Fun fact: for the third year running our TV Murder Mysteries to Binge Watch NOW was the #1 clicked story on BYT. And no wonder. Some of the best shows on TV (Sherlock, Broadchurch, Hannibal etc) were mysteries and your Netflix/Amazon Prime /Hulu/ Acorn / HBO GO recommendations/queues are BRIMMING with murder, mayhem, AND amazing accents solving those murders and mayhem. SO, HERE IS THE 2017 EDITION FOR YOUR PERUSAL, with all sorts of additions and addendums added.
What is ahead of you is a very extensive, deeply researched (trust me, I HAVE seen every single one of these), immersive guide to the rabbit hole that is the TV thriller universe. Besides, it is FREEZING outside so you have some television marathon time to fill.
Lets dig in. We separated them into the following categories, for ease of your perusal:
- NEW TO STREAMING
- STRONG, INDEPENDENT FEMALE LEADS
- DARK, MOODY MALE LEADS
- PERIOD MURDER
- BRITISH CLASSICS
- AMERICAN CLASSICS
- IN ENGLISH BUT NEEDS SUBTITLES!
- LESS-THAN-A-8-HOUR COMMITMENT (AKA A MINI-SERIES)
- TRUE CRIME
NEW (& NOTEWORTHY) TO STREAMING
- Department Q Adaptations: Feel like you’ve seen it all? Feel like no crime could surprise you these days? Well, in terms of pure murder mystery nerding out, Department Q adaptations are this year’s must-see. Adapted from the best-selling Danish novels by Jussi Adler-Olsen, the full length films follow the twisty, turny, decidedly Scandinavian in their darkness, crimes from the first three of his cold case Department Q files: The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One and A Conspiracy of Faith. The novels are still probably a slightly better bet, but the three cases are so different from both each other, and anything else you’ll see streaming these days, that they’ll satisfy even the most jaded murder consumer. The dynamic between the two seemingly mismatched leads is amazing too. Fingers crossed there’s more to come. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
- Case: You show me a murder mystery which begins with a teen ballet dancer’s supposed suicide in an empty theatre and I’m IN. Add to that some signature Icelandic chill, a tough-as-nails female detective and a down-and-out Private Eye seeking some sort of redemption and I am REALLY IN. The twists and turns don’t disappoint either. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
- Disappearance: France’s answer to Broadchurch (their words, not mine) is a urban, messy, slow burn centered around a disappearance (murder?) of a 17 year old and the effects it has on her family. While the first few episodes do require some patience, it does come with a solid pay-off. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
- And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie’s classic locked-room-mystery (only add to it that the locked room is on a deserted island) adapted into a mini series with a cast right out of a murder mystery masterclass. Savor it, even if you know the outcome. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
- Witness For The Prosecution: Agatha’s Christie’s classic courtroom mystery with a twist, adapted into a TV movie. It is hard to outdo the Billy Wilder classic with Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich but a worth recent addition to the cannon. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
- Goliath: Billy Bob Thornton just won a Globe for his role in this and it is well deserved. A classic little guy vs. big guy story is elevated by great performances, a very natural feeling script and, yes, a pretty solid case just waiting to be ripped wide open. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
- Lanester: Imagine a French Wallander. Imagine him being blind on-and-off. Imagine a spunky taxi cab driving side-kick. The final product is Lanester, a show you’ve been waiting for if you like your crime fighters middle aged and slightly bitter. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
- Deep Water: A dark, vicious multi-decade spanning Australian mystery. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
- Kettering Incident: Not a classic murder mystery per se, but the Elizabeth Debicki vehicle is still a gripping journey into memory, loss and identity. Think of it as this year’s Top of the lake, but, you know, a little supernatural. Maybe. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
- The Night Of: John Turturro should win one of those Academy Awards for people who did something good enough to win an Oscar but not in a category that qualifies them for one. And yes, we know those don’t exist. Yet. But Turturro’s performance in this (in the end, lets face it, slightly disappointing mystery) makes a strong case for the need for one. AVAILABLE ON: HBO GO
- Fortitude: Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston et al, in Alaska, with a side of murder. You can’t really argue with that set-up. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
- Break: Break is the latest in the series of Netflix “originals”, all crime dramas from around the world (see also: Lava Field, Death in Havana, Estocolmo etc) that they are feeding the mystery starved masses. While I will admit to not having consumed the whole thing, this one, in particular, looks promising. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
STRONG, INDEPENDENT FEMALE LEADS
PRIME SUSPECT– BEFORE any of this became something resembling a pop-culture phenomenon, there was Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennyson taking on the worst crimes the Greater London area had to tackle. She was smart, she was tough, she looked great in her blouses, she got into a lot of mental face-offs with both criminals and (male) co-workers and without her we’d probably still be stuck in a world where female detectives were just mere sidekicks. Watch the original, and skip the Maria Bello hat fiasco American network TV tried to shove down our throats a few seasons back. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Amazon, and AcornTV
