Justified — Killer TV No 17

Justified, Timothy Olyphant

If you want to get ahead… Timothy Olyphant as Marshal Raylan Givens

We’re now well into the top 20 of CrimeTimePreview’s Killer TV selection of the greatest crime shows ever…

FX, 2010 to 2015

‘I tell you to do one simple thing – refrain from screwing the witness in your own shooting – and you can’t even do that!’ Chief Deputy Art Mullen

Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins, Jere Burns, Mykelti Williamson, Margo Martindale, Neal McDonough, Erica Tazel, Joelle Carter

Identikit: Trigger-happy, no-nonsense US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a Miami mobster, causing him to be reassigned to his childhood home in the coal-mining towns of Harlan County, Kentucky.

logosSo many juicy elements come together in these six series about the polite but never-give-an-inch, Stetson-wearing deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, a maverick inspired by Elmore Leonard’s novels and the short story Fire in the Hole. We first encounter Raylan dispatching his no-nonsense justice in Florida when he shoots a mob hit-man, a justified but controversial killing for which he is reassigned to his native Kentucky. There, during the six seasons the drama lasted he tangles with mean operators – Boyd Crowder, Mags Bennett, Ellstin Limehouse, Robert Quarles – gets his ex-wife, Winona, pregnant, loses her again, and has liaisons, including one with a con-woman who gets away with all Raylan’s money. While great in a tight spot, Raylan is not perfect in other aspects of his life. He is haunted by the bitter relationship with his mean, criminal father, Arlo, and he makes mistakes, providing his exasperated boss, Art Mullen, with plenty of headaches (see the quote above). The series is a long way from the dull cop procedural, featuring great actors, fine stories and a real Bluegrass flavour. If the hero, here in the shape of pretty cool leading man Timothy Olyphant, is only as

Justified, Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant)

Best of enemies: Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant)

good as the villain, charismatic Walton Goggins (now riding high for his terrific performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight), then Justified got the casting just right. The two characters, who once worked together in the mines, are lifelong pals turned adversaries, and give the series a great deal of its edge. We love their verbal sparring and deadly dance, but almost don’t want Raylan to get the better of Boyd. Justified captures the streetwise dialogue, machismo and romance found in Elmore Leonard’s novels better than many adaptations (any fond memories of The Big Bounce or Stick?). And while it’s never been a big mainstream hit, for viewers who want to dodge the pap of CSI or Hawaii 5-O, this goes down like a jolt of Kentucky bourbon.

Music: Long Hard Times to Come, by Gangstagrass

Classic episode: Bloody Harlan, season 2, episode 13. The finale to the second series was a good old-fashioned bloodbath, but made all the more epic for the comeuppance that meets the incredibly wicked and controlling Mags Bennett. The Crowder and Bennett clans go to war, Winona tells Raylan she’s pregnant, before Raylan is caught and nearly killed by Dickie Bennett. A terrific blend of character development and slick action.

Watercooler fact: Raylan Givens had featured in Elmore Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, along with the short story Fire in the Hole. Leonard’s 2012 novel Raylan came on the back of the TV series’ success.

Third degree: Cath Staincliffe

Pic: © Paul Herrmann

Manchester-based crime writer Cath Staincliffe is interrogated below for evidence of her TV viewing and reading activities. She writes the novels based on the Scott & Bailey series, which stars Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones and is soon to return to ITV – with her latest book about the female detectives being Bleed Like Me. Cath is also the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye stories and creator and scriptwriter of Blue Murder, which was on ITV and starred Caroline Quentin. 

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
(I’ll tell you now I’m rubbish at choosing single answers). Scott & Bailey, Prime Suspect, Life on Mars, Morse, Cracker, Z Cars.  Can I have The Singing Detective too?

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
Justified, Southland, Breaking Bad, Hill Street Blues, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, The Sopranos. And can I chuck in Jack Irish (Australian), which I really like.

Top TV cop?
At the moment it’s Raylan Givens in Justified.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Hard this because choosing something to be adapted means a new interpretation of well-loved characters (which might be awful). Maybe a series with a fresh location we’ve not seen before like the Leaphorn and Chee novels by Tony Hillerman or Steve Hamilton’s chilly Alex McKnight stories. Or Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins – they could be amazing.

