1. THE WIRE (2002–2008).
The world of narcotics and urban life is examined through the eyes of drug dealers and users and the law enforcement officers tasked with cleaning up the city of Baltimore, Maryland. A predominant theme throughout the show is that of the use of wiretap technology and electronic surveillance to track down the culprits of what is considered a drug epidemic.
For the uninitiated, HBO’s The Wire is nothing short of gripping, eye-opening television. Touching upon multiple themes, including education, media, politics and law enforcement, and with a cast which comprises mainly relatively unknown actors (as well as real-life criminals to add an air of authenticity to the narrative), David Simon’s brainchild is now considered by many to be one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and rightly so.
2. ENGRENAGES (SPIRAL; 2005–).
Engrenages (or Spiral) is a French crime and legal drama which follows criminal investigations in Paris from multiple perspectives, from the “rough around the edges” police detectives in charge of kicking down doors and pursuing criminals to the legal professionals, albeit with questionable moral compasses, tasked with delivering justice.
Along with the likes of Les Revenants (The Returned), Engrenages is proof that the French have ratcheted up their mainstream television in recent years, providing gritty, no-holds-barred viewing with intricate, interwoven narratives and well-defined characters.
3. LUTHER (2010–2016).
John Luther is a genius, albeit complicated and emotionally unrestricted, detective who is continually afflicted by the depravity of human beings while tracking down murderers on a daily basis. Using questionable methods, and not afraid to seek the help of a string of unsavoury characters along the way, his cases ultimately become a duel between himself and the elusive culprit.
Straight off the bat, it is difficult to imagine that Luther — a crime drama which, undoubtedly, restores your faith in British television — wasn’t conceived of with Idris Elba in mind as the titular character. A mountain of a man, Elba transitions seemingly effortlessly between the troublesome, fearless brute kicking over rocks and the vulnerable, lovable oaf, a man haunted by his own misgivings and tribulations as a detective in Greater London.
4. FORBRYDELSEN (THE KILLING; 2007–2012).
Forbrydelsen (or The Killing) is a Danish police procedural set in Copenhagen and centring upon Detective Inspector Sarah Lund and her subsequent criminal investigations after having found a murder victim.
With each episode covering 24 hours of the investigation, Forbrydelsen is renowned for its season-long narratives and deliciously dark plot twists, which keep the viewer captivated throughout, and Sofie Gråbøl (Fortitude) as both our heroine and lone wolf is unassuming yet unrelenting in her pursuit of the truth.