VERA – Brenda Blethyn stars as Vera Stanhope, a hard-as-nails detective with more emotional issues than one could humanly handle. Most of the cases are well plotted traditional whoddunnits set against the moody moors and bleak cityscapes of Northern England but Blethyn’s acting caliber, Stanhope’s troubled past and thorny-but-caring relationship with her DS Joe Asworth keep the viewer coming back. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, AcornTV
MARCELLA – We’d watch Anna Friel in just about anything and while he 8 hours of Marcella leave all sorts of plot holes to be covered (and no, your lead suffering from sporadic black-outs should not be an excuse) it still is a satisfying enough case of women-vs-psychopath. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
THOSE WHO KILL – Somewhere in between us (futilely) rooting for Hannibal and (finally) getting over True Detective, Chloe Sevigny went and made a truly dark, truly cerebral, truly gut-wrenching show for A&E which, naturally was based on a Scandinavian hit of the same name, and naturally got cancelled after first season. Which is a shame because the 10 episodes available do it all: offer some truly chilling crimes for our heroine to solve, have a great underlying personal mystery that keeps her going, and villains both far and near to her that are worth the slowburn. James D’Arcy (who you may remember as the prime suspect from season 2 of Broadchurch) is equally great as her psychiatrist partner. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon
THE FALL – I wish I was just starting to watch The Fall. While the third season feels a little stale, the first two were amazing. Gillian Anderson does a great job of creating yet another iconic detective that, if this show takes off after first season (and it should), will maybe help us all not think of her as Agent Dana Scully 4ever. Set in Northern Ireland, it follows her Stella Gibson, who tries to track down a murderer and stalker of women before time runs out. The interesting turn here is that we meet the killer as fast as we meet Stella, and while his identity never being in question (at least to the viewer) could have been a downfall of the show, the cat-and-mouse dynamic that emerges from it is palpably nail-biting. Casting bonus: the killer is played by the very handsome Jamie Dornan, the star of “50 Shades of Gray” (he made this WAY before) making female viewers uncomfortable on several levels: dread, yes, but also feeling unavoidably attracted to someone who is not just bad for you, but legitimately dangerous. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix.
SCOTT & BAILEY – While women police officers are not that rare on TV these days, it is nice to see a police office where the senior officers are majority female. Scott & Bailey are partners, solving some pretty messed up murders and dealing with their equally messy private lives (the messiness of which ranges from adultery to YES, MURDER EVEN IN THAT ASPECT OF THEIR EXISTENCE) but the true show stealer here is Amelia Bullmore as their DCI Gill Murray. Fast talking, hilarious and very non-nonsense, she is one of those characters you wish existed on every show. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
THE KILLING – The Killing took a little bit of a beating in Season 2 what with that unfortunate decision to stretch out the first “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” mystery into overtime, but it is worth a revisit because Season 3 is as creepy as they come. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman star as the mismatched detectives Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder and in the final AMC season they face teenage runaways, prostitution, some of the most horrifying mass graves I’ve seen and a killer, played by the flawless Peter Sarsgaard, who may not be all that he seems. The six episode arc of Final Season 4 was produced exclusively for Netflix. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix.
NEW TRICKS – A group of old school detectives (the OLD DOGS) is brought back to a special force to investigate cold cases. They are a bunch of mysoginistic, set-in-their-ways assholes and now have to contend with a woman being their boss, which 11 seasons in has somehow still not been something they fully adjusted to. Amanda Redman started heading up the cast, but has been replaced by Tamzin Outhwaite as the younger, blonder, more progressive DCI Sasha Miller. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
BODY FARM – An offshot of the wildly popular Waking the Dead show (see below in “Dark, Moody Male Leads”) the show stars forensic scientist Eve Lockhart (played by Tara Fitzgerald who you may remember from 90s movies like Sirens and Brassed Off, looking now better than ever) and her team who use science and whatever they can find on rapidly decomposing bodies to solve crimes for Keith Allen’s DI Hale. Fair Warning: NOT for the squeemish. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
DARK, MOODY MALE LEADS
BOSCH – A very solid, allowed-to-breathe adaptation of Michael Connelly LA classics. If you’ve been ignoring it for crime solving with a non-American accent, check it out. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
SHERLOCK – Cumberbatch and Freeman are back for 4.5th round of crime solving and we could not have been more excited, and the first episode had so many red herrings we almost felt dizzy. Having said that, all previous seasons are WELL worth revisiting ongoingly (The Scandal in Belgravia is probably one of the best things to air on TV in the last half decade). AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, Instant Netflix, Amazon Prime. Current season now on PBS.
