The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Year 2021: Part one, 20-16

The countdown begins…

So here we go, then.

It’s been a strange year, all told. In the wider world of course it has for all the obvious reasons, but in crime drama land too. Throughout 2021 there has been such a huge amount of it all. Perhaps even an over-saturation.

And because of this, a whole host of series have missed out on this (subjective) list. The likes of The Long Call, Bloodlands, Shetland, Showtrial, The Tower, Viewpoint (yikes!), Hollington Drive, The Girl Before… we could go on. What unites these shows? They all had their moments but in the end, were flawed enough to make you feel as though you’d seen it all before.

And yet, there were some really fine series in among the sheer onslaught this year and also the return of some of the genre’s big hitters to look forward to. There was certainly enough to sink your teeth into and immerse yourself into.

So let’s get going.

As ever, this list is issued with a caveat: we couldn’t watch everything (Impeachment: American Crime Story is one such show), and this list is borne out of our own subjective picks. With this in mind, feel free to tell us in the comments what your favourites were!

20. The Investigation
(BBC Two in the UK)

The much-anticipated telling of the real-life murder of journalist Kim Wall was a Danish series that broke new ground in adaptations of true-crime tales. We followed Jens Møller (Søren Malling) as he painstakingly led the high-profile investigation of Wall’s terrible and senseless killing, a killing that captured the imagination of many around the world. What could have been sensational and conventional, The Investigation took an altogether more sensitive approach. In fact, it was something of a benchmark for how true-life crime adaptations should be; proof that by removing the perpetrator from the story and focusing on the human toll behind the case, a series can be all the more compelling.


19. Spiral (Series 8)
(BBC Four in the UK)

It’s been a remarkable run for the French series, one which has become a real favourite with UK fans. However, in recent series there has been the sense that it has begun to run out of steam. And so it was in its final, eighth series. All that being said, just to see the likes of Laure and Gilou was a treat in itself, and a testament to how strong, relatable characters will make you watch and re-invest emotionally. It’s a sad farewell, but probably the right time.


18. Lupin

Based loosely on Maurice Leblanc’s iconic character Arsène Lupin, this modern update sees the charming Omar Sy plays Assane Diop, the son of a Senegalese immigrant whose untimely death is the catalyst. Inspired by the adventures of his childhood hero Lupin, Diop sets out to exact revenge on the Pellegrini family who precipitated his father’s demise. An absolute blast to watch, most of the enjoyment in this stems from Omar Sy’s fantastic performance as Assane. He’s charming but duplicitous, shape-shifting into whichever role is required to perpetrate his crimes. A cracking yarn, a grand adventure and a brilliant character.


17. Vigil
(BBC One in the UK)

A big, bold, Sunday-night primetime thriller, there were high hopes that Vigil would slip into the space vacated by Line Of Duty. And in many ways it did, telling as it did a complex whodunit set on a nuclear submarine. With a stellar cast including Suranne Jones and Rose Leslie, the action – especially onboard HMS Vigil – was outstandingly directed and choreographed, bringing home the sheer claustrophobic nature of living on a submarine to life with aplomb. There were plenty of flaws in this six-part series, but it was a fresh take on the locked-room murder mystery, with action-adventure thrown in and more procedural investigation back on dry land.


16. Manhunt The Night Stalker
(ITV in the UK)

The second series of this ITV true crime show was surprising in that it surpassed its predecessor in terms of storytelling and quality. This time DCI Colin Sutton (Martin Clunes) came out of semi-retirement to track down a serial rapist in south London who had a terrifying modus operandi. Throughout, Manhunt The Night Stalker gave us a tense but non-sensationalist account of what went into Delroy Grant’s eventual capture, and most perhaps impressively went against the superhero cop tropes that proliferate the genre.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. John Dutton says:

    First, a large thank you to Paul for this website. Secondly, humour me as I anticipate my reaction to this list even before we get to the top 10.
    So….is this the end of traditional Scandi-Noir( i.e Northern European) for UK viewers. For me, the abundance of current crime series dramas now being chosen, and made for, UK TV are in the main so predictable, woke, unrealistic, unidentifiable and slick(!) that I wonder what has happened to the whole genre of European crime drama that made Friday and Saturday nights on BBC 4 and More 4 so enjoyable.
    This year I have read many new excellent Scandi-type crime/police procedural books that would make excellent TV series. I presume, the supply is still there and being made for TV. But, ignored by our free channels in favour of own productions. Luckily, some are still picked up by streaming services.
    Meanwhile. I anticipate Dalgleish will be in the top 10 ( I applaud Channel 5 for this initiative but so third-rate). Craith is the only one, for me, that works. And I bet Vienna Blood series 2 doesn’t get a mention!


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Hi John. The Scandi question is an interesting one, that’s been and is being debated all the time – are the days of The Bridge et al over? Probably not, because the formula has been copied and copied again and channels want new things.

      Sadly, Dalgliesh – although good – didn’t make this top 20 list. As for Vienna Blood, I and we can only watch so much stuff!


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