Get Your True Detective Murdery/Mystery Fix With Ten Dark, British Alternatives

TV Features True Detective
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Every Sunday night, like clockwork, I turn on HBO at 9 p.m. and sit there on my couch waiting for it all to be a hoax. There’s no way True Detective was only eight episodes, I think to myself. Sure, I’ve heard the second season talk, but True Detective without Matthew McConaughey is like…TRICK QUESTION THERE’S NO COMPARISON BECAUSE RUST COHLE IS THE GREATEST CHARACTER EVER.

No, you calm down.

Anyway, in all my Sundays, True Detective never comes back on. Last week was the ultimate insult, because I found myself sitting down smack in the middle of The Hangover III. I watched until the end, thinking it was a test to weed out bandwagon fans, but it segued right into Girls and I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up, I accepted that season one was over, and that I needed to find another fix. But where to find the same kind of brooding, ominous murder mystery? The answer, it turns out, is Great Britain, and the shows below, while not quite True Detective, are great alternatives to help you get your murder/mystery fix.

1. The Fall

Some day I’ll investigate the reason behind why great American police shows (The Wire, The Shield, Homicide) tend to be more of the procedural/culture varieties, and why British ones tend to go for atmosphere and horror. Anyway, this show was suggested to me last night, and I’m already through two episodes of the five-episode first season. Gillian Anderson stars as a police officer investigating some seriously creepy murders in Belfast, and while the philosophical angle is more implied than explicit, this is, so far, excellent television. As the Twitter user who suggested it noted, you will go to great lengths to check and double check your door and window locks when you finish watching.

Netflix Instant: Yes

2. Broadchurch

David Tennant is the world-weary DI Hardy, transferred to a coastal English town to solve the murder of an 11-year-old boy. Just like True Detective, this one is eight episodes, and the entire structure of the town is viewed through a microscope

Netflix Instant: No

3. Luther

Idris Elba as a sad, violent, and genius detective, tracking down the weird serial killers of London? It’s a formula that should work, and does. It was recently announced that the show is done after three series of three episodes each (though apparently there will be a feature film), and that length seems perfect. Also, Alice Morgan is one of the coolest criminals in any detective show.

Netflix Instant: Yes

4. Wallander

One of my two favorites on this list. Kenneth Brannagh stars as the older, wounded, but still deeply insightful detective, and the show was adapted from the Swedish program (and novels) of the same name. What sets this series apart is Brannagh’s performance and the excellent cinematography making terrific use of the Swedish seaside.

Netflix Instant: Yes

5. Line of Duty

After accidentally killing an unarmed man in a counter-terrorist operation, Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) is transferred to an anti-corruption unit, where he investigates a DCI with excellent stats who many suspect of “laddering,” or heaping charges on a single criminal to juke the stats. The five-episode miniseries quickly digs deeper, though, and before long Arnott and his colleagues find themselves in the middle of a murder conspiracy.

Netflix Instant: No

6. The Shadow Line

I have to admit that The Shadow Line is a guilty pleasure. The plot becomes more and more absurd as the seven-episode series moves on, and whatever anchor it had in reality to start slowly begins to disappear. But the style of the show, and the set pieces, are so well wrought that it kept me interested throughout. Again, fans of realism need not apply, but if you’re looking for some dark, sinister drama, this works.

Netflix Instant: No

7. Whitechapel

Jack the Ripper is back! At least in copycat form, anyway, as a series of murders rips through London and serves as DI Joseph Chandler’s first case in his new position. This is more Shadow Line than Wallander, with style and darkness trying to make up for a so-so plot, but again, if you’re in the mood to brood, it’ll do the job. The first series, which is also the best, consists of three episodes.

Netflix Instant: No

8. Five Days

Five Days is unique in the sense that it breaks down a murder investigation into the five most compelling days of the process. These are the only parts we see, and the five episodes of each season (the series ran for two seasons, one in 2007 and one in 2010) follow those days with an obsessive focus. Time passes between each episode, but the focus remains on one investigation. In the first season, a young mother and her two children disappear, spawning the first case. It was aired on five straight days on BBC (you see a running theme), and is probably as close as you’ll come to a procedural in the U.K. Like the others on this list, though, the mood is low-lit and ominous.

Netflix Instant: No

9. Top of the Lake

Jane Campion’s series, starring Elisabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men) as a New Zealand detective returning home to solve the disappearance of a young girl. To me, this show was all about atmosphere, because I wasn’t as gung-ho on the plot as some others. The mystery itself takes some very predictable, cliched turns, especially in the final episode, but the depiction of the small town and the performances (by Moss and Peter Mullan especially) are enough to make the show exceptional. (PS, I know it takes place in New Zealand, but the BBC co-produced, so I’m counting it.)

Netflix Instant: Yes

10. The Red Riding Trilogy

This 2009 “series” was actually three separate movies made for Channel 4 in the U.K., and all three are crime drama masterpieces. I remember reading David Denby’s ecstatic review in The New Yorker back when these originally aired in U.S. movie theaters in 2010, but it was three years later before I’d finally see them myself. Conclusion: The hype was deserved. It’s a trilogy focusing on serial murders in Yorkshire county (which is broken up into districts called “The Ridings”) in around the moorlands. On this list, only Wallander comes close to comparing for me, and along with standing head and shoulders above most others in the crime genre, the first installment lets you see Sean Bean (Ned Stark from Game of Thrones) in an entirely different, and entirely sinister, light.

Netflix Instant: No.

Bonus: The State of Play

I have not yet seen this show, but when I told people on Twitter about this list, this was the suggestion that came up. It’s another six-episode mini series, starring David Morrissey (the Governor from The Walking Dead) (!), and though I hadn’t heard of it, since I’m not British, reading the reviews and hearing the word on the (Twitter) street makes it apparent that this is the gold standard of British murder/mystery dramas, and the one by which all others are measured. It’s new to me, but I’m going to remedy that situation FORTHWITH.

Netflix Instant: No

(P.S.—Thanks to Twitter for the reminder on Top of the Lake, and to ICMeltdown for the recs on The Fall and The State of Play.)