Just when you thought it was safe to go back onto the internet again, here’s another list to add to the many that are floating about at this time of the year. Unlike other sites, I like to leave our selections right until the very end of the year because there’s always a few nuggets over the festive period that deserve consideration. And, like last year, there were one or two series in December that were stunners. But not only December – the whole year was littered with fantastic, varied crime dramas: some were procedural, some were psychological, some were whodunity, and some were even a mixture of everything… the sheer variety of fare on offer within the genre was sometimes breathtaking and the overall standard was very high. So we need to get going. Strap yourselves in, here it comes…
Before I count down from 15 to 11 in this instalment, I need to commend a few of the shows that didn’t quite make it into the top 15. Obviously, this list is entirely subjective and there will be an opportunity for you to vote for your own favourites in a few days’ time, but there were some big names that didn’t quite make the grade.
Back in January, the year started off with Sherlock, which was fun, clever (probably too clever for its own good) and looked amazing, being partly set as it did back in Victorian times; the final series of the British version of Wallander was, as per usual, extremely solid and featured an incredible central performance from Kenneth Branagh; Peaky Blinders and The Night Manager were both excellent in their own ways but I’m still not convinced they were pure crime dramas; Ripper Street was as solid and as watchable as ever; The People Vs OJ Simpson was, occasionally, revelatory; Modus was frustrating but watchable; Channel 4 one-offs The Watchman and The People Next Door were thought-provoking and tense; Bosch would have surely made the cut if I had seen it; Beck was solid, again; while Marcella, Paranoid and One Of Us were big disappointments. The Fall, meanwhile, was full of intrigue, fantastic acting and beautiful imagery, but lacked pace and real substance. I enjoyed some stuff on Walter Presents, too: Argentinian drama Pure Evil had its moments, while Belgian dark comedy The Out-Laws was really enjoyable, as was Danish crime drama, Dicte. Right at the end of the year, there was The Passenger. The Guardian compared this French crime drama with True Detective, which I thoroughly disagreed with, but it was fun and had its moments. You could also make an argument for all the superhero stuff on Netflix, which all had elements of crime drama pulsing through them.
So there was a lot.
But in the end I – along with the team – had to make some decisions. Some hard decisions, as our glorious politicians would say.
15. In Plain Sight, ITV
A series that came out at the end of the year, it was just a shame that it started just as the BBC’s Rillington Place – also the tale of a real-life serial killer from the 1950s – was drawing to a close. No matter, many people will argue that In Plain Sight was better than Rillington Place. It was the three-part tale of Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel – cocky and strutting – and his relationship with the man who had locked him up nine years before, Sergeant William Muncie. This was a story about revenge, and the two men became locked in a deadly cat-and-mouse game. As Manuel, Line Of Duty’s Martin Compston was terrific, and Dougie Henshall as reliable and as solid as ever.
For all our reviews of In Plain Sight, go here
14. Stranger Things, Netflix
Stranger Things, in a list of the year’s best crime dramas you ask? Well, yes. Although not a pure crime drama, there was a strong strand of detection in this glossy 10-part supernatural yarn, which introduced us to four pesky kids in small-town Hawkins, Indiana. One of the gang, Will, goes missing and it’s up to the other three, with the help of the mysterious Eleven (a psychokinetic girl), to find him. The search took them to strange dimensions and into conflict with terrifying monsters. From the theme tune and titles, to the overall look and feel Stranger Things was an elegiac homage to all your favourite 1980s adventure movies – in particular, The Goonies and other Spielberg coming-of-age stories and Stephen King’s Carrie. To those that had seen these movies it was nothing new, but the fact that it was so beautifully and enjoyable repackaged meant that this was supreme, postmodernist entertainment for the online generation.
13. The Disappearance, BBC4
This French series hit BBC4 with a clarion call of “the French Broadchurch” ringing in our ears. In the end it attracted record viewing figures – even higher than some of its Scandinavian and Nordic counterparts – and you could see why. The Disappearance was a classic whodunit transported to modern-day Lyon, where we joined the Morel family and its ordeal in coming to terms with the disappearance and subsequent discovery of the body of teenage daughter Léa. From then on in its was a journey of twists, turns and red herrings, all played out at the same time as the Morel family’s emotional collapse. There were strong turns from Alix Poisson as Léa’s mother Florence, and a fine investigating team comprising taciturn Bertrand Molina (François-Xavier Demaison) and Camille Guérin (Alice Pol). As ever in these stories, things never turn out well and The Disappearance put us through the wringer for eight episodes.
For all our news and review of The Disappearance, go here
12. The Thrill Of Love, BBC Radio 4
For me this was easily the best radio crime drama of the year. Written by the excellent Amanda Whittington, produced by Justine Potter and starring Maxine Peake as the infamous Ruth Ellis, it was a re-telling of a story you already thought you knew. But instead of tired cliches, The Thrill Of Love was a tale of a woman approaching the end of her tether thanks to emotional and physical abuse. Ruth Ellis’s decline into mental collapse was heartbreaking, touching and all connected to love and passion – love and passion for a man she could not have; love and passion for a man who beat her and, ultimately, destroyed her. In the end, they destroyed each other. This drama boasted superb performances (you expect nothing less from Peake and co-star Siobhan Finneran) and evocative sound design that transported you back to 1950s Soho.
For our review of The Thrill Of Love, go here
11. The Secret, ITV
For so long this was in my top five, but a rush of crime dramas of brilliant quality in the back end of 2016 caused this to drop a bit. It was another story of internecine love, and caused controversy when it came out in May. Based on the true story of lovers Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan who murdered their respective partners in 1980s Northern Ireland so they could be together, some felt it was too soon since the murders were committed and didn’t represent some of the characters properly. Us? We found it be engrossing television, and a true story expertly and brilliantly told. Jimmy Nesbitt as the charismatic, manipulative but ultimately cowardly Howell was spot on, but it was Genevieve Reilly, as his married lover Buchanan, that made this really interesting. A God-fearing woman whose head was turned by Howell to the point where she was entirely complicit in both the murder of her husband and Howell’s wife, Reilly’s performance was nothing short of extraordinary.
For all our reviews of The Secret, go here