The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Year 2021: Part four, 5-1

The winner is revealed…

And so we come to the final instalment of our crime dramas of the year – the creme de la creme.

And, as ever, it was extremely difficult to separate these five because each of them was outstanding in different ways and featured affecting and brilliant performances from some of the world’s best actors and storytellers.

So what do you think? Have we got it right… or wrong? Let us know what you think by dropping us a comment and tell us what your favourites were.

5. Time
(BBC One in the UK)

Jimmy McGovern? Sean Bean? Stephen Graham? You couldn’t not watch this intense and unforgiving three-part series. It charted two men’s stint inside a terrifyingly real prison: Mark Cobden (Bean), a prisoner who killed a man after driving home one night drunk, and Eric McNally (Graham), a prison guard forced into illegal activities to protect his son. As both men grappled with their own sense of morality, Time became a visceral battle for survival as well as a scathing attack on the under-funding of prisons. Ultimately, Time was an exploration of humanity, in all its messy, heartbreaking and unfair ways. 


4. Dopesick
(Disney+ in the UK)
This intense and intensely moving series focused on the opioid epidemic in the United States from the mid-1990s onwards, and the heinous role played in it by the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma. The company introduced a drug called OxyContin onto the market, a pill they were convinced was a wonder drug that could eliminate pain completely without the user becoming addicted. As they spun their way through the legal system to market the drug and ignored warning signs, we met the inhabitants of a West Virginia mining town – including local GP, Dr Sam Finnix (an astonishing Michael Keaton) – who saw the drug as an answer to all of their problems. Finnix, who was shamefully wined and dined by Purdue salespeople, soon administered the drug to families he had known all of his life. Sure enough, one by one they got addicted, as did Finnix himself. Dopesick was as much about these (fictional) characters’ road to recovery and redemption than anything else, but when you added in engrossing procedural elements (two DEA agents were desperately trying to gather enough evidence against slippery Purdue to send them down), it became a fascinating, riveting and emotionally affecting story.


3. Paris Police 1900
(BBC Four in the UK)
BBC Four has had a quieter year than usual, but in the autumn it sprung this on us – an incredible, explosive and sprawling period crime drama set at the dawn of the 20th century in Paris. The city was on the cusp of collapse thanks to several warring factions – the rabid, heinous anti-semites; communists; and corrupt elements within the police force itself, who were content to fiddle and manipulate to serve their own nefarious ends. In the middle of this ennui profonds were the enigmatic, no-nonsense police chief Inspector Lépine (Marc Barbé) and a young, rookie detective on the hunt for a murderer. Together they became embroiled in a real-life, infamous moment in French history, the ripple effect of which threatened to overcome Paris. So epic, ambitious and full of deliciously ambiguous characters (everything from a corrupt, thuggish cop to a ruthless courtesan both on the path to redemption) Paris Police 1900 was like a Scorsese movie crossed with a story penned by James Ellroy… in France.


2. Mare Of Easttown
(Sky Atlantic in the UK)
Essentially a US remake of Happy Valley, Mare Of Easttown nonetheless provided a memorable central character and an even more memorable central performance by Oscar-winner Kate Winslet. Winslet played detective sergeant Mare Sheehan in a working-class Pennsylvania town, so embedded into the town’s lore – she was a hero basketball player in high school, and then graduated to the local police force – that she knows everyone and everyone’s business acutely. This ubiquity had come at a cost: her son killed himself after becoming hooked on drugs, and her marriage crumbled under the weight of grief and guilt. In the present day, Mare Sheehan was barely keeping her head above water, but when a local teenage girl was found murdered it leads to an almighty rites of passage, road-to-redemption journey for Mare where she’s forced to confront her unprocessed grief. Nuanced, with an avalanche of brilliant, salty dialogue, genuinely authentic characters and a few shocking twists and turns (as well as a fascinating study of the dynamics of small-town life, including the significance of the church), as a pure crime drama Mare Of Easttown had everything you could ever want.


