Monday, July 22, 2013

Must-see bleak yet brilliant TV crime dramas

Must-see bleak yet brilliant TV crime dramas (listed in order of 'bleak'-ness)
Many of these brilliantly executed crime/mystery dramas are deliberately set in dreary locales, yet make for compelling entertainment:

Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel)
The missing, mysteriously pregnant 13-year-old girl
Pros: The mystery element--who can resist a whodunnit?
GJ (Holly Hunter, at right) at her women's shelter

Cons: Fugly naked bodies keep appearing. 
Investigator Robin (Elizabeth Moss) and her boyfriend

Annoying element: The nasty drug-lord father. 
Abusive drug-lord dad with his sons (Beauty and the Beast's Jay Ryan at right)
Bleakometer: 10. Set in a super remote part of New Zealand that's suffocating and eerie.

The Fall (BBC Two)
Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (The X-Files' Gillian Anderson) with bereavement counsellor Paul Spector (Henry Cavill lookalike Jamie Dornan)
Pros: We know who the serial killer is right from the beginning. 
Cons: By the last episode of season 1, the serial killer still hasn't been caught.   
Annoying element: The killer's wife acts like a clingy loser.
Bleakometer: 9. Set in Belfast, made all the grayer in contrast with Stella's golden hair and silky shirts.

The Killing (Seasons 1, 2 & 3: AMC) 
Investigations are always dark and creepy for homicide detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman)
Pros: Catchy narrative based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen and accompanied by an equally catchy musical score.
Cons: The who-killed-Rosie-Larsen storyline took 2 seasons to complete.
Annoying element: Just when Sarah Linden starts smiling and wearing makeup (in the current season), you know things are about to screw up.
Bleakometer: 8. Set in rainy Seattle, Washington, which is somehow dingier than Forks (Twilight movies) and darker than Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks series).

Ripper Street (Season 1. Season 2 airs later this year: BBC One)
Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfayden) with his team of investigators and East End prostitutes
Pros: Matthew Macfayden's terrific take as Inspector Reid (more at ease than Johnny Depp's Inspector Abberline in From Hell).
Cons: Limited to the squalor of the East End.
Annoying element: Amanda Hale as Mrs. Reid. Seriously.
Bleakometer: 7. Seemingly unlimited grime and poverty in Victorian-era East End.

Copper (Seasons 1 & 2; BBC America)
Kevin Corcone (Tom Weston-Jones at centre) and his fellas.
Pros: As fast paced as a period drama can be.
Cons: Too many parallels with Ripper Street.
Annoying element: Historical sterotypes, as in  virgin/whore female characterisations.
Bleakometer: 6. Grisly Five Points region circa 1860s NYC.

The Following (Fox)
The FBI's Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and serial killer/college professor Joe Carroll (James Purefoy)
Pros: Dishy James Purefoy as serial killer Joe Carroll.
Cons: The words of Edgar Allen Poe can be repetitive if you've already watched Jon Cusack in The Raven.
Annoying element: Carroll's freaky/geeky followers. 
Bleakometer: 4. Various East Coast locations including small towns and cookie-cutter suburbs.

Vexed (Seasons 1 & 2: BBC Two)
Detective Inspectors Jack Armstrong (the incomparable Toby Stephens) and Georgina Dixon (Miranda Raison) in Season 2

Kate Bishop (Lucy Punch) with Jack Armstrong (Toby Stephens) in Season 1
Pros: Brilliant comedy/drama cop show centering on the chemistry between Jack Armstrong (Toby Stephens) and his female cop partners: Kate Bishop (Lucy Punch) in Season 1 and the fantastic Georgina Dixon (Miranda Raison) in Season 2.
Cons: Hasn't been renewed.
Annoying element: Should've been renewed!
Bleakometer: 1. Looks like a low-budget, less electric version of London. Otherwise quite cheery.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Must also watch these sumptuous, recently aired Agatha Christie adaptations (warning: they aren't bleak at all!)

Poirot (Season 13; ITV): Elephants Can Remember
The superb David Suchet as Hercule Poirot with his novelist BFF Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wanamaker, left) and the tedious Mrs. Burton-Fox (Greta Scacchi, right)
To be followed in 2013/2014 by The Big Four, The Labours of Hercules, Dead Man's Folly and Curtain (finale episode).

Marple (ITV): A Caribbean Mystery and Greenshaw's Folly
 Julia McKenzie as the current Jane Marple with the cast of A Caribbean Mystery

Miss Marple with the cast of Greenshaw's Folly
To be followed in 2013/2014 by Endless Night and others.

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