LUTHER – Idris Elba owns the screen as Detective John Luther, an intensely smart, tortured, beyond handsome and intimidating presence in the Serious Crimes Unit. All three seasons are fantastic, but my personal favorite is Season 1, mainly because of Ruth Wilson (who JUST won a Golden Globe for The Affair), whose Alice Morgan is, aside from Hannibal Lecter, one of the most captivating villains TV or movies have ever seen. Brilliant, beautiful, and with a genuinely evil glint in her eye, her sparring with Luther walks the thin line between danger and flirtation, as something reminiscent of a friendship emerges. You have to see it to believe it. And then probably re-see it. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime
RIVER – Stellan Skarsgard may seem like the obvious pull for this cerebral, slightly paranormal (but not in a way you’d think) mystery and he IS wonderful as Detective John River (as is Nicola Walker as his partner Stevie) but the real draw here turns out to be the writer Abi Morgan. The woman who penned Michael Fassbender’s downward spiral in “Shame” and Meryl Streep’s ascent in “The Iron Lady” is maybe not the obvious choice for a murder mystery series, but boy does she have fun with it. River is about interpersonal relations and declining mental health as much as it is about the cases at hand, and Morgan has an ear for dialogue and truly stands by our unreliable narrator in a way that feels very real and therefore more gutwrenching. Of course, Skarsgard and Walker’s easy, natural chemistry helps (the series opening scene is an acting masterclass in how to establish a rapport between the two leads), as do the smart subplots surrounding the central mystery. Only six episodes, so savor it. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
HANNIBAL – The most wonderfully sick, delicious (Jose Andres IS the culinary consultant) TV show American network television has (ever?) produced got canceled but this is not to say it is not worth every second of your time to watch the seasons that somehow (against all odds) still got made. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
DCI BANKS – I will admit to not diving into DCI Banks in the earlier editions of this guide because I felt that it was probably going to be a run-of-the-mill procedural. But the first episode of season 1 takes you by the jugular within the first five minutes and does not let go. In fact, I am still shuddering just thinking about it. The shocks subside as episodes pass, but a very solid offering throughout. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV, Hulu
CHASING SHADOWS – An unlikely pairing is a murder mystery staple and at first the DS Sean Stone and Ruth Hattersley seem to be just that. But as the first season of this gem moves along, Reese Shearsmith and Alex Kingston add a depth to the relationship between a borderline-Aspberger afflicted detective (who still somehow understands the mind of a killer better than anyone) and his psychiatrist aide (who is also a woman, and a mother, making her almost TOO empathetic). It is a classic Sherlock/Watson set-up but the crimes are solidly plotted, the outcomes take no prisoners, and by the time the 4 four episodes available wrap up, you will be searching the internet for more (sadly, there isn’t any, at least not yet). AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
REBUS – Based on Ian Rankin’s bestselling novels, Rebus is a moody, gritty show of Irish murders, men who drink too much, women who don’t quite understand why men drink so much and other human misunderstandings. The show originally kicked off with John Hannah but it is really with Ken Stott’s (and Ken Stott’s nose’s) arrival that the show hit full stride. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, AcornTV
GEORGE GENTLY -In the 1960s, an old-school detective is paired with a potentially shady new partner and has to come to terms with the fact that the lines between the police and the criminals have tentatively been blurred. AVAILABLE ON: piecemeal seasons on Netflix, Hulu, AcornTV
