Best Crime Dramas of 2013

1 Breaking Bad

AMC
The series that was a hit by virtue of word-of-mouth rather than huge ratings or, in the UK, even being

broadcast by a national channel. In the US, of course, makers AMC showed it, but in the Britain such was the anticipation for the concluding fifth series of Walter White’s journey from decent chemistry teacher to methamphetamine-manufacturing gangster and all-round monster that Netflix showed it soon after its US broadcast. With powerful performances from Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul and Dean Norris, BB became a cultural phenomenon, setting the social networking world alight and taking up acres of print columns. It was at times surreal, dark, horrific, hilarious, tense, but always compelling. In terms of ambition and daring, it was a series that showed the best US television is in a different league to British drama.

Broadchurch

ITV
This was a labour of love for writer Chris Chibnall, a series he wrote on spec, without commission, because he had the itch to do it. Which suggests that tinkering from executives at ITV was kept to a minimum and the eight-part series flouished as a gripping, character-rich series. Terrific writing and a great cast – David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan among them – lifted this way above your average whodunit. Chibnall is now writing a new version for American TV with David Tennant again starring, and Broadchurch 2 will hit ITV probably some time in 2015.

3 The Fall

BBC2
Another series that was the inspiration of one writer. Allan Cubitt worked hard to create a chilling, realistic serial killer for this five-parter, and Paul Spector (played with icy menace by Jamie Dornan) was unforgettable. The character was far more compelling than the ludicrous genius killer cliches of the Hannibal Lecter type, Spector being a normal family man in a caring profession (grief counsellor) whose secret obsession was murdering women. Gillian Anderson was formidable as the detective who could match his calculating precision and managed to close in on the killer in a cliffhanger ending that will see the series make a much-anticipated return.

Peaky Blinders

BBC2
Quite a few ‘historical’ dramas like to use ‘period’ as a way to pretty-up a series. Shows such as The Tudors and even Downton Abbey are not overly concerned with getting under the skin of the past. But Peaky Blinders takes its setting and time seriously, and is fascinated by the inter-war era of gangs in Birmingham. It merged a little known true story with a tense drama, as Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) tried to build a seriously powerful crime empire in the face of gang rivals and the scary Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill). The drama looked stunning too, and has deservedly been commissioned for a second series.

Utopia

Channel 4
Utopia was different. In a sea of costume crime dramas and whodunits (Foyle’s War, Marple, Poirot, Ripper Street, WPC 56, Father Brown etc etc etc), it stood out. A conspiracy hidden in a graphic novel and a flood of conspiracies designed to hide a real conspiracy certainly grabbed the attention. It was quirky and scary, but kept most of us intrigued through its six episodes. Neil Maskell certainly arrived on the TV radar with his performance as the torturing psycho Paul, and the whole cast – Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Alexandra Roach, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Adeel Akhtar – kept the drama sparking along. With dramas such as Utopia and Southcliffe, C4 offered something fresh and distinctive this year.

Justified 4

5USA
This year’s season revolved around a rather garbled storyline that was pretty hard to make sense of, kicking off with a prologue about a guy with a defective parachute plummeting to earth and landing with bags of cocaine and an ID for ‘Waldo Truth’. This McGuffin tied-in mafia figures, Raylan’s father, a snake-handling preacher and Wynn Duffy. Despite the messy story arc, on a week-to-week basis, deputy US marshal and cowboy-hat wearer Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) still gave good value for money. The character was the creation, of course, of Elmore Leonard, who sadly passed away in August, aged 87. He left behind some wonderful novels, and this sharp, cool TV series, which has been recommissioned for a fifth series. When so many mainstream US crime series are obsessed with forensic porn and buff model cops, it’s a joy to take the back roads of Kentucky for a sassy, gritty crime saga.

Dexter   

Fox UK
It’s a wrap for Dex, one of the most audacious and subversive dramas yet to emerge during the TV renaissance that’s occurred since the late 1990s and the arrival of the US subscription channels – HBO, Fox, Showtime and AMC. Getting us on the side of a serial killer was a spectacular trick to pull off, but we were there with Dexter Morgan as he duelled with other killers, maintained his front as a blood-spatter analyst for Miami Metro Police, and tried to be a brother to cop sister Debs. This was a high-wire act for the character and the writers, and in seeking to close the drama (Debra dies and Dexter fakes his own suicide) the show polarised fans. But it was still a stunning, if bloody, series, and Michael C Hall and Jennifer Carpenter were compelling to the end.

Endeavour

ITV
The Inspector Morse spin-off prequel capitalised on its hugely successful pilot by becoming a character-driven series that remained true to the original. Everyone remembers John Thaw’s grumpy, lonely older Morse, but here we got an insight into how he grew into that person by watching Shaun Evans’s gifted, stand-offish younger detective. The cases were suitably challenging as brainteasers for our hero, and the cast, particularly Roger Allam and Anton Lesser, brought the drama alive. A new series is on the way.

