The countdown begins…
At the start of 2020, we were primed for some of the biggest crime dramas could throw at us.
However, the year did not quite pan out the way anyone thought it would. Populations around the world were thrown into chaos, anxiety and uncertainty, and people suddenly – without warning – had to process and adapt to a situation no one thought they would see in their lifetimes.
Television, too, had a trying time. Productions were put on hold, and actors and crew found themselves out of work. And yet… at the end of the year and looking back at these extraordinary past 12 months, we’re thankful to still be able to make a list of our favourite shows. Production crews and actors adapted to the new normal, postponed shoots resumed (look out for 2021), and, while we were all locked down, television once again – and in this case crime drama – became an important way to escape the madness.
So here we go.
As ever, there were lots of dramas that are worthy of a mention (Babylon Berlin, The Valhalla Murders, We Hunt Together, Sakho & Mangane, Cardinal, 35 Dirwnod, The Pale Horse, White House Farm, Quiz, Endeavour and Mystery Road, for instance), and we would have liked to have watched Ozark and Netflix’s South Korean opus, Stranger, for instance.
But there’s only so much time in the day, even during lockdown.
As ever let us know what you think of our choices. Did they match yours? And if your favourite isn’t there, tell us about it in the comments below.
20 The Salisbury Poisonings
If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that this year – in televisual terms at least – was the year of the true-crime adaptation. One of the best of the year was BBC One’s The Salisbury Poisonings, which retold the story of the nightmarish, dystopian-feeling events that took place in the Wiltshire town of Salisbury in 2018. With its hazmat suits and an invisible killer wafting in the air, it was a bold decision by the BBC to broadcast this in the middle of the first lockdown. But it turned out to be a sensitive, powerful retelling of the story, which gave us an inkling into the way emergency services and the higher-ups make the decisions they do when they have to. Underpinning the whole piece was the fierce, determined and extraordinarily dutiful Anne Marie-Duff as Wiltshire’s Director of Public Health, Tracy Daszkiewicz, and Rafe Spall’s Det Sgt Nick Bailey, whose own brush with the lethal Novichok changed his life forever.
READ MORE: OUR REVIEWS OF THE SALISBURY POISONINGS
19 The Outsider
A rare example of a Stephen King adaptation to the small screen that actually worked, The Outsider was a glacially paced thriller in the same dread-filled mould as True Detective. This suspenseful series examined the nature of identity in a way that few other crime dramas can, and its creepy premise was wisely drawn out to avoid revealing its more supernatural elements until the very end. With an incredible cast of seasoned character actors and a deeply unsettling tone in its direction, The Outsider remains a uniquely disturbing presence in the crime drama genre and a true standout for 2020.
READ MORE: ALL OUR REVIEWS OF THE OUTSIDER
18 Un Bore Mercher (Series 3)
Has there been a character as affecting or as likeable in crime drama as Faith Howells? The Welsh lawyer has carved out a special place in our hearts over three series of this break-out hit, and this final, third series, saw her once again deal with so much. Un Bore Mercher (or Keeping Faith in its English-language iteration) has always been equal parts thriller and equal parts family drama, and the final six episodes mixed these two genres expertly. Faith’s errant husband, Evan, got himself into another fine mess, as did her on-off love Steve Baldini. Throw in a hugely emotive case involving a young teenage boy with terminal cancer, and the return of Faith’s abusive mother and Faith was faced with some of her biggest challenges yet. As ever, Eve Myles was magnificent as Faith, who careered towards a heartbreaking, final showdown that would present a new road to travel down. Hwyl fawr, Faith Howells, we’ll miss you.
READ MORE: ALL OUR NEWS AND REVIEWS OF UN BORE MERCHER
In a year where everyone was more reliant than ever on technology to communicate and survive, Devs wasn’t shy in asking the big questions about who gets to control the code that governs our lives. Director Alex Garland wrapped up the show’s more philosophical musings within a meditative murder mystery, slowly peeling back the layers of a dark conspiracy to reveal the technology at the heart of the story – and the lengths people would go to retain control of it. The plot might have been a little generic, but where Devs truly shone was in its visual storytelling – a masterclass from a true Hollywood auteur.
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF DEVS
16 The Undoing
Sky Atlantic (UK), HBO (US)
Any drama that boasts Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as its leads – as well as David O Kelly behind the camera – demands attention, and HBO and Sky Atlantic’s glossy thriller had viewers hooked. It became one of the most talk-about crime dramas of the year, and a high-profile return to the tried-and-tested whodunit formula. Based in affluent Manhattan, Grant and Kidman played the ultimate privileged, socialite couple Jonathan and Grace Fraser, whose worlds were flipped upside down when a young immigrant woman who had ties to the Frasers was found bludgeoned to death. Leading the list of suspects was Jonathan himself, who went AWOL as soon the murder was reported and was revealed to not only to have had an affair with the victim but also fathered a child with her. So the question was: if it wasn’t Jonathan, who was it? Grace, meanwhile, was plunged into a noirish nightmare, where everything she held dear was revealed to be a falsehood. A twisty-turny narrative ensued. We’ve seen this type of series before, but it’s always a pleasure to watch a mystery like this – which was well-staged and well-played – even if the ending wasn’t everything fans had hoped for.
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF THE UNDOING