Once you lay out your favourite crime dramas of the year, you see certain themes and ideas replicated. We saw a bit of The Bridge in Witnesses; there was a bit of River in The Bridge, and so on. What was clear from looking back at this year’s cream of the crop was that the standard was incredibly high in 2015, without actually producing a masterpiece like a True Detective series one or a Broadchurch series one. There were plenty of outstanding moments, performances and bits, for sure, but I would say that only the top three of this list approached total awesomeness. And, I have to say, I went back and forth on our top three because each had a case to be number one. In fact, I changed positions right up until the moment I settled down to write this list. See what you think of our Top Five…
5. Witnesses, Channel 4
Right from the very start, when a terrifying tableaux was constructed comprising cadavers from recently illegally exhumed graves set up to look like perfect families, we were hooked. These were the most macabre scenes seen on TV this year, and on the case, trying to figure out who was behind these heinous acts, was grizzled veteran cop Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte) – who had been brought out of retirement – and his one-time protégé and obsessive detective Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier). Their prickly working relationship quickly worked out that this was a personal attack on Maisonneuve, and down they went into a rabbit hole that questioned the role of family and parenthood in a case that became satisfyingly and head-spinningly multi-layered. Obviously influenced by Scandinavian crime drama, Witnesses was top-notch, addictive procedural drama while Normandy never looked so bleak and windswept.
For all our news and review on Witnesses, go here
4. Spiral, BBC4
It has been a very good year for French crime drama and cult favourite Spiral returned for its fifth series at the very start of the year with a stunning new story. As ever there were tangled relationships between cops, lawyers and politicians, as well as a double-murder case and Laure Berthaud’s pregnancy (the always superb Caroline Proust). There was drama around every corner, not least when Pierre Clément (Gregory Fitoussi) was killed off – one of the shocks of the year. Always riveting, always intelligent and always, always intriguing, we were much more emotionally invested in the characters this series and, if the ending didn’t quite do it for us, Spiral proved once again that it was a serious piece of work.
For all our news and reviews on Spiral, go here
3. River, BBC1
This was perhaps the most Marmite show of the year, but we loved it. It starred Stellan Skarsgård as John River – a tormented London-based cop who, we were soon to find out, was mourning his beloved partner Stevie (Nicola Walker, again), who had been gunned down in the middle of a busy street. She was flirty and funny; he was stoic and Swedish, and together they proved to be an engaging team, even though she was dead. He still kept in contact with her thanks to his ‘manifests’ – not quite a ghost but a figment of his imagination; an imprint left on his subconscious. It was a clever and interesting way to weave Stevie – and other characters and victims from previous investigations – into the narrative. They weren’t just characters in their own right, because they were part of River’s subconscious and they helped him at key points during the investigation, reminding him of details he had forgotten or glossed over. What’s more, these manifests – especially Stevie – became unreliable sources of information and we settled in for a helter-skelter ride during which we were never quite sure if Stevie was the sweetness-and-light person River remembered her to be. In some ways the procedural element fell by the wayside, taken over by Abi Morgan’s superb characterisation and dialogue writing. It was an intense, deeply moving portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with not only his own mental illness but also stomach-churning grief. Ultimately, though, it was a love story and I can’t remember being as emotionally engaged with a crime drama before. Hats off to Stellan Skarsgård, too, who produced the (male) performance of the year.
For all our news and reviews on River, go here
2. Fargo, Channel 4
How can you improve on something that was already fantastic? Making it just about perfect. Series one of Fargo was a pure and pared back fable of, more or less, two men – one good and one bad – who got tangled up and almost became one. But in series two there was no Lester Nygaard or Lorne Malvo, and instead we went back in time to 1979 to find out what really happened at the Sioux Falls massacre. Once we got there we were introduced to two crime families, classics-quoting hitmen, homely police officers and two normal folk who got embroiled in something very dangerous. We also got inventive split screens, an incredible soundtrack, a guest appearance from a young Ronald Reagan (Bruce Campbell) and a UFO. And, like anything involving the Coen brothers – directly or indirectly – there were huge amounts of metaphor and counter metaphor. But unlike the first series this second story was more emotionally engaging, thanks mainly to three female characters (Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart), Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) and Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst)) who each embodied the shifting roles of women in the rapidly changing 1970s. The series was just about perfect, and episode eight produced arguably the best, most complete and suspenseful hour of television this year.
For all our news and reviews of Fargo, go here
1. The Bridge, BBC4
Is this a surprise? I’m not so sure. Let’s rewind a bit though. Last year we heard that Kim Bodnia had decided not to reprise his role as Martin Rohde, the beloved yang to Saga Norén’s yin. The fanbase combusted. How could Saga survive without Martin? How could the show survive without Martin? As the transmission date loomed into view, these questions helped to build anticipation until it reached fever pitch – it had the same levels of excitement as the second series of True Detective and Broadchurch. Thanks to writer Hans Rosenfeldt and the performance of Sofia Helin, we needn’t have worried because this series was arguably the best of the lot. Rosenfeldt put Saga centre stage and surrounded her with a huge new cast of characters, and a scary new serial murderer to track down. The investigation and the procedural element, although solid, was not the reason why this series wowed – it was simply seeing a woman who had spent most her whole life coming up with ways to block out a dangerous world being forced to re-engage with it. Thanks to the re-appearance of her mordant mother, the death of her mentor Hans, being framed for the murder of her mother and a new relationship with partner Henrik Sabroe, we saw a new Saga, one that showed cracks of emotion and pain. Helin’s performance – all raised eyebrows, frowns, twitches and shakes – was astonishing. We did finally get to find out who the Clown Killer was in a final scene that was as dark as we’ve ever seen on television, which cleverly turned the moral tables on Saga and put her in Martin’s shoes – could she save a man who had killed her best friend and let justice take its course, or should she let him experience ultimate justice in the grip of the noose? Like the very best crime dramas we loved this (final?) series of The Bridge because of its characters. And there hasn’t been a character you root for like Saga Norén in a very long time.
For all our news and reviews on The Bridge, go here
For The Killing Times’ Top 15 Crime Dramas Of 2015: Part One, 15-11 go here
For The Killing Times’ Top 15 Crime Dramas Of 2015: Part Two, 10-6 go here