If another of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero? 
No idea. When Caroline Quentin was cast as Janine Lewis in Blue Murder she wasn’t how I imagined the detective in the book but she was brilliant in the role and made it her own so that after that I could only see her as that character.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)? 
Can’t think of anything really – there’s not enough time to watch all the good stuff (I only see a couple of hours a day) let alone rubbish.

Least favourite cop show/thriller? 
Never really warmed to Silent Witness.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos
Neck and neck.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? 
Philip Marlowe.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Enjoyed both.

US or British television crime dramas?
If I absolutely had to pick I’d choose US, but it’s a very close call.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
James Lee Burke, Tana French, Thomas H. Cook, Denise Mina, Walter Mosley, Steve Mosby, Belinda Bauer, Don Winslow, Kate Atkinson, Simon Lelic, Laura Wilson, Ken Bruen, Dennis Lehane, Claire Seeber, Sue Grafton … I could go on … and on.

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?
Yes! Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer, also Broken Harbour by Tana French. 

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
Carol Birch, Toni Morrison, Sarah Waters, Kate Grenville.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. And if you won’t let me have that then Fargo, Con Air, LA Confidential, The Usual Suspects, Insomnia, In the Heat of the Night.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
I’d pick DCI Gill Murray and her Scott & Bailey team.  She’s bright, clever enough to see what’s really going on and she’d be totally committed to getting me off. Janet and Rachel would work their magic, Janet with her skill and sensitivity and Rachel with her reckless flair. Then we could all go to the pub for a good natter afterwards.
• In addition to Bleed Like Me, Cath Staincliffe has a new standalone novel out in April – Blink of an Eye.

CrimeTimePreview will be previewing Scott & Bailey 3 tomorrow…

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Jack the Ripper unmasked? Whitechapel 3 DVD and Justified 4

• Jack the Ripper is unmasked – again – tonight on the Yesterday channel (Wednesday, 7 March, 9pm). Like the Who Killed Kennedy? industry, the Who Was Jack? phenomenon has supported a feverish army of theorists and scribes almost since the crimes were committed. In Prime Suspect: Jack the Ripper the story heads to Australia, where apparently there has been a new development. There lies the skull of Fredrick Bailey Deeming, Down Under’s first serial killer. He was executed in 1892, four years after the Whitechapel horrors, but was also a suspect in the London killings. Now DNA has been extracted from his skull. Is there a link to Jack?

• Speaking of Whitechapel, series 3 of ITV1‘s spooky drama about the East End cops tracking down ghosts of the criminal past comes out on DVD on 12 March. Having explored the Jack the Ripper and Kray myths, the team including Rupert Penry-Jones, Steve Pemberton and Phil Davis have just finished skulking around in the shadows reliving legendary crimes such as the Thames Torso Murders and the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. ‘We’re basing this on stuff that really did happen,’ says Pemberton in The Psychology of Fear, one of the two short documentaries that make up the extras here. ‘So that’s unsettling.’ The second doc is Whitechapel – The Past Uncovered, which gleefully looks at the horrible crimes that ‘inspired’ these ‘gothic thrillers’, as producer David Boulter calls them. This has been a bizarre series, but there’s no doubting it oozed a creepy atmosphere.
 • Great news for Justified devotees. Series 3 is yet to hit the UK but is doing well enough in the States for FX to announce it will make another 13-part season and fourth outing for Timothy Olyphant as the Stetson-wearing, gun-toting deputy US marshal. ‘Justified is one of television’s best series and this season has reinforced that excellence,’ FX’s EVP of original programming Nick Grad said.

• There is a new Inspector Singh novel coming out concerning A Curious Indian Cadaver. This is the latest in the series written by Shamini Flint, who was born in Malaysia and studied law at the University of Kent. Her novels about the portly, dishevelled and wheezing Singh have sold 500,000 copies and are compared to McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, while also boasting clever, taut plots. In the latest adventure, Singh grudgingly agrees to attend a family wedding in Mumbai, when the bride disappears. Can it be long before the TV execs come calling on Shamini?

