If there’s one thing that American television knows how to do, it’s crime television. From Dragnet through Hill Street Blues, The Wire and Law & Order, the U.S. has shown that it can do shows about people doing bad things (and hopefully getting caught afterwards) better than anyone else… Or can it? Here are ten examples of TV crime from outside of the United States to offer alternatives to Truth and Justice, the American Way. Be warned: Some of these shows can be oddly addictive.
MURDOCH MYSTERIES (2008-2010)
Imagine Castle set in late 19th century Toronto, and fronted by a man who’s distractingly orange, and you’ve got Murdoch Mysteries, a show that delights in turning murders into a weekly event that’s as charming and unthreatening as you can imagine. Much of the appeal of the show comes from the antics of the backing players, including appropriately blustering bosses and hapless sidekicks. It should feel cliched, but when delivered with Canadian charm, it’s oddly irresistible.
HENNING MANKELL’S WALLANDER (2005-2013)
The Swedish crime novels of Henning Mankell have been adapted for television twice; there’s a British adaptation featuring Kenneth Branagh, and this Swedish take, featuring Krister Henriksson in the lead role as grim, self-destructive cop Kurt Wallander. If you ever thought that Sweden seemed like a nice place to live, expect to think again after learning how much corruption, murder and general wrongdoing apparently goes on under the placid, beautiful surface.
This French series has lasted for five seasons in its native country, although only the fourth season is available on Netflix. That’s more than enough to convince you of just how dangerous Paris really is, what with all the car bombs, corrupt officials, arms trafficking and rapists wandering the streets. A mix between Law & Order in format and The Wire in tone, Spiral is a gloomy treat.
Sometimes, of course, the police aren’t enough to stop the bad guys — which is where genius private investigators with irritating personal quirks come in, as showcased to the very best effect in the BBC series that made the name of Benedict Cumberbatch loved around the world, as unlikely as that might seem. Although it’s not for everyone (there’s an impressively healthy collection of haters online), the show is like its lead character: arrogant, self-serving and utterly brilliant.
It’s not only America that has cops on the edge who walk a morally ambiguous line between right and wrong while fighting inner demons that might push them towards breaking the law themselves; Britain’s own Idris Elba plays a character who checks all the boxes and yet somehow manages to avoid the cliches in this BBC series. The biggest reason to watch the show isn’t Elba, however; it’s Ruth Wilson’s Alice Morgan, cold, calculating and utterly addictive. You understand why Luther can’t bring himself to take care of her once and for all.
MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES (2012-2013)
If each suggestion so far has convinced you that the world is a far darker, more dangerous place than you’d suspected — except for Canada, which is of course delightful — then Australia’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries will sooth your nerves. Sure, there’s a murder every week, but each case is resolved in a manner so stylish, so amusing and so archly camp that you’ll start to believe that death is but a prelude to a fun 1920s romp each and every time.
THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE (2013-2014)
Don’t go thinking that every period piece is a tame, comedic affair; this post-World War II thriller follows the lives of four code breakers in the United Kingdom as they try (and fail) to re-enter civilian life, and end up being the only people who even understand that there’s a serial killer on the loose. Think things will all end happily? Think again.
THE FALL (2013-2014)
Gillian Anderson continues her post-X-Files ascendency as Superintendent Stella Gibson of the Belfast constabulary in this disturbing, gripping series about the pursuit of a serial killer (Jamie Dornan, far more interesting here than in 50 Shades of Grey). At once banal and thrilling, it manages to make the reality of such an investigation far more stark, and much, much more terrifying, than most television shows would have you believe.
Another masterful mix of the banal and the thrilling, Broadchurch follows the long, and at times frustrating, investigation into the murder of a small child in an English town. Part soap opera, part whodunnit (Albeit one that’s such a fan of red herrings, you’d think it owned a fish farm), it’s a series that will suck you in from the start and leave you guessing all the way until the end… but, word to the wise, leave it alone after the first season. The second will only disappoint you.
TOP OF THE LAKE (2013)
If you’ve been wondering what Peggy did after Mad Men, then this New Zealand-set drama — which stars Elizabeth Moss as an Australian police officer returning home only to find herself investigating the disappearance of a young girl — is the most unlikely of answers. Created in part by Jane Campion and co-starring Holly Hunter, the series is beautiful, at times purposefully vague and surreal, and utterly captivating. Not all cop shows could be like this, but you’ll be glad this one is.