1. Craith (Series 3)
(S4C in the UK)
During two previous series, Craith (or Hidden in the English language) had taken the baton passed to it from the likes of Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and continued to explore stories and themes within forgotten, left-behind communities in Wales. An almost old-fashioned police procedural that always delights in its slow-burn approach, in series three – the third and final series – things were ramped up considerably with DI Cadi John (Sian Reese-Williams) and DS Owen Vaughan investigating the murder of a local man, found in the Gwynned forests. As they peeled back the layers, they not only revealed long-standing cracks in relationships and family bonds, but also the hardships of living in remote communities with only the land to support them. And it was this land – these landscapes – that loomed darkly, mysteriously and unforgiving almost as a character in its own right. Craith once again showed how crime drama could tell powerful, emotionally affecting stories featuring characters that have fallen through the cracks – the abused, the mistreated and the traumatised. The series has never provided an excuse for their actions but has instead sought to give valuable and dramatically viable context. And that is perhaps Craith’s greatest legacy. But as far as a final act for these characters we’ve grown with for half a decade, everything was tied up in a hugely believable and satiating way. Perfect.

Star Sian Reese-Williams:

“What a lovely way to end the year. Thank you so much, The Killing Times, for your amazing support of Craith. I’m so proud that it’s been loved so much by so many people and this is the icing on the cake.”





1 I May Destroy You
2 Save Me Too (Series 2)
3 Des
4 Baghdad Central
5 Bordertown (Sorjonen) (Series 3)

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)

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Elaine says:

    Firstly, may I say a big thank you for all the reviews you have done. I absolutely love coming here and reading the reviews. Mostly I agree, occasionally I don’t, but it feels a real safe space for people that enjoy dramas. Thank you so much.

    As for the list, it would be very easy to comment on everything that I disagree with, but to be fair, I haven’t seen about half the dramas mentioned. Out of the list there are four which I do totally disagree with (two too high, two too low)
    The Investigation-really affecting, nuanced drama. Beautifully acted, for me higher.
    The Serpent-probably my number one (followed by Mare then Craith). Was totally spoilt the rest of the year as it probably peaked for me, drama wise, early in January.
    Unforgotten-really poor series, and I am a big fan usually. Last episode became all about emotion and the plot was lost.
    Paris Police 1990- I enjoyed it but it’s not my number 3. At times it was a really hard watch, almost too hard.

    There are others I can debate, and that’s what it’s all about really, so thank you. Happy New Year!


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Exactly Elaine – it’s all subjective and lists are fun and there to be debated. Thank you for your interaction throughout this year. (I *knew* The Serpent would be your number one!)


      1. Elaine says:

        Ha, ha! I am nothing if not predictable, Paul! Thanks once again for all you do and let’s hope that 2022 is a bumper year for excellent dramas!


  2. DH says:

    There’s always room for quibbling with these lists, so I’m going to mostly skip that, especially since of the ones I’ve watched I more or less agree with their relative placements (I do think Landscapers is misunderstood and over time could see general opinion of it improve). Mostly I’m just compelled to write because I was surprised that Yr Amgueddfa didn’t make the list at all.


  3. MuradKing says:

    Thank you The Killing Times team for the big work you do here! Happy New Year and keep enjoying us with your reviews and newsletters.


  4. malerogue says:

    All superb and realistic. I have not seen Craith yet. But once again I thoroughly recommend to people the French spy thriller The Bureau which has never been reviewed on here as Paul does not class it as crime though the odd murder does occur!


  5. Elizabeth Macpherson says:

    I am happy to see that Dopestick entered your top 5. I was afraid it wasn’t going to be a contender as it has just recently finished airing.
    Happy New Year to all.


  6. Andy T says:

    hi Paul – I just wanted to say thank you to you and the Killing Times team for the site and all the reviews – it’s a great pleasure to visit the site and get alerted to upcoming programmes that I’d miss otherwise ! Looking forward to seeing your no 1 as I’ve loved the other 2 series – as to the order of the other Top 20 – who knows ? but what I do know is that the best laugh out loud comedy moments I had with a Crime drama this year was watching Vigil !


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