2015’s crop of televisual crime has offered a diverse mix. The procedural cop show seems to have fallen out of favour. After fifteen years, CSI finally ended as one of those shows you probably thought was cancelled years ago. A new spin off, CSI: Cyber, was launched to a poor critical reception but failed to recapture past glories. Sweden’s Arne Dahl was a rare example of an elite crime squad on TV, but the results were middling.
Gangster drama was also in a fallow period. Peaky Blinders took a year off and the best gangster on TV was Wilson Fisk, brilliantly played by Vincent D’Onofrio in Marvel comic book adaptation Daredevil.
A charismatic killer could be found in the critically lauded final season of Hannibal, in which the murderous psychiatrist went on the run in Europe before returning to the US for a blood-soaked reboot of Thomas Harris’ first Lector novel, Red Dragon. As stylish and baroque as ever, the third series was too overcooked for my palate.
But the most popular character type among 2015’s red harvest was the detective. From homicide cops, to private dicks, to enthusiastic amateurs, series as different as River, True Detective and Jessica Jones celebrated the dogged persistence of the sleuth. Here’s my personal pick of the best crime drama of 2015.
The Very Best Crime Drama of 2015
True Detective – season 2
True Detective’s second series was ill-received, largely because it failed to explore and explain the murky metaphysical fog in which series one ended. Instead, the new season moved to California and followed three mismatched cops embroiled in a complex mystery, revolving around corruption and land deals.
The series admittedly got off to a rocky start and for many never recovered, but there was so much to enjoy I feel it was hard done by. There were three terrific performances from Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch, and the hard-boiled Ellroy-esque dialogue was often hilarious. Vince Vaughan was less at ease playing a gangster trying to go legit, but eventually hit his stride as the series reached its violent end.
Check out our reviews of True Detective season 2 here.
Starring the great Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard as the brilliant but troubled detective John River, Abi Cornish’s series was a clear attempt to bring tropes from Scandinavian detective fiction to London. A morose detective with a great line in sardonic humour, John River was seeking the murderer of his partner while continuing to solve his own caseload. Spanning five episodes, the series managed to be a compelling mystery while touching an a number of social issues, from race relations to mental health.
Banshee – series 3
One of the best action orientated American cable series. Banshee positively wallowed in sex and violence to an extent that would have seemed unimaginable in television even ten years ago. Based around an outrageous high concept, the series is pulp fiction at its finest. A master criminal assumes the identity of a dead sheriff taking over the police department of the small town of Banshee, turning it into something like the wild west.
Banshee was never a subtle show during the previous two series, but the third season turned every dial up to 11, with almost every episode feeling like a season finale. The third episode, ‘A Fixer of Sorts’, contains one of the most brutal martial arts battles you will ever see in the first ten minutes, and then amazingly the rest of the episode is not an anti-climax. Banshee’s creators David Stickler and Jonathan Tropper have decided that season four will be the show’s last, so this is the time to start binge watching the box sets – so long as you have a high tolerance for blood and guts.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones may be set in the same universe as The Avengers, but it couldn’t feel more different. Jones is a failed superhero turned private detective, psychologically damaged by past experiences at the hand of a villain named Kilgrave who has the ability to make people do anything he tells them to. Jones’s super powers seem to consist of things fictional male detectives like Mike Hammer do as a matter of course – drinking excessively and remaining upright, punching people in bars, and a having seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of sarcasm.
Series creator Melissa Rosenberg makes this a show built around female characters and themes of sexual violence and coercion. Krysten Ritter is terrific in the title role, and cast well against David Tennant who is chilling as uber-creep super-stalker Kilgrave.
Possibly my favourite drama of the year was London Spy from writer Tom Rob Smith, author of Child 44. The cast included Jim Broadbent, Mark Gatiss and Charlotte Rampling, all on terrific form – but Ben Whishaw in the lead role was sensational. While the plot twisted and turned like a kite in a hurricane, Whishaw grounded the series playing a character in anguish over the loss of a lover who will not rest until he has solved the mystery of their death.
This was an espionage thriller with a central character who wasn’t a spy, a drama built around gay characters not solely about being gay, and a mystery that wrong footed the audience every step of the way. Television being a writer’s medium usually prizes narrative above all, but London Spy – terrifically directed by Jakob Verbruggen – seemed to prize mood and atmosphere above story in a very cinematic way.
Check out our episode reviews of London Spy here.
What was your favourite crime drama of 2015? Let us know in the comments below!