Best thrillers on Sky Atlantic

While we’re waiting for new episodes of our favourite crime thrillers, there are some hidden gems playing on Sky Atlantic. Here are my favourite three series boasting risk-taking anti-heroes in high-pressure situations. What they lack in finesse, they make up for in adrenalin and escapism…

Ray Donovan (2013 to present)

This ongoing series has four seasons thus far for you to start watching, making for a few great weekends of binge viewing. Starring the excellent Liev Schreiber, the story follows a professional fixer who makes life better for the rich and famous. The ethos of his job is that if you have enough money, he can take care of it.

The twist comes when we find out that Donovan can get rid of all the problems of others, but none for himself. His family seem set on creating trouble for Donovan, but can he fix things? The acting, directing and writing on this show is exemplary, so you’re in for a treat if you dive into this one. If you enjoy forensic dramas like Code of a Killer, then you’ll enjoy this.

Sky Atlantic is currently showing repeats of Ray Donovan, and the series is available on NowTV.

Billions (2016 to present)

After just finishing a triumphant first series, the next season of Billions is already slated for a 2017 release. The series examines the life and culture of hedge-fund managers, which is exciting to say the least!

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This ultra glamorous series is an exciting foray into the changing world of hedge funds, and every second of the action is fantastic. It’s a really cerebral thriller, so you’ll need to be paying attention if you want to keep up. It’s also a star-studded affair, with actors like Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff and Paul Giamatti leading the action.

Sky Atlantic is currently showing repeats of Billions, and the series is also available on NowTV.

Banshee (2013 to present)

You’ve probably seen this TV show advertised on the likes of Now TV and other Sky channels. Sadly, the final series has just finished on Sky Atlantic, but it’s been a furious, violent and lurid roller-coaster ride of a show.

Antony Starr takes the title role and he plays an ex-criminal who’s chasing the ghosts of his past. This leads him to Banshee, Pennsylvania, and brings action the like of which the small Amish town has never seen. It has a true crime feel, as there is a bit of forensic investigation to watch out for.

The best part of this series has to be the writing, as it keeps the pace exciting at all times. And as for the action, it’s the most adrenaline-fuelled and bruising anywhere on TV.

See our Killer 50 tribute to Banshee. Watch out for repeats on Sky Atlantic.

Anti-heroes take over TV

Breaking bad – a cult hit on television

Breaking bad – a cult hit on television

More than ever, the anti-hero theme has become a mainstay on TV. Many shows portray these charming characters engaging in all forms of vices that we simply can’t emulate. That however, hasn’t stopped everyone admiring them.

With TV shows such as Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, we stick with the lead character without any feelings of guilt or remorse.  In fact, many of us sit and wish for his luck as we play in UK online casinos on a Friday night. With anti-heroes, you constantly remind yourself that this is someone you don’t want to become. In some cases, like Walter White in Breaking Bad, you end up wondering why you even empathise with him at all.

Walter White is a high-school chemistry teacher who decides to go rogue after being told he has lung cancer and very little time to live.  To give credence to his heinous actions over five series, he keeps reminding himself that everything he does is for his wife and son. In the final season, he is rejected by the very same family, and, at that moment, what he has become over the course of his rogue period dawns on him.

With all the negatives, why do we love anti-heroes?

One reason is that their actions are deeply rooted in everyday circumstances. People can relate with their struggles as they remember one or two real-life cases that touch on the plots of these shows. The imaginary transgressions, as lived out by the anti-heroes, therefore don’t feel too far-fetched. 

Secondly, such characters are often greeted with widespread condemnation and/or countercultural celebrations. This enhances ambivalence on the subject of these characters. An individual feeling revulsion or antipathy for Walter White’s actions, for example, can be pointed to the beginning of the story when he was a nice family man. An argument can be made that without the cancer diagnosis, Walter White may not have discovered such levels of distasteful behaviour within himself.  On the other hand, no one can feel good about the character without moralistic inquisition.

What prompted the rise of the antihero?