Banshee

Sky Atlantic
A bloody, racing, furiously aggressive show with a crazy premise that was nevertheless addictive viewing for anyone who can’t bear cosy mysteries in period costumes or anything resembling a traditional police procedural. Antony Starr is ‘Lucas Hood’ – we never learn his real name – who leaves prison and is immediately on the run from the Russian mobsters he betrayed. He finds himself in Banshee, an Amish town, looking for the beauty with whom he stole the Russians’ diamonds, Anatasia (Ivana Milicevic). The opportunity presents itself for our man to assume the identity of the new sheriff in town, who conveniently is killed in a bar brawl before he can officially take the post. It’s filled with great characters, sex, violence that is wince-inducing and preposterous, and rounded off with a great finale. Fortunately, there’s more to come with a new series for 2014.

10 Arne Dahl

BBC4
Nordic noir continued to cast its spell in the shape of this Swedish crime thriller about an elite team of detectives. It was a shift away from the angst-riven brilliance of Sarah Lund in The Killing towards a more mainstream cop series of the kind made in the US and Britain. But this series, based on Jan Arnald’s novels, had a cast of interesting characters and an intriguing and tense conspiracy to explore.

Series that were worth investigating but failed to make the Top 10: Scott & Bailey, Spiral, Sons of Anarchy, The Americans, Young Montalbano, Top Boy 2, The Great Train Robbery, Lucan, Top of the Lake, Montalbano, The Tunnel, Boardwalk Empire 4, Law & Order: UK

Series that never proved their cases beyond reasonable doubt: The Ice Cream Girls, Mayday, Foyle’s War, Prisoners’ Wives, Hannibal, The Following, Life of Crime, Mad Dogs 3, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher 2, Luther 3, What Remains, Vera 3, Southcliffe, New Tricks, Bates Motel, Case Histories 2, The Guilty, Wentworth Prison, Whitechapel 4, Ripper Street 2, Homeland, By Any Means

Series that plodded along: Father Brown, Silent Witness, Vegas, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Death in Paradise, WPC 56, Poirot, Murder on the Home Front, Jo

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Nordicana 2013

Arne Dahl cast: Malin Arvidsson, Shanti Roney, Matias Varela, Claes Ljungmark and Magnus Samuelsson at Nordicana 2013
The cast of Arne Dahl at Nordicana
A DERELICT warehouse in Clerkenwell, London, was the inspired setting for the first Nordicana, a celebration of Scandi TV, film and culture, which finished yesterday. You could easily imagine Sarah Lund with flashlight looking for a suspect within its twisting corridors and forgotten work spaces. 

Instead of killers and corpses, however, were screenings, Q&A sessions with the actors, in addition to glasses of Icelandic vodka, smoked salmon and massages. Oh, and the famous Lund sweater was for sale too. The two-day event featured screenings of TV’s Wallander, Arne Dahl and Borgen, along with panels from actors including Charlotta Jonsson (Wallander), most of the Arne Dahl cast, and Lars Knutzon (Borgen). 

There were sessions with authors Ann Cleeves (Shetland, which is almost in Scandinavia), and David

Nordicana 2013, in Clerkenwell, London
Inspired setting – The Farmiloe Building, London

Hewson, author of the recent novelisations of The Killing. In addition, several movies were screened, including Love Is All You Need, starring Pierce Brosnan, The Hunt, with Mads Mikkelsen, and A Hijacking.


Nordicana is a sign that our liking for noir in the cold climates has taken root since The Killing became such a hit on BBC4. I was struck by how packed the two screenings for Arne Dahl were. 

This cop drama hasn’t generated as many headlines as Sarah Lund, but it was clear at the screenings of the brilliant two-part series finale, Europa, that Arne Dahl has quietly built an avid following. That the cast on the panel interviewed by crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw – Malin Arvidsson, Shanti Roney, Matias Varela, Claes Ljungmark and Magnus Samuelsson – were all so charming and approachable will have done nothing to dent the series’ popularity.
Nordicana was good fun. The next appointments with Scandi dramas will be back in our front rooms as BBC4 lines up Borgen 3 and The Bridge 2 for broadcast.

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Arne Dahl – The Blinded Man, BBC4 PREVIEW

Arne Dahl, TV series, shot of the six detectives and boss Jenny Hultin
The magnificent six brought together by boss Jenny Hultin, centre

Rating: ★★★½ 

BBC4: starts Saturday, 6 April (to be confirmed)

Story: A special police unit is set up after three businessmen are murdered on consecutive nights. Detective Jenny Hultin leads the so-called A Unit to investigate the killings while the financial world panics.

BBC4’s Nordic invasion of Saturday nights shows no signs of abating as this latest thriller, from Sweden this time, arrives. Where The Killing gave us the iconic Sarah Lund and The Bridge had the odd couple of Saga Noren and Martin Rohde, Arne Dahl is an action-driven ensemble piece.

