the layers of rural life and sent this group of close-knit friends on the cusp of adulthood on an epic rites-of-passage journey. Secrets were revealed, long-standing grudges bubbled up, clandestine identities uncovered and the weight of family and expectation exposed. It was a classic whodunit as well as an elegy to a loss of innocence. There were one or two too many musical montages of teens jumping around a fire in slow motion, but on the whole Glue was superbly gripping, very well acted by a young ensemble cast and the writing was fresh and innovative.
For our interview with Charlotte Spencer, go here
5. Line Of Duty, BBC2
Jed Mercurio had a lot to live up to after the success of the first series of Line Of Duty. Concerned with corruption within the police force, series two started off with an unprecedented bang. DI Lindsay Denton (a career best Keeley Hawes) was tasked with shipping an informant from one safe house to the next, but was ambushed along the way, resulting not only in the death of the informant but also a policewoman. Soon Denton was accused of setting the whole thing up, and DC Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and DS Kate Fleming (Vicky Fleming) were tasked with looking into Denton and her supposedly dodgy dealings. They were joined by DS Georgia Trotman (Jessica Raine), but by the end of the first episode, Mercurio did something extraordinary – Trotman, a new main character we thought, was summarily and shockingly killed off by being thrown out of a hospital window. From then on in we were on a rollercoaster of beautifully manipulated deceit and red herring – one minute we were with Denton, one minute we weren’t so sure. The (long) interview scenes between Denton, Arnott, Fleming and PSupt Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) were not only brilliantly acted, but brilliantly written and choreographed, ebbing and flowing, obfuscation, bluff and double bluff. They will live long in the memory.
For all our Line Of Duty coverage, go here
4. Happy Valley, BBC1
In terms of the most talked-about crime drama of the year, Happy Valley was it. It attained an almost Broadchurchian level of interest, with over seven million hooked on the story of DS Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) and her battle with the man who had raped her daughter and caused her death, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). But to begin with Happy Valley was about the story of a botched kidnapping, involving the feckless Kevin Weatherill (Steve Pemberton) and we admit we weren’t hooked right from the start (it walked the same sort of path as Fargo but less effectively). After a sensational third episode, the stakes became higher and we realised the kidnap story was a front for something darker. Suddenly it had exploded into an exceptional, addictive series. The way Sally Wainwright had started with a plethora of characters, stories and ideas and pared them down, episode by episode, to leave just Catherine and Tommy standing was simply incredible; an absolute masterclass in suspense writing. They were like two entities – light and dark – being moved around a chessboard, everything else disappearing around them until a final, shuddering confrontation. Some critics have used words like ‘Shakespearean’ and compared it to Ibsen. I can buy into that, but for me, Happy Valley was, ultimately, about redemption and closure, and Sarah Lancashire’s performance as the woman who went on this unrelentingly dark journey was the year’s best.
For all our coverage of Happy Valley go here
For our interview with Sally Wainwright go here
3. Fargo, Channel 4
Such is the respect the Coen brothers command, many winced when details of a small-screen version of their Oscar-winning movie, Fargo, were released. A new Fargo-based story, written and created by Noah Hawley (with the Coens in hands-off Executive Producer mode) managed that rare thing – to balance hysterical farce with dark, gruesome themes. Just like the Coens at their best, in fact. At its heart Fargo was a morality tale – downtrodden failure Lester Nygaard (a supreme Martin Freeman, in a role he was born to play) meets hitman Lorne Malvo (a sinister Billy Bob Thornton) by chance in a hospital waiting room. There, Malvo, used to walking among the shadows and treating Earthly law and convention with disdain, acts as the devil, tempting Lester with a way out of his timid, hen-pecked existence. Malvo is the demon on Lester’s shoulder, and soon enough the erstwhile mouse becomes a monster. Fargo was religious allegory, a drama about temptation and choice, and we haven’t even mentioned the excellent Allison Tolman as local police offer Molly Solverson, a mere mortal caught up in all the mayhem. All this excellence was played out on the pristine, snowbound plains of Minnesota, which added a detached, glacial depth to this whole, superb series.
For all our coverage on Fargo, go here
2. The Bridge, BBC4
How do you follow a series that captivated so many and introduced us to arguably the best cop pairing television has ever seen? (Not to mention keep the Scandinavian crime drama torch alight.) With another one of high quality, obviously. Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) and Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) were reunited for another case that once again took them across Sweden and Denmark, this time hunting down environmental terrorists who were intent on infecting the world with a new plague. The story might not have been as affecting as series one, but Saga and Martin’s relationship continued to beguile and fascinate. Saga was trying hard to become socially acceptable, while Martin was dealing with the fall-out of a broken marriage. Together they helped each other in life, not just the case. The Bridge never aspired to greater things like, say, Fargo, Happy Valley or True Detective, but on a human and character level it really can’t be beaten. Not least because at the end of this series, our beloved pairing was in tatters. What does series three hold without a Saga/Martin partnership? It’s too devastating to even contemplate.
1. True Detective, Sky Atlantic
Now then. This choice won’t go down well with everyone. Some hated it. Some couldn’t take the endless drawling and mumbling. Some couldn’t forgive it for the underwritten (no, poorly written) female characters. Some couldn’t swallow the unashamed pretension and philosophising. I loved it. I loved it right from the very start and because of those reasons (except for the female characters). The sometimes imperceptible mumblings, the philosophising… this all set True Detective apart from the rest. Lest we forget, this was the story of two men – local cop Marty Harte (Woody Harrelson) and tormented out-of-towner Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) – who were thrown together to investigate the brutal, ceremonial, almost ritualistic slaying of young prostitute, Dora Lange. Cohle, who had lived in the abyss since his young daughter was killed in a car accident and experienced the subsequent breakdown of his marriage, was methodical and obsessive in his approach to the case; Harte had been treading water in both his marriage and in his job and had never seen anything quite so brutal. They were chalk and cheese as they investigated this curious, awful killing, exploring Louisiana’s forgotten underbelly, and encountering the world’s waifs and strays who called it home. The procedural aspect of the series threw up mysterious symbols and totems, names like Carcosa and The Yellow King. This esoterica made the internet go up in flames – everyone wanted to know who or what The Yellow King was, and what the symbols meant. Quite aside from all that, True Detective was also expertly written (Nic Pizzolatto) and directed (Cary Fukunaga). Episode four in particular – where a drug-crazed Cohle goes, undercover, to a drug dealer’s house to prove his worth to his new contact – was perhaps the most intense 20 minutes ever committed to television. And then there was the toe-dipping into different genres, like the aforementioned drug dealer house scene, and the tinges of 1980s American horror in the finale. All were expertly constructed and choreographed. But at the end of it all, like all the very best crime dramas, it wasn’t necessarily the crime that was the underlying pulse of True Detective. The relationship between two flawed men was the real focus – Cohle, after seeing true darkness in life, wanted to die; Harte, now sleepwalking throughout his own life, wanted to find a way to live again. They were both lost, searching for different things. Catching The Yellow King was redemptive for them both. And even if the ultimate ending didn’t quite wash, I was hooked by True Detective from the very start. Hook, line and sinker.
For all our True Detective coverage go here.
To read The Killing Times’ Top 12 Crime Dramas Of 2014: Part One, 12-7 go here