The best crime shows of 2015

FargoSeason2_875We are well and truly in the age of the box set and streaming video, and television studios are competing tooth and claw – particularly when it comes to crime drama. We think 2015 has been a fantastic year and some great series weren’t even present over the last 12 months – such as Wallander, The Fall and Hinterland. (The latter two will be with us again in 2016, we understand.)

Here at CFL we had long discussions about which shows to include in this list, pulling together the views of our entire team and even some of our readers. Originally, we were going to bring you five top choices but 2015 has been so good to crime fiction that we spooled it out to 10. What’s changed? Well, gone are those long and meandering serials of the 80s and 90s which were kept on life support until their ratings dropped. Even mold-busting series like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos might find it hard to compete these days when discrete stories, told in-depth and with verve, are what keep crime fiction fans hooked. The Killing led the way. Anyhow, enough analysis, let’s get down to the dark and gritty…

bloodline_30010 – Bloodline
This slow-burning Netflix drama, set in Florida’s southern keys, seethes with family betrayal and murder. A killing is imminent in the Rayburn family, and the atmospheric back story that leads up to it reveals that everyone is to blame in the final reckoning. The cast includes veterans Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek as the parents. But we won’t be surprised if Ben Mendelsohn nabs an Emmy for his part as Danny Rayburn, the charismatic black sheep who returns to his family as prodigal son and herald of its destruction. The best dark horse of the year, and a must-watch.
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Daredevil_2009 – Daredevil
Marvel and Netflix teamed up some time back and the Daredevil series is the first result of that partnership. Whereas Jessica Jones (see below) leans towards dark, psychological thriller, Daredevil is more of a straight-up crime drama. The first series follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer from Hells Kitchen, as he becomes the costumed vigilante Daredevil, with heightened senses, martial arts training and a past steeped in enough pain and misery to make Annie Wilkes blush. The comic series it’s based on had a noir-ish tinge which came to the fore now and again – the chief villain was The Kingpin, after all – and there’s a fair bit of superhero-ness in this TV adaptation. However, with sharp writing, layered characters, and lots of brutal fighting in rain soaked alleyways at night, we’re going to say that Daredevil is Marvel Comics meets The Wire.

Beck_3008 – Beck
Although this Swedish series doesn’t much resemble the Martin Beck novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, it is based on the same set of characters and takes a police procedural approach that keeps us coming back for more thanks to its stellar cast and the subdued, existential atmosphere we come to expect from Nordic crime shows. Beck is played well by Peter Haber, but it’s his police colleague Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt) you want to watch out for. Strong, silent, with a wolfish grin and a sly sense of humour, he brings a sense of controlled aggression to the stories, complementing Beck’s more sensitive and thoughtful policing. The series shown in the UK this autumn was made up of programmes from the Swedish seasons four and five and included cases like Buried Alive and The Hospital Murders. Bikers, spoiled rich druggies and deranged psychopaths all feature.
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jessicajones_2007 – Jessica Jones
Comic becomes crime show, redux. Jessica Jones was the main character in Marvel’s 2001 series Alias, but writer Melissa Rosenberg has successfully pared back the superhero elements of the original and dialled up the psychological crime fiction stylings. Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a guilt-ridden detective who casts her sullen stinkeye on whoever dares approach her, including her own clients and her best friends. When the parents of a missing girl contract her, she soon realises that her arch-enemy Kilgrave, brilliantly played by David Tennant, is back in New York and using his powers of persuasion on innocents. Is he out to trap Jessica, or does he have even bigger schemes to carry out? You can find out on Netflix.

Bosch_3006 – Bosch
We love us some Hieronymus Bosch, so we were happy to discover that this high-quality Amazon-made adaptation preserves some of the qualities of Michael Connelly‘s books, including the stoical nature of its hero. What he sees before him is hardly a garden of earthly delights. First up, he’s facing a civil case after shooting an apparently unarmed Latino fellow, though on the night in question Bosch is certain the man pulled a gun on him. Secondly, the bones of a teenage boy have been found on a derelict slope in an LA suburb and all the healed fractures in said bones chime a sad note with Bosch, who was also abused as a child. Thirdly, there’s a serial killer on the loose who’s preying on gay men and who also might be connected to the teenager’s death. The press and politicians are going wild about the investigation, making for a gripping 10-parter. Good news! Season two is on its way…
Watch now on Amazon