A crack squad of six detectives is recruited by senior officer Jenny Hultin to investigate a series of shootings of leading businessmen. The magnificent six is an amalgam of talents, including legal whiz Aarto, strongman Gunnar, computer hound Jorge and action man Paul, whose dominates the opener, The Blinded Man.

We meet him as he goes all Clint Eastwood during a hostage situation, when he shoots a man fighting extradition. He’s rescued by Jenny Hultin from an Internal Affairs investigation and brings his obsessive, marriage-jeopardising intensity to catching the Fat Cat Killer.

Arne Dahl's Viggo meets the mafia in The Blinded Man
Viggo in trouble with the mob

Estonian mafia
Working round the clock the ‘A Unit’ run into the mafia in Estonia and try to work out how a Russian bank robber’s murder by a dart to the eye, of all things, may tie in. One of the team, the usually desk-bound Viggo, ends up having a very nasty encounter with the mobsters in Tallinn. And there is the conundrum of a Theolonius Monk CD, Mysterioso, left playing when the assassin is interrupted during the murder of his fifth victim.

The Blinded Man, a one of a series of dramas based on novels by Swedish novelist Arne Dahl (the pen name of writer/critic Jan Arnald). It unfolds in two 90-minute films, leaving plenty of scope to flesh the odd bunch of detectives.

There’s nose-picking Viggo, former steroid abuser Gunnar, and the oddball father of five Aarto, who calls his children by number rather than name because it’s ‘rational’. Paul does not like Jorge, and ace interrogator Kerstin finds time for a fling with another member of the Unit.

Bit corny at the end

Arne Dahl's Paul and Kerstin in The Blinded Man
Paul and Kerstin get ready to move in


In the best tradition of all those Dirty Dozen-type actioners, even our own New Tricks, part of the fun is watching this bunch of rough diamonds bonding once the heat is on. It all gets a bit corny by the end as detectives who were staring daggers at each other one minute, abruptly find themselves moving into man-crush territory before the end credits.

Just as the novels of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson have ushered in a flood of less-than-brilliant Nordic crime novels, so The Killing has created a rush for the more stoic detectives from the frozen north.

That’s not to say Arne Dahl is not a good Saturday night crime bash. But it has none of brooding depth and deep characterisation of The Killing, or the freshness of The Bridge.

Cast: Malin Arvidsson Kerstin Holm, Irene Lindh Jenny Hultin,Claes Ljungmark Viggo Norlander, Shanti Roney Paul Hjelm, Magnus Samuelsson Gunnar Nyberg, Matias Varela Jorge Chavez, Niklas Åkerfelt Aarto Söderstedt, Björn Andersson Rickard Franzén, Anders Beckman Kuno Daggfelt, Nikolai Bentsler Alexander Brjusov, Sofia Berg-Böhm Doctor, Andreas Björklund Reporter, Mats Blomgren Dan Mörner, Suzanna Dilber Veronica Mårtensson, Magnus Ehrner Nils-Emil Carlberg

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David Suchet on Agatha Christie, Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series on BBC4, and Point Blank at the BFI

David Suchet and Agatha Christie biographer Laura Thompson against the backdrop of Blackpool Sands, one of Agatha Christie's favourite beauty spots. ITV
David Suchet with Agatha Christie biographer Laura Thompson. Pic: ITV

• Whether you like Agatha Christie’s implausible novels or not, there is no denying her worldwide popularity. A new strand of the Perspectives documentaries begins with David Suchet, who has made the role of Poirot is own on ITV, investigating her appeal. As he prepares to don the spats one last time as Christie’s Belgian sleuth, Suchet sets out to learn more about his character’s creator, the woman whose books are only outsold by Shakespeare and The Bible. The doc goes out on ITV on Sunday, 17 March, at 10pm. Watch out too for Jonathan Ross on Hitchcock in coming weeks.

• BBC4’s excellent scheduling of European crime dramas will soon be including a new Swedish season of five two-part adaptations of Arne Dahl‘s novels from his Intercrime series. Dahl is the pseudonym of Jan Arnold, whose stories to be screened this spring on Saturday nights will include The Blinded Man, Bad BloodMany Waters, Europa Blues and To the Top of the Mountain. The tales focus on a team of older detectives. Further good news is that there will be four new Montalbano films in the autumn, along with a spin-off about Young Montalbano.

• The BFI in London is keen for us to flag up its forthcoming screenings of a new print of John Boorman’s classic crime movie Point Blank. Tickets go on sale today for the screenings of this power-packed revenge tale, starring Lee Marvin, who was perfect as the bruising brute Walker, and Angie Dickinson. The direction is startling at times and the action unfolds in a fragmentary style, creating a fresh and exhilarating thriller that grips from start to finish. It was a bravura US debut from the British director.

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