CASE HISTORIES – Somewhere in between writing well regarded literary fiction (Human Croquet, Life After Life etc), Kate Atkinson spend a few years in the 2000s producing a great series of crime thrillers (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News and Started Early, Took My Dog), all featuring a troubled, but very charming PI Jackson Brodie. The novels were terrific and it only seemed natural that a mini-series series was in order. Jason Isaacs is great as Brodie, and while the plotlines never really reach the literary heights Atkinson set us up for, it is still a noble contribution to the genre. Read the books though. They’re terrific (I know we mentioned this already, but it bears repeating) AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
BROADCHURCH: The British phenomenon (it is the most viewed drama in England, aside from Downton Abbey) stars David Tenant as a tortured detective arriving to a sleepy English beachside hamlet to hopefully not be in the middle of mayhem and get a moment’s rest, and naturally, a murder happens on his first day at the job. The town is turned upside down, tensions run sky high, EVERYONE is a suspect, and the amount of secrets that emerge are headspinning enough by themselves, while the final reveal is both heartbreaking and incredibly human. Second season is underrated and brings great performances by Charlotte Rampling and James D’Arcy as new additions to the cast. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix (Both seasons now)
INSPECTOR MORSE (and Inspector Lewis & Endeavour in extension) – John Thaw’s portrayal of the classical music loving, no-first-name-sharing, borderline-alcoholic, sugar addicted Morse is a cornerstone of detective television. Over 33 episodes, he solves some seriously grisly crimes in Oxford, a city he once denounced after university, and for whose academic residents he harbors a healthy mix of complete disdain and occasional reverence. Since Morse is pretty hard to handle by himself, the viewer was handed the smart but affable Inspector Lewis as his sidekick, who later got a show of his own (which I personally prefer to Morse) and a young, intellectual, tortured partner all his own. BONUS: There is a prequel to Morse (ENDEAVOR) available on Instant Netflix now, telling us a little more about his origins story and yes, his first name. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Acorn TV.
JACK IRISH – Guy Pearce stars as the titular ex-criminal lawyer who now spends his time as a part-time private eye, debt collector, cabinet maker who keeps finding himself in more and more and MORE trouble. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, AcornTV
JACK TAYLOR – Iain Glenn stars as a womanizing, alcoholic ex-detective who now spends his time as a private eye who keeps finding himself in more and more trouble. AVAILABLE ON: Netflix, Hulu
WIRE IN THE BLOOD – Robson Greene stars as Dr. Tony Hill a psychologist who finds himself entangled in some seriously gruesome crimes and even more gruesome people behind them. There are six seasons and the first episode of season 1 perfectly sets the tone for just how unsavory these crimes are going to be. The fact that Dr. Hill is somewhere on the autism spectrum adds a new layer of interest to the show, and his fragile relationships with the people around them are often more intriguing than the (very) intriguing cases they’re solving. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, Amazon Prime, AcornTV
TRUE DETECTIVE – HBO’s runaway hit had a rough season 2 but season 1 still stays a wonderful, weird, dark, if ultimately sort of predictable journey into both a crime and the relationship between the two leads. AVAILABLE ON: HBO, HBO GO
WALLANDER – I prefer the Kenneth Branagh version to the original Scandinavian show, but you know, each to their own. Branagh has a certain kind of water colored torture permanently imprinted on his face that makes him perfect for the recently divorced, very sad, yet emotionally disconnected detective he plays. The crimes are typically Scandinavian (meaning decidedly more creepy than your standard American fare) and the villains a little more desperate than usual, but the cinematography is GORGEOUS, Branagh obviously a very intelligent actor and the sum of all parts makes for a good rainy afternoon with a hot toddy viewing. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu.
