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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Justified series 4, 5 USA with Timothy Olyphant PREVIEW

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Hole in the Wall, episode 1 of Justified series 4
Timothy Olyphant looks ahead to Justified’s new series. Pics: 5USA

Rating: ★★★★½ 

5USA: starts Wednesday, 8 May, 10pm 

Story: Raylan tries to earn a little extra cash by doing a side job for an old flame; namely, locating a murder suspect for her – a simple job gets very complicated for deputy US marshal. 

AMID a lot of dross cop procedurals on TV right now there are a couple of absolute gems tucked away, and Justified is one of them.

Now back on 5USA for his fourth season, the coolest lawman around, Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, returns with a cracking opening episode that suggests the series will live up to previous levels of mayhem and badassery.

The cowboy-hat wearing, quick-on-the-trigger Raylan – played as ever with panache by Timothy Olyphant (ironic that a slick dude should be played by someone called Timothy) – gets a call from an old flame. Sharon, a bounty hunter, asks Raylan to keep an eye out for a murder suspect she is pursuing. There’s three grand in it for him.

Timothy Olyphant and Patton Oswalt in Justified
Raylan and Constable Sweeney held at gunpoint

Raylan gets his man, then loses him
Raylan, who doesn’t live in luxury, could use the money. No sooner does the episode get into its stride than he is in a Mexican stand-off with the fugitive who is sitting in his car – which Raylan resolves in brilliant style. However, being a touch arrogant, he then loses his man and finds himself in a touch of serious bother.

It’s an enjoyable reacquaintance with the series, added to by the introduction of Patton Oswalt as the newly installed local constable, puffed-up and self-important Bob Sweeney. Much fun should flow from this new character.

Having dispatched the vile Quarles in the last series – and a trademark of Justified is its superb evildoers – it looks as though a different kind of series-long mystery will drive the drama this time.

Raylan Givens in episode 1, series four of Justified
Raylan looking down another gun barrel

Justified’s season four mystery
The opener begins with a flashback to 1983 when a man plummets to the ground after his parachute lets him down. This could be connected to a confidential diplomatic bag and driver’s licence found in the wall of the home of Raylan’s villainous and now imprisoned father, Arlo.

The licence has the name Waldo Truth on it. When Raylan visits his father in prison, Arlo denies knowing anything about it, but warns his son off anyway. Another inmate knows what they were talking about, and when he puts pressure on Arlo, the old man stabs him to death. Later it will emerge that the bag could help in the arrest of a major mafioso.

Elsewhere, the brilliant Walton Goggins is back as Boyd Crowder to torment his old workmate turned marshal. Crowder recruits his an old army buddy, Colt Rhodes, to help with his drug racket, which is being dented by the arrival of a snake-handling revival preacher, Billy St Cyr, who’s converting Boyd’s dealers and users to God.

Justifed's Joelle Carter as Ava
Joelle Carter as Ava Crowder

Bold women, humour and plenty of slick action
So, why is Justified so captivating? It’s been one of the few screen adaptations that has come close to capturing the work of crème de la crime writer Elmore Leonard (who exec produces Justified). Inspired by the Leonard’s character of Raylan, who has appeared in stories such as Fire in the Hole, Riding the Rap and Pronto, the series has also had the wonderful backwater setting of Harlan County in Kentucky and been full of Leonard’s trademark dumb or vicious villains and a hotshot hero.

It’s got humour, emotion (particularly in series two, when Raylan liberated a teenage girl from the clutches of psycho matriarch Mags Bennett) and oodles of macho action. It’s also got some bold female characters, including Winona (Raylan’s ex with whom he is now having a child), Ava (his other ex, now allied to his enemy Boyd), and the terrifying Mags.

American networks such as FX (makers of Justified), AMC and HBO are currently producing a golden age of superb drama, which sadly leaves UK shows in the dust. And among bigshots such as Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire, Raylan Givens and co certainly walk tall.

Cast: Timothy Olyphant Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, Nick Searcy Chief Deputy US Marshal Art Mullen, Joelle Carter Ava Crowder, Jacob Pitts Deputy US Marshal Tim Gutterson, Erica Tazel Deputy US Marshal Rachel Brooks, Natalie Zea Winona Hawkins, Walton Goggins Boyd Crowder,  Raymond J Barry Arlo Givens,  David Meunier Johnny Crowder,  Jere Burns Wynn Duffy, Ron Eldard Colton Rhodes, Joe Mazzello Billy St Cyr, Gerald McRaney Josiah Cairn, Lindsay Pulsipher Cassie St Cyr, Patton Oswalt Constable Bob Sweeney, Mike O’Malley Nick ‘Nicky’ Augustine, Robert Baker Randall Kusik, Brian Howe Arnold

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Justified season 4 – trailer alert!

‘He’s been investigated so many times, Internal Affairs have got him on speed dial.’ Watch out – the new series of Justified is coming in 2013…

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