The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Year 2020: Part four, 5-1

Our five best crime dramas of the year…

Over the past three days we’ve been counting down our top 20 crime dramas of the year.

And, in a year that has been so disrupted by COVID, the level of quality has surprised us. Like most years, we’ve had a bit of everything – from true-crime adaptations to Nordic Noirs, and courtroom dramas to modern, fresh detective stories.

We might not have had the big hitters, but we’ve had some great series.

Here are our top five crime dramas of the year. What do you think? If we’ve missed out any of your favourites, let us know in the comments below.

Here’s to 2021.

5 Bordertown (Sorjonen) (Series 3)

The rise of Finnish crime drama within the sub-genre of Nordic Noir has been a very welcome development. What started in Denmark and Sweden then encompassed Iceland and Norway now boasts real quality from Finland. Over the course of two series, Bordertown (Sorjonen) has given us a truly memorable character. Ville Virtanen’s titular detective is at once Sherlock Holmes (complete with mind palaces, almost superhuman deduction and quirks aplenty) and someone who struggles to show and share his vulnerability. In this third and final series, Sorjonen had to come to terms with the death of his wife and the emotional fall-out from that devastating event, which was handled with real sensitivity and insight. Throw in some difficult and emotive cases, and a tricky relationship with teenage daughter Janina, and we haven’t seen a Nordic Noir neither this good nor powerful since Trapped.


4 Baghdad Central
Channel 4 (US), Hulu (US)

On the face of it, there wasn’t anything particularly new about the four-part Baghdad Central. But dig deeper and this tale of a Baghdadi cop who was on the hunt for his missing daughter in war-torn, Gulf War Iraq felt fresh, intriguing and thrilling. With a superb central performance from Waleed Zuaiter as Muhsin al-Khafaji, a strong supporting cast including Bertie Carvell as the weasily, corrupt British ex-police officer Frank Temple, and a vivid portrayal of a society torn apart by clashing loyalties, Baghdad Central was a coruscating thrill ride around a city caught in the eye of a storm. It was engrossing, emotive viewing, not least when telling the story of unseen young women who were used, exploited and abused by invading forces. Baghdad Central was unflinching, yes, but it possessed a fierce, beating heart.


3 Des
ITV (UK), Sundance Now (US)

There was much anticipation for this three-part drama, which brought back to life the infamous British serial killer of the 1970s and 80s, Dennis ‘Des’ Nilsen. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere in our Top 20 countdown, David Tennant has been exploring the darker fringes of human existence recently, and you can’t get much darker than a man who calmly and matter-of-factly butchered at least 12 young men in and around north London. Tennant was spellbindingly creepy as Nilsen, but the drama itself had much more to offer than just a standard true-crime adaptation – it admirably placed the murders and the motivations for murder within a wider socio-political and familial context, and, in the end, focused on how Nilsen manipulated everyone who he came into contact with. And that included biographer Brian Masters and DCI Peter Jay (fantastic performances from both Jason Watkins and Daniel Mays respectively).


2 Save Me Too (Series 2)
Sky Atlantic (UK), Starz (US)

The return of Lennie James’s outstanding tour de force provided 2020 with another dark journey into the urban underworld. Nelson ‘Nellie’ Rowe was still on the hunt for his missing daughter, Jody, but while the search in the first series gave him life and purpose, in this series we saw how heavily it weighed upon his shoulders, becoming a tortuous runaway-train obsession. But if you thought you knew how this was going to end it forced you to think again, because Save Me Too was full of clever surprises and revelations, plot twists and hugely affecting studies of masculinity, parenthood, manipulation, obsession and sacrifice that threw you for an emotional loop. Add in James’s patented lyrical, almost street poetry-style dialogue, and this series was about as good as anything we’d seen in the last five years.


1 I May Destroy You
BBC One (UK), HBO (US)

You may have seen Michaela Coel’s acclaimed 12-part drama already atop many end-of-year polls, but the hype is entirely justified. Borne from Coel’s own, real-life experiences with sexual abuse, I May Destroy You is a stunning examination of consent in the 21st century, what it means and what happens when boundaries are heinously crossed. But I May Destroy You is so much more than that: Coel manages to savagely satirise Millennial social media culture, and delve deep into race, gender and sexuality – all the things that make us who we are. Add in genuinely laugh-out-loud moments of comedy and yes, a bona fide whodunit story underpinning it all, and this series is as ambitious as it is bold. It may not be your regular crime drama, but I May Destroy You fairly fizzes with energy, rage, passion and is a kind of metaphysical noir in which many different dimensions of the human psyche are examined, dismantled and built up again. Its boldness and innovation often leave you breathless, and the stunning, ambiguous final episode – which offers three alternate endings – proves that sexual abuse and the breakdown of consent spawns myriad responses, consequences and reactions, no one less right or wrong than the last. With so much visual, storytelling and characterisation flair on show, I May Destroy You represents an incredible achievement.


READ MORE: The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Year 2020: Part one, 20-16

READ MORE: The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Year 2020: Part two, 15-11

READ MORE: The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Year 2020: Part three, 10-6


1 Giri/Haji
2 Top Boy (Series 3)
3 Unbelievable
4 Mindhunter (Series 2)
5 Trapped (Series 2)

1 American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace
2 Unforgotten (Series 3)
3 The Bridge (Series 3)
4 The Deuce (Series 2)
5 Trust

1 Mindhunter (Series 1)
2 The Deuce (Series 1)
3 Alias Grace
4 Twin Peaks: The Return
5 Big Little Lies

1 Trapped (Series 1)
2 National Treasure
3 The Witness For The Prosecution
4 The Night Of
5 Happy Valley (Series 2)

1 The Bridge (Series 3)
2 Fargo (Series 2)
3 River
4 Spiral (Series 5)
5 Witnesses (Series 1)

1 True Detective (Series 1)
2 The Bridge (Series 2)
3 Fargo (Series 1)
4 Happy Valley (Series 1)
5 Line Of Duty (Series 2)

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