WHITECHAPEL – Whitechapel is catnip for those into historic crimes. First season finds DI Joseph Chandler (a very handsome, completely emotionally unavailable, definitely OCD Rupert Penry-Jones) on the trail of a series of murders which resemble Jack The Ripper. Season 2 deals with the Brothers Kray, and season 3 is less focused on obvious sensationalist cold cases (and therefore, to me, the most effective). AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
MURDOCH MYSTERIES – This period drama has been a success for eight seasons now and follows investigator William Murdoch as he uses radical forensic techniques for the time, including fingerprinting and trace evidence, to solve some of the city’s most gruesome murders, in the 1890s. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, AcornTV
FOYLE’S WAR – A Masterpiece Mystery classic that deals with the question not many dare tackle: crime doesn’t stop during war. AVAILABLE AT: Hulu, Instant Netflix, PBS and AcornTV
GRANTCHESTER – With Masterpiece Mystery seeing that Sherlock was slipping from their hands (Cumberbatch and Freeman becoming some of the biggest stars in the world and all) they got themselves together an old-fashioned mystery story focusing on two unlikely murder solving companions, and the women who don’t quite understand them. Set in a sleepy hamlet of Grantchester, James Norton’s blonde, dreamy, single vicar Sidney Chambers and Robson Green’s brown haired, grumpy, married police officer Geordie Keating find themselves in Miss Marple style trouble all the time. It is breezy fare, and the mysteries are not anywhere as challenging as those solved by the Sherlocks of the world but it is done well and harkens back to a simpler time where murders were solved in libraries and green fields, instead of torture chambers and such. If you like the two leads and enjoy your mysteries grittier – we recommend checking out Norton in “Happy Valley” and Green in the new classic “Wire in the Blood”. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime, PBS
DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY – PD James’ mystery novel of the same name took on an interesting and seemingly irresistible premise: Six years after Pride & Prejudice took place, Darcy and Elisabeth Bennet, now married and all that, are readying for their annual ball when, well, DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY. Starring people with some SERIOUS thriller chops: Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Anna Maxwell Martin (Bletchley Circle) and Matthew Goode (Stoker and Match Point) plus enough corsets and brooding by the moors to make the Austen original jealous, this one’s winner, no questions asked.- AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES – If you’re in the mood for your murders a little more stylish and jaunty (and, lets face it, sometimes we all are) – Miss Fisher, a very modern, very independent women of the 20s, with a social calendar filled with glamorous parties AND MURDER is your gal. Bonus: Miss Fisher is played by Essie Davis who is uncannily reminiscent of a young Diana Rigg, a fact that should not be lost of at least some of the men reading this (I hope). AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix and Season 2 NOW on AcornTV (who are offering a month’s free trial btw).
THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE: A group of lady code-breakers find themselves at their wit’s end with boredom when the war ends and so they do what had to be done: they pretend to be in a book club while solving a horrible, dastardly murder. It sounds hokey, but it is truly dark, wonderfully acted, and heartbreaking from a certain feminist standpoint too. Season 2 is not quite as good as season 1 but… AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix.
Now, it should be noted that I understand that the definition of a classic is sort of loose in this day and age but below I will tackle what I consider, well, essentials.
THE AGATHA CHRISTIE OUVRE – Obviously, first and foremost-we are talking about David Suchet’s POIROT here. For numerous seasons, Poirot, Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon have had their little grey cells working in overdrive, solving one elegant murder after another. Final season is now finally available. For Poirot completists though, please check out the Peter Ustinov movies too: Evil Under the Sun, Murder on the Orient Express (which features one of the most impressive all star casts ever, with Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and more), and Murder on the Nile. Then, of course, there is Miss Marple. The TV show is fun, but I was always a fan of the Angela Lansbury movies myself (especially The Mirror Crack’d, which stars Kim Novak and Liz Taylor as the competing aging movie stars who will stop at nothing to emerge on top, plus Tony Curtis, Geraldine Chaplin AND Rock Hudson to boot). ON TOP OF THAT- Acorn has a a very complete series of lesser known mysteries like The Seven Dials Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide, starring such English heavyweights as Pauline Collins, John Gielgud and Francesca Annis.
RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES – Ruth Rendell wrote some of the most well regarded crime novels of all time (Judgement in Stone, Babes in The Woods…) and this series of stand alone crimes across England’s many landscapes, from rock-strewn moors to suburban estates. The likes of Colin Firth, and other British stage and screen mainstays pop-up, sealing in the prestige of the production. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
MIDSOMER MURDERS – Over 81 episodes, this Caroline Graham novel inspired series finds cousin detectives John and Tom Barnaby solve crimes across Midsomer. The show equivalent of your favorite low fuss dinner-always satisfying, never too demanding. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix and AcornTV.
TAGGART – Britain’s longest running TV mystery is 27 seasons deep at this point (with 15 and up available for streaming). AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
A TOUCH OF FROST – Starring the great David Jason (Only Fools and Horses!), the casebook of the disgruntled, gruff, yet oddly lovable Inspector Frost (and his rotating cast of short-suffering partners) covers everything from kidnappings to murders truly most foul. 40+ episodes of British small-town puzzle solving.
ROSEMARY & THYME – Two ladies with green thumbs Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme join their knowledge of botany and gardening to solve some classy murders set amongst England’s stunning greenery. There are only three seasons of this show, but it is just SO quintessentially British, funny and sly and stiff upper lipped, we can’t help but list it under classics. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, AcornTV
X FILES – Mulder and Scully’s whole story arc may be too much to revisit in one sitting, but it is a GREAT pick-and-choose procedural too. Everyone has their favorite episode, and mine will forever be the FAMILY one. Nothing supernatural happening here necessarily, but it is all the more deeply, profoundly disturbing for it. Also, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson look SO YOUNG. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime.
