Best TV crime dramas of 2014

THIS ROUND-UP of the year’s best TV crime dramas has for the past four years comfortably listed 10 outstanding series.2014, on the other hand, is a tougher proposition. There were so many terrific stories and performances that I found it impossible to restrict it to 10. So, to celebrate the New Year, here is my top 14 for 2014…

True Detective, Sky Atlantic

A simply indelible series that was unlike anything else out there in 2014. Haunting, a little mad and with a dream-like – or perhaps that should be nightmarish – atmosphere. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson put in a shift, too. Our review

Happy Valley, BBC1

Sally Wainwright’s gritty drama was engrossing and powerful, and also had one of the performances of the year from Sarah Lancashire. The second series will have a tough act to follow. Our review

Peaky Blinders, BBC2

Really hit its stride in this second series. Great to see a revival of the British gangster drama that dared to be brash and different. Our review

Sherlock 3, BBC1

Some people did not like this flamboyant third series, but we did and so did most reviewers. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were really on their game, producing a drama that fizzed with jaw-dropping surprises and delights. Our review

The Bridge 2, BBC4

Superb follow-up to the first series, which pushed our heroes Saga and Martin into new intrigue and emotional turmoil. Kim Bodnia won’t return to series 3 because his character, of course, ended up in jail, but Sofia Helin will (see Digital Spy’s interview with them)
Our review

Line of Duty 2, BBC2

Another feather in BBC2’s cap this year, this drama about police corruption was superb and completely outshone the first series. Keeley Hawes dominated proceedings with a compelling performance as the inspector under suspicion. Our review

The Widower, ITV

Once again ITV came up with a fascinating exploration of a real crime. Reece Shearsmith as the slippery killer Malcolm Webster was haunting, in a drama that was way better than his other series this year, the unconvincing Chasing ShadowsOur review

Fargo, C4

It never came close to catching the bleak logic and black humour of the Coen brothers’ cult film, but this series starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton was quirky enough to keep everyone frozen to the screen. Our review

The Missing, BBC1

Sober, intelligent and always engrossing eight-part tragedy. The disappearance of a five-year-old British boy on holiday in France was a difficult subject, but this was a truthful and heartfelt series that was totally involving. Our review

Gomorrah, Sky Atlantic

Powerful Italian series, based on Roberto Saviano’s frightening book about the Neapolitan Camorra, which revealed how insidious and slightly unhinged Southern Italian crime organisations are. Our review

The Honourable Woman, BBC2

Twisting, full of intrigue and beautifully made and acted, this follow-up to The Shadow Line from writer/producer/director Hugo Blick was one of the most captivating dramas of 2014. Maggie Gyllenhaal stepped out of her Hollywood comfort zone and gave a blockbuster performance. Our review

Scott & Bailey, ITV

Once again this ITV staple with Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones got all the basics of good drama right, while coming up with some really intriguing crime stories. Our review

Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic

A series that has never really grabbed audiences in the UK, but as it approached its finale it was always beautifully written, acted and produced. Our review

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies

ITV specialises in dramas inspired by real events and again came up with a sober, fascinating series about the wrongful arrest of the eccentric ex-school teacher. Jason Watkins was terrific in the lead. Our review

Honourable mentions to… 
The Fall 2 – even if the finale made a hash of Stella’s character and was ultimately disappointing (see our mini-poll, above right), this had some great moments along the way; Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Suspects; Endeavour 2; Mammon; 24: Live Another Day; Amber; Utopia; Crimes of Passion; The Driver; Legends; Glue; Grantchester; and Common.
Fond farewells…
to Ronnie Brooks (and Law & Order: UK as well?), and Southland.
Hostages; Salamander; the pilot for Bosch; Babylon did not quite cut it; Turks & Caicos – all prestige production and cast that failed to grip; Prey; Hinterland; Chasing Shadows; and Stalker, which was pretty dire.

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TV Daggers 2014 – who should win

AS A VOTING member of the Academy of British Crime Writing, I’ve already selected my nominations in this year’s Crime Thriller Awards for the best TV series.

What were your favourites? It’s been a terrific year for powerful new dramas, with True Detective, Happy Valley and The Honourable Woman all in  contention.

The CWA/ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards have become the most exciting annual awards do for crime books, TV and film. This year’s event is on Friday, 24 October, at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, and will be shown on ITV3 the following week.

ITV3 is also showing a series of one-hour shows from 15 September called the Crime Thriller Club in the run-up to the gong show. Each one will showcase a crime book or bestselling author.

Here are the TV nominees, and I’ve picked my faves.

But what do you think? Please comment below.

TV Dagger

Happy Valley

Line of Duty series 2

Sherlock series 3

The Bletchley Circle series 2

The Honourable Woman

And the winner should be… Happy Valley
Line of Duty was more compelling than the first series and Sherlock – a recurring winner in recent years – again dazzled, while The Honourable Woman was a sophisticated series that found a large and committed audience. But the BBC’s Happy Valley was the most powerful drama by far, with moving performances and a nail-biting storyline.

International TV Dagger


Inspector Montalbano series 9

Orange Is the New Black

The Bridge series 2

True Detective

And the winner should be… True Detective
Again, there are blockbuster contenders here. The Bridge was once more distinctive and captivating, while Fargo captured some of the Coen brothers’ movies’ off-beam sinister mood, and Orange Is the New Black was fresh with a dark humour. But True Detective was something else… brooding and original, scary and oblique – it must have prompted the most online comment and theorising of any crime series this year. Totally breathtaking.