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Best Crime Dramas on British TV 2011

2011’s TV crimespree blew away the previous year’s good, but not overwhelming, caseload of crime dramas and thrillers. This selection is based on shows that had some heart and emotional depth, rather than the mainstream of whodunits and procedurals. But by all means, fire off your disagreements and preferences in the comments section at the end…
(Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB, FX, 5USA)

Michael C Hall as Dexter

10 Dexter series 5 FX (UK)
This was probably Dexter’s best outing since series one. It began with our serial killer protagonist in crisis, with his wife, Rita, murdered and his baby son discovered in a pool of her blood, which eerily echoed Dexter’s own childhood trauma. The emotion-less Dexter is disconcerted, perhaps even moved a little, because by being with him, Rita – who thought she was ‘getting a real human being’ – has ended up butchered. The complications mounted for Dex, with his step-sister perplexed by his behaviour and his trying to deflect Lumen Pierce, whom he rescued from another serial killer, from seeking revenge. The conceit of novelist Jeff Lindsay’s creation – serial killer as hero – should not work, but the black humour, the pathos, the character’s deadpan voiceovers and Michael C Hall’s performance makes this an unmissable and original series.
Highlight: Dexter giving Rita’s family and kids the dreadful news that she’s been murdered – but being so disengaged that he forgets to take off his Mickey Mouse ears while doing so.

Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin

9 Law & Order: UK series 4 and 5 ITV1
L&O: UK is now such a staple for ITV1 that we’ve had two series of it this year. The spin-off from the original US series earns its place here for its consistently good and tightly packed one-hour dramas, which frequently end on an ambivalent note. The stories also cover tough subjects, crimes by children, a gun rampage or killings by negligent doctors, for instance. The fifth season saw Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison joined the legal side of the cast, while the compelling tales continued without let-up. Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber have been excellent as the chalk-and-cheese detective sergeants, though sadly it looks as though that partnership has come to an end. Lead writer Emilia di Girolamo injected plenty of emotional impact into the last series, and finished it with a stunning cliffhanger…
Highlight: has to be the finale of series five, when DS Matt Devlin was shot outside court.

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie

8 Case Histories BBC1
Novelist Kate Atkinson is not solidly in the crime genre camp, and this hugely enjoyable series caught the narrative quirks, mystery and humour of her writing brilliantly. Jason Isaacs, in a sharp contrast to his American persona in the gangster series Brotherhood, was the engaging and vulnerable tough guy Jackson Brodie, who gets dragged into the world of the Land sisters by Sylvia Syms’s missing moggy. The sisters want Jackson to look into the fate of their missing sister, who vanished 30 years before. Edinburgh is the beautifully shot backdrop, and the cast, including Amanda Abbington as the tough cop with a soft spot for the wayward Jackson, was wonderful.
Highlight: any of Jackson’s scenes with his young daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes).

Janet Leach (Emily Watson) accompanies Fred West (Dominic West) to a murder site

7 Appropriate Adult ITV1
Dominic West showed what an accomplished star he is with this unexpected performance as the one-man horrorshow that was real-life serial killer Fred West. It was controversial, but still a haunting and unforgettable dramatisation from the award-winning team that revisited the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors murders on the small screen. Confronting such revolting crimes in a drama is a way of attempting to gain modest perspective on them, but Appropriate Adult ultimately reinforced the feeling that such killers are beyond our understanding. Written by Neil McKay, the drama cleverly approached the horrendous story from an oblique angle, that of housewife Janet Leach, who was the required Appropriate Adult brought in to chaperone the apparently below-averagely intelligent West – a powerful performance by Emily Watson.
Unforgettable moment: Janet Leach’s uncomprehending expression as West tells detectives about his crimes.

Will Sully be a Top Boy?

6 Top Boy Channel 4
Channel 4 is not a top producer of crime dramas, but if it only makes one a year that is as potent as Top Boy then it will be worth waiting for. A four-parter that took a hard look at inner-city drug and gang culture, our escort into this world was 13-year-old Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose mother is hospitalised after a breakdown. The programme caught the pressure on young men such as Ra’Nell to ally themselves with gangs for status, but the price exacted by the likes of Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – both also desperate to be top boys, despite the huge risks – was unflinchingly shown.
Highlight: Raikes telling Dushane he has to give up Sully to the Feds. Reality bites…