Spiralseries5_4005 – Spiral Season 5
Paris cop Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) faces a dilemma. A one night stand with an old flame has left her pregnant and alienated her boyfriend, and she’s not sure she wants the child. But when a woman and a young girl are found drowned in the Seine – tied together – suspicion falls on the estranged husband who has quite a temper. So Laure throws herself into the case while throwing up on the side. The victim’s parents have a creepy side, she was connected to a smash and grab gang, a Libyan businessman has beaten his maid, Laure’s colleague Gilou (Thierry Godard) is getting close to a car smuggling ring, and a girl gang is terrorising a housing estate. What’s excellent, once again, is we can see the intrigue from different angles – that of the detectives, the police brass, the court system, and sometimes the crims. Addictive, complex, sexy and tragic, with heart-pounding action.
Buy now on DVD or watch on Amazon

river_4004 – River
This year has been a great one for brining us crime shows that are a bit different, and this moving BBC production certainly stands out in that category. DI John River, excellently played by Stellan Skarsgard, is investigating the shooting of his partner, DS Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson (Nicola Walker). ‘What’s so interesting about that?’ you might wonder. Well, he can still see and hear her as he does so. Such is his mental state, and sense of loss, that he can’t let go and this draws all sorts of fire from the higher-ups he works with, while confusing his new partner Ira King (Adeel Akhtar). There are some wonderfully touching moments as River drops in and out of reality. On the way to solving the case he falls for his psychiatric councillor, is confused by Stevie’s shady Irish relatives, investigates corrupt immigration officials, converses with other dead victims and maybe, just maybe, he’ll come to understand not just why she died but also what he really felt for her.
Buy now on DVD or watch on Amazon

LondonSpy_3003 – London Spy
Young gay man Danny Holt (Ben Whishaw) is a lonely optimist who beats the blues with pills and risky sex. Alex Turner (Edward Holcroft), on the other hand, is lonely, utterly antisocial and asexual. He beats the blues with impeccably pressed clothing and working on number theorems for MI6. They fall in love but soon Alex disappears and Danny is prime suspect. Powerful forces move against him but he’s driven to find out what really happened to his lover and is helped by Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older gay man who was once a spy but was run out of the service. As Danny learns more about Alex’s background and work, his heart is torn apart one shred at a time. Spy shows just aren’t like this – it’s part gothic romance and part conspiracy thriller, but it’s utterly compelling… mainly thanks to writer Tom Rob Smith.
Watch now on Amazon

FargoSeason2_2002 – Fargo Season 2
First, there was the Coen Brothers’ brilliant film Fargo set in South Dakota and Minnesota in the mid-80s. Then, Noah Hawley took the overall aesthetic and created a contemporary series starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, which was top of our list of favourite shows last year. The offbeat Midwest vibe is maintained as we go back to the childhood days of Molly Solverson, the cop central to the first series. Her father Lou (Patrick Wilson) is a state trooper in Luverne, Minnesota, a town that becomes pivotal in a gang war between the local Gerhardt family from Fargo and the Kansas City syndicate. It all starts one fateful night when hairdresser Peggy Blumqvist (Kirsten Dunst) ends up with a dead Ry Gerhardt in her garage and she and husband Ed (Jesse Plemons) try to cover it up. Yup, it’s got a thick lick of noir paint, and a thicker lick of blood. Episode after episode Fargo will have you asking, ‘What just happened?’ Cold nights. Dark humour. Small towns. Deadly villains. Brilliant TV.
Buy now on DVD or watch on Amazon

TheBridgeIII_3001 – The Bridge III
A serial killer is working the sprawling suburbia that surrounds Malmo and Copenhagen, each side of the Øresund Bridge. The case begins with a lesbian activist found dead – heart removed – and poised in a strange tableaux with three mannequins. Was she the victim of a right wing religious nutter? Perhaps some ex-military drug smugglers are involved? Or maybe it’s a bizarre plot to hurt a Danish art collector whose wealth comes from asset stripping? When one of the Swedish police team ends up a victim, things get more than personal for Saga Noren and her new Danish partner Henrik Sabroe. Sofia Helin plays Saga brilliantly, and her autistic spectrum disorder means that with changes in the team and the reappearance of her manipulative mother, her challenges lie well beyond the investigation itself. Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt) has his own demons. Like River (above), he can see people who aren’t there. And everything goes back to the beginning…
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