Best Actress Dagger

Brenda Blethyn Vera

Maggie Gyllenhaal The Honourable Woman

Anna Maxwell Martin Death Comes to Pemberley

Sarah Lancashire Happy Valley

Keeley Hawes Line of Duty

And the winner should be… Sarah Lancashire
A bugger to choose, with Keeley Hawes in one of her best ever roles as the detective under suspicion and Maggie Gyllenhaal sublime in Hugo Blick’s political thriller. But Sarah Lancashire had to push herself furthest in Happy Valley, mixing grit and violence with vulnerability and glimpses of wit. Fabulous performance.

Best Actor Dagger

Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock

Shaun Evans Endeavour

Martin Freeman Sherlock and Fargo

Matthew McConaughey True Detective

Steve Pemberton Happy Valley

And the winner should be… Matthew McConaughey
This one’s easier. Matthew McConaughey is by far the most mesmerising performance of the year as the almost unhinged detective Rust Cohle.

Supporting Actress Dagger

Amanda Abbington Sherlock 

Vicky McClure Line of Duty

Helen McCrory Peaky Blinders

Gina McKee By Any Means

Michelle Monaghan True Detective

And the winner should be… Amanda Abbington
It’s not easy to stand out in this series with Sherlock and Watson hogging the limelight, but Amanda Abbington gave the drama an added dash of fun and mystery.

Supporting Actor Dagger

Mark Gatiss Sherlock 
David Leon Vera
James Norton Happy Valley
Mandy Patinkin Homeland
Billy Bob Thornton Fargo
And the winner should be… Billy Bob Thornton
James Norton made our flesh creep as the sadistic brute in Happy Valley (he’s a vicar next in ITV’s Grantchester – talk about versatile), but I think Billy Bob Thornton just pips him in Fargo – a brilliantly queasy blend of hilarious and menacing all in one.

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Fargo Ch4, with Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk

No, it’s not Elmer Fudd, but insurance man Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★ 

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 20 April, 9pm 

Story: Timid, henpecked insurance salesman Lester Nygaard is waiting in a hospital reception after a nose-breaking encounter with the guy who used to bully him at high school. He strikes up a conversation with a vengeful drifter, Lorne Malvo – a chance meeting that drastically changes his life.

SOME MOVIES are so adored and revered that TV honchos just can’t resist paying tribute to them – or should that be can’t resist cashing in on them.

Anyway, we’ve had the recent well-received TV re-imaginings of Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal and the Bates Motel reboot of Psycho. The latest is this 10-parter inspired by the Coen brothers’ beautifully observed 1996 classic crime caper-gone-wrong Fargo.

Car crash waiting to happen – Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton)

The first thing to say is that none of these transfers come close to surpassing or even capturing the scintillating originality of the movies. That’s too much to expect, so to be any good they need to cut a new TV path for themselves.

Lorne Malvo is a timebomb

Hannibal and Bates Motel have made it to second seasons, and Fargo shows a lot of promise in that regard.

The cast is really enticing, from Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in the leads, to Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk as a cop who can’t stand the sight of gore, and newcomer Allison Tolman as tyro investigator Molly Solverson in the nowheresville town of Bemidji.

While she bears some resemblance to Frances McDormand’s iconic character Marge in the movie, and Freeman’s timid insurance man Lester Nygaard recalls William H Macy’s brilliantly stupid and greedy

Cops Solverson and Oswalt

Jerry Lundegaard, these are mere echoes of the original. The series has a totally fresh plot.

Lester meets Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo in a hospital waiting room after a run-in with the thug who used to bully him at high school. Malvo is a timebomb of malevolence and vengeance, and the most compelling character here, almost on a par with Anton Chigurh in the Coen’s No Country for Old Men.

Lester Nygaard v Jerry Lundegaard

You know the moment Malvo says to Lester ‘I would have killed that man’ that Lester’s life has taken a turn for the destructive. Thornton, veteran of off-beats such as that other Coen flick The Man Who Wasn’t There and 2003’s Bad Santa, brings the right level of crazed certainty to Malvo to make him watchable all the way.

Martin Freeman is good as Lester, but his character is not as well drawn as Jerry Lundegaard, whose catalogue of moronic blunders had a strange, stupid logic to them. Lester’s descent is abrupt and lurid.

Lester runs into his old high school bully, Sam Hess

But the setting is again stark and beautiful, those long highways cutting through endless snowscapes. It makes a decent fist of capturing the movie’s wonderful portrayal of ‘Minnesota nice’ and the local speech with its Nordic roots. So everyone says ‘oh hun’, ‘yah’ and ‘jeez’.

By the end of the opener there’s a lot of bloodshed and a good level of black humour. And with a host of interesting secondary characters still to appear, Fargo the TV show is looking like a good place to chill out.

Cast: Billy Bob Thornton Lorne Malvo, Martin Freeman Lester Nygaard, Allison Tolman Molly Solverson, Bob Odenkirk Bill Oswalt, Colin Hanks Gus Grimly, Joey King Greta Grimly

Try these links…

Fargo Channel 4
Bates Motel CrimeTimePreview
Hannibal CrimeTimePreview
Review NY Daily News

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