5 The Field of Blood BBC1
Based on a Denise Mina novel, this was a gem of a drama that the Beeb seemed almost embarrassed to put out for some reason (10.15pm, Monday night?). But it got a lot of things right. The characters, particularly young Jayd Johnson as Glasgow newspaper ‘copyboy’ Paddy Meehan, were believable and sympathetic, and the 1980s were as sexist and rocking musically as many would have remembered them. David Morrissey played the bullying editor with a heart, and Peter Capaldi was excellent as the old hack. And the story of a young woman with ambitions beyond marriage and a crap job who sets out to discover the truth behind a child murder that has implicated her 10-year-old cousin was captivating. Someone should commission more dramas based on Mina’s novels.
Highlight: Paddy’s character-defining punch-up in the ladies with glamour-puss reporter Heather.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky

4 Boardwalk Empire series 1 & 2 Sky Atlantic
Few dramas have the scope and ambition of this HBO epic. From the mega-budget opening episode, it’s been an engrossing attempt to revisit an extraordinary period in American history. Steve Buscemi has been mesmerising as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brazenly corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, whose policy is less Prohibition than anything goes. Melding real historical figures – politicians, government agents and gangsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano – with the sweep of the jazz age backdrop has brought this age of political madness vividly to life. And it’s been extraordinary watching the performances of two Brits in the cast – Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, Nucky’s mistress, and Stephen Graham as Capone, who doesn’t look remotely Neapolitan but in every episode appears about to erupt like Vesuvius. It’s won a glut of awards, including eight Emmys, and will return for a third series.
Highlight: the whole of the opener directed by Martin Scorsese – a kaleidoscope of music, partying and corruption.

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan

3 Justified series 2 5USA
The second series may have had the edge over the terrific first series, with a strong story arc that saw gun-happy deputy US marshal Raylan Givens facing off with Dixie mafia boss Mags Bennett and her vile sons. The magic of the series, drawn from a character created by the crime writers’ crime writer, Elmore Leonard, is that the setting – a rural Kentucky mining town – is fresh and well depicted, with its clans and bonehead villains and good ol’ boys. However, while Mags (an Emmy-winning performance from Margo Martindale) may have been surrounded by boneheads in her clan, she was sadistic, menacing and well-mannered all at the same time. Timothy Olyphant was again laid-back and almost as cool as Paul Newman in the title role, while Natalie Zea as his on-off-on other half added glamour and attitude. Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss, Art Mullen, gave the show heart and a lot of laughs. Series three will be racked and ready in 2012…
Highlight: the deadly confrontation between Raylan and Mags’s son, Coover.

Watch your back – The Shadow Line

2 The Shadow Line BBC1
In a strong year for conspiracy thrillers – Hidden, Exile, Page Eight – Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line stands out. Great cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Rafe Spall, Kierston Wareing, Antony Sher – in a creepy and dark story featuring a trio of psychos to give you nightmares. Stephen Rea was unforgettable as the puppetmaster Gatehouse, Rafe Spall pulled off the best nut job since Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and Freddie Fox simpered as the morally blank Ratallack. Kierston Wareing, who seemed to appear in just about every good crime show this year from The Runaway to Top Boy, was terrific as the sexy, acid-tongued detective sergeant Honey. Blick’s wordy scenes and extraordinary characters created a drama that was not realistic, but felt like a nightmare of foreboding. Midsomer Murders this was not.
Highlight: the moment when Gatehouse finally catches up with the mysterious Glickman, played by Antony Sher. What an amazing showdown.

Bloody business for Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl)

1 The Killing series 1 BBC4

It has to be. There had been subtitled crime series around – the Swedish Wallander, for instance – but The Killing, tucked away on BBC4, took everyone by surprise, including the Beeb. It notched up more viewers than Mad Men, set blog comment boxes buzzing (CrimeTimePreview was inundated with feedback from adoring viewers), and showed that mainstream US and UK formats – murder, neat resolution by detective – often lacked any emotional impact at all. This 20-parter did not use the disappearance and murder of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen as a plot device to kick off a voyeuristic mystery, but explored the horrendous emotional shock of the crime on her family and on detective Sarah Lund. The show wasn’t perfect, being over-stretched with red-herrings, but its dark intrigue and whole-hearted performances from the unknown cast (in Britain, at least) – Sofie Gråbøl, Søren Malling, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen – made viewers fascinated with all things Danish and guaranteed a bunch of awards, including a Bafta and several CWA Crime Thiller Daggers.
Highlight: the way Sarah Lund’s initially frosty relationship with her blunt instrument of a colleague, Jan Meyer, evolves silently and without histrionics, so that when Meyer is murdered the moment is  shocking and sad.

