2012’s ten best crime shows

Here’s CrimeTimePreview‘s rundown of 2012 crime series that held a gun to our head and demanded to be watched. The year saw the usual mix of the good (below), the bad (Silent Witness) and the plodding (Midsomer Murders, Lewis). But there were others that were excellent – Sebastian Bergman, Elementary, Southland, Restless – that couldn’t be fit into this Top 10. Anyone who doesn’t agree with this selection is welcome, of course, to fire away in the comment box below. In the meantime, there are some terrific new series to look forward to in 2013. Happy viewing!

Damian Lewis and Claire Danes

Homeland
Channel 4
The first series is the one I’m talking about here (series two stretched the premise to breaking point). This succeeded as a thriller by depicting interesting, flawed characters in Brodie, the returning war ‘hero’, and Carrie, the damaged CIA operative who was made to look a fool but was right about Brodie all along. Claire Danes was terrific, nearly matched by Damian Lewis, but all the characters’ storylines – with the performances of David Harewood and Mandy Patinkin standing out – made it a drama packed with tension and lives on the edge.

The Bridge
Sofia Helin as Saga Norén, Kim Bodnia as Martin Rohde in The BridgeBBC4
Gave us the most unforgettable character of 2012 in the high-functioning but socially disastrous Saga Norén, played by Sofia Helin. The story began hauntingly with the discovery of a body on the international border on Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. While this was yet another story about an ingenious and implausibly elusive killer (The Killing 3 had the same kind of unbelievably omnipotent evil-doer), it was the story of the Swedish Saga and her irresponsible Danish counterpart Martin Rohde that made this so intriguing and fresh. A second series should appear in late 2013, while the Americans – of course – are doing a version that kicks off on a bridge between Mexico and the US.

Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund in The Killing series 3 BBC4

The Killing 3
BBC4
Farewell, Sarah Lund. You departed in style, if a little hurriedly, but what a way to go. Self-destructive as ever, you managed to take the law into your own hands with some vigilante justice for the evil Reinhardt and destroy your own happiness at the same time. What a woman! Series one remains the best, despite all its irritating red herrings, but The Killing 2 and 3 maintained levels of depth and ambition rarely seen from the Beeb or ITV.

Shaun Evans as Morse in Endeavour ITV1

Endeavour
ITV1
A pilot prequel that fleshed out the Inspector Morse legend intelligently and entertainingly – and had the desired effect of leading to a series commission (watch out for four 120-minute episodes in 2013). Shaun Evans was the young Morse was charismatic and suitably introspective, and the investigation into the disappearance of a teenage girl was powerful, while also offering insights into events that moulded the detective. Roger Allam was excellent as Morse’s boss, Thursday.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock 2 BBC1

Sherlock 2
BBC1
Wit, mystery and sumptuous performances – the second series was must-see television, and finished with a mighty cliffhanger as social media went into a flutter about Sherlock’s apparent death plunge in The Reichenbach Fall. The series also gave us The Hounds of Baskerville and A Scandal in Belgravia, featuring a tantalising Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. In a year that saw a good American rehash of the Beeb’s contemporary take on Holmes – Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu – Sherlock still easily out-dazzled the upstart.

Walton Goggins, Timothy Olyphant in Justified

Justified 3
5USA
Most UK viewers have not discovered Justified, which is tucked away on 5USA, but it is a hidden gem. Based on stories by the superb Elmore Leonard, the series takes us into Kentucky and the law-enforcement world of trigger-happy deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, played with panache by Timothy Olyphant. The third series was another corker and gave us a fresh gallery of nasty rogues, including the butcher Limehouse and the sexual sadist Quarles. Leonard ranks this as one of the best adaptations of his books, and that includes Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. Watch out for series four.

Good Cop
BBC1
Finishing on a rather oblique note – with Sav going into the sea and apparently surrendering to the waves – was a mark of how mature and deeply felt this drama was. It spurned stupid plot twists to zoom in on the human drama, that of the good man who finds himself doing bad things. At first the audience may have cheered him when he turned vigilante, but by the end he had gone off the rails.
A powerful story of a man surrounded by people – ailing dad, female police partner, lover – but emotionally stranded, having ruined his chance of happiness with the mother of his daughter. The acting was brilliant and affecting, the Liverpool setting was fresh and interesting, and the story unforgettable. It should be the making of Warren Brown as a leading man.

Kelly Macdonald and Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire 3

Boardwalk Empire 3
Sky Atlantic
British TV can only dream of making a crime drama on this scale. The cast, the stunning period production and the writing put it in a league of its own. The story of Prohibition-era Atlantic City and its corrupt county treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) reached 1923, when our antihero was balancing a mistress and wife, and his political and criminal empires. Fictional and real historical figures – Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano – were joined in this series by the new psychotic Sicilian in town, the fictional Gyp Rosetti. The series reached a spectacular gang war climax and was, as it has been from the start, fascinating and unforgettable.