TWIN PEAKS – David Lynch’s network masterpiece turns (sort of) 25 this year and while some may argue it doesn’t hold up, it is still a deliciously weird box of chocolates to dive into, especially season two, where the One Eyed Jack mystery takes over for Laura Palmer’s mystery. Bonus: Agent Cooper is truly the only purely good leading man that is also not boring at all. Until he isn’t (good that is). Just think about it. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime.
HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS – Barry Levinson’s Baltimore crime drama starring Andre Braugher is the only show on this list you can’t readily stream on something. BUT IT IS WORTH ordering those DVDs from Netflix from, I promise. Still SO GOOD.
COLUMBO – Peter Falk played Lieutenant Columbo as a man that was very easy to underestimate: always polite, always a little rumpled, always unassuming. But under all that disarming exterior was a sharp-as-a-tack deduction brain and no one should ever have been happy to hear his famous “Oh, and just one more thing…” line. We, as the viewer, always knew who the killer was from the very beginning (because they WOULD show it to us), but watching Columbo get his man (or woman, or both) was never any less fun because of it. Also: some of the most amazing guest appearances this side of “Murder she Wrote”. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
LAW & ORDER: SVU & CRIMINAL INTENT– All of it is streaming on Instant Netflix and HULU, so you can relive those classic college days of being hungover on a Sunday and doing nothing but watching reruns of it ad nauseum. With the important difference than now it DOESN’T have to be Sunday for you to do that.
REMINGTON STEELE– Can you believe it has been 33 years since Remington Steele premiered? The show that first put Pierce Brosnan (and his baby blues) into the spotlight is a his’n’hers classic in which Brosnan plays a former thief who joins forces with a crime-solving female private eye (the equally lovely Stephanie Zimbalist) and adds credibility to her operations. Bonus: Doris Roberts. It doesn’t get much more 80s than this. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
MURDER SHE WROTE – For TWELVE seasons Angela Lansbury solved civilized crimes on this CBS drama. People enjoy making fun of it (in a sort of a well meaning, loving way, naturally) but think about it-this is a smart, funny, wink-worthy, wildly popular TV carried on the shoulders of not a young actress or some hunk-o-the-month, but a charming, life-loving, cocktail drinking, slightly saucy middle-aged widow, something that yes, has been a staple of British TV for a while (and Lansbury herself played Miss Marple on occasion) but almost unheard of on American TV. Plus, the cases are almost gleefully delicious. A perfect murder mystery to relax to before going to sweet, sweet slumber. For extra nostalgia points, revisit the Magnum PI crossover episode too, for sure:
WITNESSES – French know their way around an elegant mystery and Witnesses, set in a small, quiet town in coastal France is no exception. Someone has been killing groups of people, and staging them as families in model homes. Each crime scene also involves a clue pointing to a now-retired, haunted Paul Maisneuvve, who joins his old trainee Sandra Winckler to help track the killer. The series moves in two directions: the crime solution, and, of course, the discovery of the Maisneuvve’s past, which he is so desperate to escape. A moody, gripping, six episode arc. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
EPISTAFIOS: HBO Latino’s first original crime series is a dark, gothic puzzle in which everything BUT the murderer’s identity is a mystery. Almodovar favorite Cecilia Roth leads the all star Argentine cast in a brutal cat-and-mouse game. Not for the squeemish. AVAILABLE ON: HBO NOW
DICTE – Iben Hjejle (remember her from “High Fidelity?) stars as a newly divorced investigative journalist who moves from Copenhagen to a smaller town she grew up in (and has MANY A PAINFUL memory from) only to find herself ongoingly embroiled in murders (often involving children, which is a theme that ties to those painful memories of her past) and other crimes, and constantly both helping AND being in the way of Inspector Wagner whom she’s forced to liaise with. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix (NOW SEASON 2 AS WELL)
THE SANDHAMN MURDERS – In a tiny (and pretty fancy) Swedish summer town of Sandhamn, the body count seems to be rising. Constantly. And it is up to summer resident Nore Linde and Detective Thomas Andreasson (Jakob Cedergren, from the original version of Those Who Kill) to solve them. Based on the (not available in English) novels by Viveca Stens, this is more Scandinavian sunny than Scandinavian noir but still a good time. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
SPIRAL – The French have a great tradition in the compelling thriller department and this series is a great example of that. At the center is Detective Laure Berthaud, who knows her way around both a grisly murder case and a perfectly layered t-shirt situation and the prosecutor Pierre Clement as they deal with assorted (and often, well, messily kinky) crimes, corruption and their increasingly sticky personal lives. I understand that to a lot of people watching crime drama with subtitles is a chore (you can’t be emailing during it! you can’t be playing on your phone during it! you have to pay attention! WHAT?) but this one is definitely worth the time. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
THE BRIDGE: FX pretty famously pulled their content from Hulu a little while a go and Hulu now went and stuck a middle finger up FX’s face by releasing the original The Bridge in all moody Swedish/Danish glory. FX is back now but the show is still great. The premise is still the same: a body is found on a bridge connecting the two countries, but the mood is well, more Scandinavian. AVAILABLE ON: HULU
WALLANDER – The Original Swedish superdetective solves crimes in his tiny town on the Baltic Coast. Pair it with the Kenneth Branagh British special and you’re set for days. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu
IN ENGLISH BUT YOU COULD PROBABLY USE SUBTITLES!