Near misses
Single-Handed, Braquo, Spiral, Romanzo Criminale, Garrow’s Law, Exile, Mad Dogs, Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sons of Anarchy
Way off-target
Ringers – dafter than a very daft thing. Silent Witness – gratuitous and voyeuristic.
Damp-squib send-off
Spooks – wiped out by ill-judged decision to schedule it against Downton Abbey. Deserved better.
Letdown of the year
Hidden – started really well, but final episode was such a disappointment.

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Justified series 2 with Timothy Olyphant

Big shot – Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Gives. Pics: Channel 5

Rating ★★★★

5USA, Wednesdays, 10pm

It’s good to be tipping our Stetsons to deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens again.

All the winning ingredients of series one are back in the current season of Justified on 5USA. Timothy Olyphant is as softly-spoken and laid back as ever, though having to hold off on his notorious trigger finger, having blown away so many drug dealers, mobsters and his dad last time round. He’s resolved to stay in Harlan County, Kentucky, the home to which he was banished after a lethal shootout in Florida.

Natalie Zea as Winona Hawkins

Natalie Zea is also here again as Winona, the ex-wife from whom Raylan is not so estranged. And Nick Searcy provides more sharp-tongued guidance as Raylan’s boss, Art Mullen.

What is new is the appearance of the ruthless Bennett clan. Where executive producer/writer Elmore Leonard – the bard of crime authors on whose short story Justified is based – specialises in bone-headed baddies, the head of the Bennetts is one of his more menacing characters.

Good old gal Mags Bennett
Played by Margo Martindale, Mags Bennett appeared in the opener of series two as a mumsy, hospitable old Southern gal. But her unsavoury sideline as a poisoner soon revealed the real Mags.

For fans of Elmore Leonard, whose superb novels have not always been beautifully adapted (the TV versions of Pronto, Maximum Bob and the Out of Sight character, Karen Sisco, in particular, all bit the dust), the delight to be had in Justified is that the author’s brand of cool has made it to the screen.

That is no doubt because Leonard is actively involved in the series, which is made by FX and has been given the nod for a third season. The 85-year-old writer is keen to get the details just right, such as Raylan’s hat, and seems to treat the show as a favourite child, blogging about it and plugging it when he can.

Elmore Leonard’s new Raylan novel
Its success has also inspired him to turn his 46th novel into another story about Raylan, some of the plotlines of which have found their way into season two. This will be Raylan’s fourth appearance in Leonard’s output. Fire in the Hole was the novella that sparked Justifed, while Raylan has also appeared in Pronto and Riding the Rap.

Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) and brother-in-law Boyd (Walton Goggins)

The new novel, which could be out in the autumn, pits three women up against Raylan – a corrupt nurse, a woman who works for a coal company, and a poker player – with some of these themes, though not the nurse, being used in series two.

Timothy Olyphant, a surprising 43, must be stoking up a breakthrough Hollywood movie role soon with his charismatic lead performance here (after bits and pieces in Die Hard 4.0, The Girl Next Door and the like). He makes a smooth Elmore Leonard hero, and following his showings in Deadwood and his recent guest appearances in the US version of The Office, he clearly can pull off the George Clooney trick of being sexy and funny.

And humour is the final winning ingredient in Justified.  So you get…

  • Karl Hanselman: Next time you’re in Cincinatti, come by my gallery. I’ll show you my collection.
  • Raylan Givens: Honestly, I think I’d rather stick my dick in a blender.
  • Art Mullen: Well, that might solve a few problems.

The Bennetts v the Crowders
Raylan may have largely kept his powder dry in the opening episodes of series two, but with financially-troubled Winona about to commit a rash act, Boyd making enemies and a massive showdown to come between the Bennetts and Crowders, fans don’t have to worry about peace breaking out in Harlan County any time soon.

Justified may not reinvent the crime-show genre, but the acting, writing and setting make it stand out like a 10-gallon hat.

It’s currently showing on 5USA in the UK, and you can catch up with series two on the channel’s site.