In the past, broadcasters had strong restrictions on what could be aired. With the rise of autonomous cable TV networks, programme-makers were at liberty to explore the boundaries of what was moral. This explains shows like Banshee and Better Call Saul. The producers don’t have to worry so much about widespread acceptance. As long as the behaviour manifested by the anti-heroes is compelling and there is a context to their actions, producers have a broader canvas to play with. Most importantly, shows with some transgressive element tend to get more people talking, and that generates higher ratings.

Banshee — Killer TV No.38

2013-, Cinemax 

‘I’m not going back in [to jail].’ – Ex-con Lucas Hood
‘You got a revolutionary way of staying out of trouble.’ – Sugar Bates
Antony Starr, Ivana Miličević, Ulrich Thomsen, Frankie Faison, Hoon Lee, Rus Blackwell, Matt Servitto, Demetrius Grosse, Trieste Kelly Dunn
Identikit: After 15 years in prison, a thief travels to a town called Banshee in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. There, he steals the identity of Sheriff Lucas Hood and poses as the town’s lawman.

A car chase, a street shoot-out, casual back-room sex with a barmaid and a spectacular bus crash – and that’s all before the opening credits of the pilot episode. Banshee is a balls-to-the-wind, adrenaline spurt of a show, featuring wince-inducing violence, grindings of sex and a pulp storyline having a near narcotic effect in viewer dependency. An unnamed man gets out of jail after a brutal 15-year stretch for stealing diamonds. No sooner is he out than he is chased by Ukrainian gangsters under the orders of Mr Rabbit, the man he stole the gems from. He flees on a motorbike and goes to the town of Banshee to find his former lover and heist accomplice, Anastasia. Once there he assumes the identity of Lucas Hood, Banshee’s next sheriff who is killed in a bar brawl before he can take the job, and then he finds that Anastasia has no diamonds and is now a married mother with a new identity who wants nothing to do with him. ‘I don’t get the girl, I don’t get the money,’ he tells her. ‘I spent 15 years thinking about this day; this is not how I pictured it.’ From there, it’s a wild-eyed charge of confrontations with all manner of criminals in the town, as Hood plays sheriff and makes enemies as only a criminal could, while trying to win back Anastasia and stay clear of Rabbit and the Ukrainians. Over-the-top and credibility-stretching Banshee certainly is, but it is crammed with superb characters, tension and some wonderful writing from the creators David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper, who are both novelists and were commissioned to make Banshee when US cable network Cinemax was looking to expand its original programming (as HBO, FX and AMC had done). Ivana Miličević is moving as the bad girl turned mom who wants to resist Hood, and New Zealand actor Antony Starr is almost demented in his love for her. The gallery of wonderful characters includes Frankie Faison as the bartender Sugar Bates, Hood’s ally, Hoon Lee as Hood’s transvestite hacking accomplice, and the larger-than-life villains Kai Proctor, the local ‘businessman’ still hurting from his expulsion by his Amish family, and of course Rabbit, played with menacing relish by Ben Cross. The violence reaches Tom and Jerry levels, with Hood and even Anastasia having epic punch-ups that would kill normal folk five times over. The heightened reality of mega-violence and the sharp humour owe something to Quentin Tarantino, but as a TV drama Banshee is as fresh and breathtaking as a punch to the solar plexus. Watching it makes most of the costume fare and plodding crime dramas – certainly those we get in the UK – seem desperately safe and twee. Season two is currently showing on Sky Atlantic.

Classic episode: All 10 episodes are stormers, but some, like episode 6, Wicks, fills in the backstory of Hood or Anastasia – this time exploring Hood’s prison ordeal, where he has a bloodcurdling fight with the prison monster, a giant, muscle-bound Albino who wants to rape him.
Watercooler fact: Ivana Miličević was born in Sarajevo to a Croatian family, which immigrated to the US when she was five. She worked as a model and had guest parts in several TV shows (Charmed, Seinfeld, Nash Bridges, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and played the role of Valenka in Casino Royale.

More of the Killer 50

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Best Crime Dramas of 2013

1 Breaking Bad

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.