HINTERLAND – Set in the depths of Wales (with thick accents to match, and some straight-up Welsh on top) Hinterland is a great, if almost too bone chilling drama centering on Detective Tom Mathias solving some truly bleak (often hate related) crimes while looking for redemption of his own. AVAILABALE ON: Instant Netflix, AcornTV
HAPPY VALLEY– Sarah Lancashire stars as sergent Catherine Cawood, overseeing a sleepy, rural, drug addled valley in Yorkshire. Haunted by an irreversible family tragedy and dealing simultaneously with a gruesome kidnapping AND her own revenge issues, she faces all her demons and then some. The acting is all around amazing, and hints of Fargo (only with really thick, working class British accents) are more than lightly noticable (and that is a good thing) AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
BLUE MURDER– Caroline Quentin stars as single mom and DCI Janine Lewis, balancing her newly divorced status, four children, and some pretty gruesome murders in the (thickly accented) North of England. Stories involving youth or children are by far the most resonant ones. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, AcornTV
THE FIELD OF BLOOD -A superb ensemble cast anchors this new BBC drama set in Glasgow in the 1980s. Based on the hit book by Denise Mina, The FIeld of Blood follows a low-level newspaper employee (a girl in a man’s world, of course) whose world is turned upside down when a murder story involves her family. The outstanding ensemble cast includes BAFTA winner Jayd Johnson, David Morrissey (The Walking Dead’s Governor) and Peter Capaldi ( aka “Doctor Who’s current incarnation”). AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
ZEN – Masterpiece Mysteries can be also set in Rome. Who knew? Bonus: Rufus Sewell as the eponymous detective makes everything better, even if the show is already near perfect itself. Get ready for: British Accents, Italian Accents, a healthy dose of Catholic guilt and male chauvinism, and everything in between though. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
THE BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES – Now that you’ve seen ALL of British, French, and Scandinavian thrillers, it is time to dive into… New Zealand? Brokenwood Mysteries takes on the classic Midsomer Murders format and sets each 2 hour stand-alone crime in a single, seemingly sleepy hamlet (which, somehow, seems to be teeming with secrets and animosities). AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
LESS-THAN-A-6-HOUR COMMITMENT (aka MINI-SERIES)
MAYDAY – A young girl goes missing during a May Day parade and before you know it the whole town is suspect and nothing is what it seems. A solid cast elevates what could have been a relatively simple reboot of the Laura Palmer trope. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
MIDWINTER OF THE SPIRIT – Anna Maxwell Martin is like the patron saint of murder mystery TV at this point (just on this list catch her in: Bletchley Circle, And Then There Were None and Death Comes to Pemberley) and this is a pretty well done Exorcist tinged paranormal crime in which the newly ordained Rev Merrily Watkins faces off with forces both hyperlocal and completely out of this world. Perfect for cold winter viewings. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
THORNE – David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) plays a tortured (is there any other kind?), police officer with a secret (of course) who goes and solves some pretty killer killings while helping Sandra Oh get off cocaine, dealing with some serious Father issues and looking like a less beat up version of Liam Neeson. Highly recommended all around. 2 reiterations are available: Sleepyhead and ScaredyCat. Watch them both. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, AcornTV
MASTERPIECE: Place of Execution – There is obviously an insane amount of Masterpiece Mystery productions out there and most of these are covered in this story but PLACE OF EXECUTION, a 2 hour Masterpiece Contemporary made-for-TV movie is a hidden, chilling gem. Based on a Val McDermid novel, the story starts on a freezing December night in 1963, 13-year-old Alison Carter took her dog for a walk on the moors in Scardale, a secluded Derbyshire hamlet, and was never seen again. 45 years later a new detective and a filmmaker (the always wonderful Juliet Stevenson) both revisit the case and the results are well… almost unfathomable. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, Amazon Prime