Best crime shows of 2010

Here’s a look at the top crime series on UK television in 2010. It was the year case files closed on The Bill, which had really lost its way, and Heartbeat, which had never been very exciting in the first place, and when some savvy new detectives made their debuts. But best of all was the retelling of the heartrending story of the victims of the Ipswich murders…

(Pics: BBC, ITV, BSkyB)

1 Five Daughters, BBC
An unusual choice, maybe, but this was the most affecting and unforgettable crime drama of last year. It was a dramatisation about the five women murdered in Ipswich in 2006. It was not about the killer, Steve Wright, or a heroic detective. These were simply young women who had the misfortune to cross the path of a murderer, ordinary people and their families who did not deserve their fate. Made with the assistance of many of the victims’ families, the police and the local drug rehabilitation centre (Iceni, which is now threatened with closure), the women’s stories were emotional and at times frustrating. In so much crime fiction, the victims – usually in a ditch in the opening scene – are just plot points. Here they were loving, caring people whose addictions made them vulnerable. When portrayed this sensitively, the truth is far more poignant and thought-provoking than fiction. Written by Stephen Butchard, starring Sarah Lancashire and Juliet Aubrey.

2 Sherlock, BBC
Updating Sherlock Holmes could have been the turkey of the year – and there were production missteps, with an un-aired pilot – but the end result was inspired, witty and a terrific series of three mysteries. Benedict Cumberbatch was haughty and charismatic as the amateur sleuth, while Martin Freeman was moving but usually exasperated with his new companion. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson wrote it, Paul McGuigan directed a couple, and David Arnold and Michael Price provided the superb music. The BBC seemed unsure of its potential and scheduled it in the viewing dead zone of July. Will there more stories this year in a better viewing slot following all the acclaim and awards? Elementary.

3 Zen, BBC
Following the success of the beautifully filmed Kenneth Branagh Wallander series, the BBC turned to the same production team to make this radiant three-part series about Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. The suits, the shades, the cigarettes, the retro music and Alfa Romeos – these three stories certainly had all the gloss. But the mysteries, and Rufus Sewell as Zen, gave the dramas their substance. The intricate plots in which the detective tiptoed through the political and everyday corruption of Italian life were enjoyable and fresh. 

4 Justified, Five USA
For sheer coolness Elmore Leonard’s deputy marshal Raylan Givens was hard to beat. Timothy Olyphant brought something of lawless Deadwood with him as the charming but no-nonsense, shoot-first lawman. Inspired by Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole, the series was a weekly hour of sassy fun – with Givens’ complicated love life featuring sharp performances from Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter – and series two should be with us in the UK in the second quarter of 2011 (why do we always have to wait so long?).

5 Thorne, Sky1
Author Mark Billingham’s popular detective was stylishly adapted for the small screen by actor David Morrissey (as executive producer and star in the title role) and Sky Television. Sleepyhead was the opener and it was a pretty chilling story, about a sadist who induces a state of living paralysis in his victim, but who has killed while perfecting his technique. Aidan Gillen, a terrific Eddie Marsan and a charming Natascha McElhone gave great support. Following its version of The Take the previous year, this suggested that Sky is slowly maturing into a formidable producer of crime dramas.

Law & Order: UK, ITV
The stories are pinched from the US original, but the UK franchise still made their retelling tight and subtle. And the cast have been very good, with Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber as the detectives and Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman as the legal crusaders – all different but blending together to spark some sensitive stories to life. It’s been recommissioned, and rightly so.

7 Garrow’s Law, BBC
Intelligent and compelling glimpse into the dark legal age of the 18th century, when justice was summary, cruel and largely inflicted on those who were poor. It’s all drawn from the real historic Old Bailey proceedings that are available online, with Andrew Buchan starring as the legal pioneer William Garrow, who basically influenced the way courts worked by instigating cross-examinations and other practices. The stories involved the legal murder of slaves, homosexuality and the cruel treatment of sailors at Greenwich Hospital.

8 Spooks, BBC
A series that still delivers the thrills after eight years. The latest series divided fans owing the contorted character somersault of main heartthrob Lucas North, played by Richard Armitage. It was like discovering that James Bond was actually working for SMERSH. This was hard to swallow, and how the series replaces Armitage will be interesting to see. But as an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension, Spooks still had everyone on the edge of their armchairs.

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