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

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

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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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

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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Banshee, Sky Atlantic, starring Antony Starr PREVIEW

Banshee with Antony Starr
Antony Starr as ‘Lucas Hood’, an ex-con on the run again

Rating: ★★★★

Sky Atlantic: starts Monday, 29 April, 10pm

Story: In a small Amish town in Pennsylvania, a recently released convict on the run from a mob he once double-crossed, takes over the identity of a new sheriff.

Ivana Milicevic in Banshee
Realtor with attitude – Carrie

Banshee bursts onto the screen in a rush of speeding cars, gunfire and desperate sex. It’s an adrenaline-driven, action-packed series from HBO-owned Cinemax, another of the US subscription channels churning all the most interesting series on TV right now.

Like those edgy epics Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy, Banshee is all about the bad guys, in particular an ex-con just out after serving 15 years for robbery.

The series’ knockout twist is that our reckless ex-con – whose name we never learn – impulsively decides to take on the identity of a new small-town sheriff who is killed in a barroom brawl just before taking office. The con is now Lucas Hood and the town is Banshee, an Amish community in Pennsylvania.

Anastasia and Mr Rabbit
From the moment he steps out of prison, our anti-hero is dodging bullets and speeding cars – but not dangerous women. But he is really interested in only one woman, Anatasia, his accomplice/lover with whom he tried to rip off Mr Rabbit, a Ukrainian crime lord who is still after him.

With the help of Job, a transvestite hacker and hairdresser – we’re a long way from Miss Marple here –the ex-con has tracked Anastasia down to Banshee (well named – in Irish mythology, of course, that’s the female spirit who could foretell death). Turns out that whatever she feels for our guy, Anastasia is now called Carrie and has a new life as a wife, mother and real estate agent. As for the $10million in diamonds they stole together, these were subsequently stolen from her.

Ulrich Thomsen in Banshee
Falling short of Mr Proctor’s expectations 

Banshee has echoes of that other terrific crime series currently showing, Justified, with its small town setting and gallery of lurid psychos. The Amish town is run by Kai Proctor, who makes Don Corleone look like a Buddhist. He feeds the fingers of an underling to his vicious dog, or beats the teeth out of another at his meat factory.

Frankie Faison in Banshee
Barman and champ Sugar Bates

Frankie Faison, Ben Cross and Ivana Milicevic
He is used to having the town sheriff in his pocket, but clearly Hood is no ordinary lawman. Hood also rubs some of his fellow cops up the wrong way, particularly Brock Lotus, who wanted the sheriff’s job himself and can’t stand the new guy’s violent, unorthodox methods.

With Carrie staring daggers and Mr Rabbit on Hood’s trail, Banshee is ripe with explosive storylines. The relatively unknown New Zealander Antony Starr is certainly rugged enough as the tough guy Hood, while Ulrich Thomsen oozes menace as Proctor.

Frankie Faison is great fun as Sugar Bates, the town bar owner and ally of Hood’s. When Hood tells him he’ll never go back to jail, Sugar says, ‘You’ve got a revolutionary way of going about it’ – meaning impersonating a sheriff.

Sexy and formidable
Ben Cross appears as Mr Rabbit, and Ivana Milicevic is sexy and formidable as Carrie. With Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe winner Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under, American Beauty) among its executive producers, Banshee is taut and pulpy and has already been renewed for a second series.

Cast: Antony Starr Lucas Hood, Ivana Milicevic Carrie Hopewell, Rus Blackwell Gordon Hopewell, Matt Servitto Brock Lotus, Trieste Kelly Dunn Siobhan Kelly, Ryann Shane Deva Hopewell, Frankie Faison Sugar Bates, Demetrius Grosse Emmett Yawners, Hoon Lee Job, Matthew Rauch Burton, Gabriel Suttle Max Hopewell, Ulrich Thomsen Kai Proctor, Lili Simmons Rebecca Bowman, Daniel Ross Owens Dan Kendall, Ben Cross Mr Rabbit, Deja Dee Alma, Steve Coulter Elijah Bowman, Stevie Ray Dallimore Gregor, Joseph Meissner Mikhail

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