Murder: Joint Enterprise
Channel 4
I’ve included this because it was a fresh drama that explored the messiness of crime and the difficulty of  finding the truth behind it – and here the police fail and the wrong person is convicted. Birger Larsen, the director of The Killing, hauntingly portrayed Nottingham with an outsider’s eye, in a story that blitzed the fallacy of so many cop shows with their neat solutions. Karla Crome and Joe Dempsie were first-rate as the pair caught in a nasty tussle of guilt and accusation.

Accused 2
BBC1
Writer Jimmy McGovern attracts the best actors to his stories of injustice and moral dilemmas. This second series of one-off dramas started boldly with Sean Bean in stilettos as a transvestite whose love for a married man (played by Stephen Graham) ends in horror. Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Sheridan Smith, Ewen Bremner and Anna Maxwell Martin all featured in dramas that were unsentimental but full of surprises and sharply depicted characters. Engrossing and thought-provoking.

Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, C5, BSkyB

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Boardwalk Empire series three with Steve Buscemi PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★½

Sky Atlantic: Saturdays (from 29 September), 9pm

Story: Welcoming in the New Year – 1923 – Nucky Thompson tells his bootlegger compadres that he will no longer be supplying them with booze. He will only sell to Arnold Rothstein, and they will have to pay his price…

Nucky’s Egyptian-theme New Year’s Eve bash. Pics: BSkyB

The champagne corks are popping – Boardwalk Empire is back. It’s the eve of 1923 and Nucky Thompson is about to make a whole new hive of enemies.

Having offed his former protege, Jimmy Darmody, in series two’s finale, the bootlegging politician wants to simplify his life by turning into a booze wholesaler who supplies just one man, Rothstein, instead of all his former cohorts. When he announces this at a lavish New Year’s Eve party at his home, Nucky makes some nasty people very unhappy about having to pay Rothstein’s price – including the new psychopathic Sicilian in town, Gyp Rosetti.

Sicilian with a Gyp on his shoulder

Bobby Cannavale as Rosetti

In the opener Gyp was introduced to us as he takes a metal tool to the head of a sweet old guy out walking his dog. The reason – the old boy was trying to be helpful.

Boardwalk Empire has been criticised for being short of explosive action, and it’s made hardly a ripple in the UK because it’s tucked away for a small audience on Sky Atlantic. But it is a superb drama, a rich recreation of a fascinating and wild period, and season three’s opening episode was fizzing with conflict.

As the trailer above makes clear, Nucky – an Emmy-winning performance by Steve Buscemi – is precariously balancing between being a corrupt political operator and an all-out gangster. His relationship with Margaret has soured, and she is becoming enmeshed in the affairs of a hospital of which she is a patron, and is perhaps attracting a new admirer there.

Stephen Graham as Capone

Al Capone makes an enemy
The eerily masked man, Richard Harrow, had the episode’s one gun blast to his credit when he took out Manny Horvitz in revenge for killing his secret love, Angela Darmody. More problems there for Nucky.

And Al Capone is emerging as a significant force, here having a serious falling-out with Irish hoodlum Dean O’Banion.

As the actor who plays Capone, Britain’s Stephen Graham says in an Observer interview, the infamous gangster’s character will be developed in season three as we see him as a father as well as fearsome mobster.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson

In coming weeks Rosetti will be moving against Nucky and Rothstein, and former G-man turned struggling door-to-door salesman Van Alden is in for an interesting time having fortuitously saved O’Banion from Capone at the Irishman’s flower shop.

With the creative forces of The Soprano‘s writer Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese behind it, Boardwalk Empire is period drama with punch.

Where UK history shows such as Downton Abbey, with its airbrushed view of life below stairs, is a watered down version of the past, Boardwalk Empire‘s evocation of the mad, messy Prohibition era is 95% proof. Go for the real stuff.

Cast: Steve Buscemi Nucky Thompson, Kelly Macdonald Margaret Thompson, Michael Shannon Nelson Van Alden, Shea Whigham Eli Thompson, Michael Kenneth Williams Chalky White, Jack Huston Richard Harrow, Paul Sparks Mickey Doyle, Michael Stuhlbarg Arnold Rothstein, Stephen Graham Al Capone, Vincent Piazza Lucky Luciano, Gretchen Mol Gillian Darmody, Anatol Yusef Meyer Lansky, Bobby Cannavale Gyp Rosetti

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Boardwalk Empire series 3 trailer

The new series comes to Sky Atlantic next month, and Al Capone is beginning to find his feet as a serious player. Here’s a taster…

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