AMNESIA – A 2004 two-parter starting John Hannah as DS Mackenzie Stone and Brandon Coyle (aka Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates) as his partner Ian Reid who have spent the last five years searching for Stone’s wife who went missing on their wedding anniversary. All the roads seem to be leading to a man suffering from severe amnesia, who is now leaving a brand new life in a quiet coastal town where they all live. Solid pacing, strong performances and Hannah’s forever likable everyman face make this underseen show worth catching. Pretty thick accents and no closed captioning available though, so bear that in mind. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu, AcornTV
VEXED – If all these sex crimes and insanity have left you wanting some light relief, may we point you to this British comedy-murder-drama mini-series which has aired 2 seasons with hopefully more to come. The show stars Toby Stephens (aka son of Maggie Smith!) as a lazy but very charming DI Jack Armstrong and his rotating cast of increasingly stressed out female partners (Season one had the always amazing Lucy Punch, while season two brough along the regal Miranda Raison) while they solve crimes, drink cappuccinos and fight over who gets to drive the car. Fluffy yes, but delicious and still very smart. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu and AcornTV.
BLACK WORK – British TV mainstay Sheridan Smith stars in this family centric story of murder and intrigue as Jo Gillespie, a constable dragged into the investigation of her (soon not to be) husband’s death. The plot requires some light suspensions of beliefe but Smith is great as ever. AVAILABLE ON: AcornTV
MASTERPIECE: THE ESCAPE ARTIST – We’d watch pretty much anything with David Tennant in it and this Masterpiece Mystery about a lawyer who manages to get a psychopath off only to regret it almost instantly is fantastic. Toby Kebbel who plays his adversary is a revelation (catch him in Black Mirror too, streaming on Instant Netflix). AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
TOP OF THE LAKE– Jane Campion directed this Sundance mini-series (her first TV endeavor since 1990) starring Elizabeth Moss and things in it ARE WEIRD. Moss’s Robin Griffin arrives back to her hometown to investigate the case surrounding the disappearance of Tui Mitchum, who happens to be 12 AND pregnant. Griffin herself is dealing with a lot of residual issues connected to this place and the dynamics between everyone involved seem so deeply fucked up that the viewer can’t help but hope at least ONE PERSON makes it out of this whole thing unscathed. Holly Hunter pops up as well. Moss won a Golden Globe for this last year, so if you’re looking for a good excuse to see this, consider that an extra incentive. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix.
OJ: Made In America – Now, the ESPN critical darling is not a murder mystery per se (we all know who did what to whom here, right?) but it does offer unique, both emotional and sociological insight into the making of the most famous murderer in America. AVAILABLE ON: Hulu
AMANDA KNOX – A surprisingly thoughtful, incisive profile of America’s second most famous (maybe) murdered. AVAILABLE ON: Netflix
JINX – The six part show by Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling (the team behind Oscar nominated “Capturing The Friedmans”) follows the story of Robert Durst (with Durst willingly participating) an heir around whom most humans seem to be dying whenever it is convenient for him. The series is tightly plotted, endlessly frustrating, and the finale is one of those great “HOLY SHIT!” moments that qualify as “stranger than fiction”. AVAILABLE ON: HBO GO, Amazon Prime
MAKING A MURDERER – Last year, If you were not watching Netflix’s answer to nation’s Serial podcast obsession you are clearly not interested in having anything to talk about with your coworkers. A story of a man acquitted of a crime he didn’t commit (after serving 18 years in jail based purely on circumstantial evidence mind you) only to be saddled with another one promptly upon leaving, is frustrating, fascinating, and everything in between. AVAILABLE ON: Instant Netflix
PARADISE LOST TRILOGY: A classic in the “movie as an agent of change” genre of crime documentary filmmaking, Paradise Lost tells (and further) uncovers the story of the “West Memphis Three,” a trio of Arkansas teens dubiously convicted, and later exonerated, of the murder and mutilation of three younger boys. AVAILABLE ON: Amazon Prime
So, there’s that. Feel free to discuss YOUR favorites in the comments and happy watching and puzzle solving everyone!
In the meantime, we leave you with this MURDER, SHE WROTE supercut. You’re welcome: