16 slow-burn TV mysteries and crime dramas

Got a thing for furrowed brows and blue colour corrected scenes? Like your crime drama slowly burnt? Well, prepare yourself for plenty of that in our list of intricately woven fire-retardant mystery/crime dramas.

James Franco – in a moment when we was being the Franco we all dig and not creepy – perfectly described why we love watching crime dramas in hisreflection on Twin Peaks 25 years after the series first aired.

“The allure of most crime mysteries, from Raymond Chandler to HBO’s new series True Detective, is not dependent on finding out whodunit. More interestingly and realistically, it’s about all the colourful characters we meet along the way, including their selective memories, the unreliable narrators, and the moral struggle inherent to all complex situations that blur the lines between right and wrong.”

In fact Twin Peaks has left quite a legacy in exploring every angle of mystery, and in plenty of the suggestions below you’ll be reminded of the series. So if you haven’t seen Twin Peaks before, make that your first port of call.

The Killing

The Danish series gained worldwide popularity, being shown in over 120 countries, and at one point even rating better than Mad Men in the UK aka the official home of crime drama. The mystery which unfolds across the first season of The Killing, centres on the murder of a 19-year-old girl, tracking the investigators, the impact on her family, and the political implications of the case. It’s format has been replicated over and over the last couple of years, and personally I am happy to eat up every morsel.

If you can’t be bothered with subtitles, there’s an American version set in Seattle – the city that is basically one big blue filter.

The Bridge/The Tunnel

The Danes did it again with their series The Bridge, which kicks off with the murder of a politician and a prostitute – whose bodies have been cut in half and assembled into what appears to be a single body –  precisely on the border between Sweden and Denmark in the middle of the Øresund Bridge that connects the two countries. One of the plot points I enjoy most in this storytelling, is the killer’s sole communication with the wider world through a shock-jock journalist.

It’s been remade into an American/Mexican version – set on the bridge between Texas and Chihuahua – with Diane Kruger and Demian Bicheir, and a British/French version called The Tunnel* – set in the Channel Tunnel – which stars a laid-back Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and odd ball Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) in the lead roles (!). What’s great about these adaptations is that the countries don’t have the fondest histories with each other, and it plays out in the interaction between the investigator counterparts. The Tunnel also features the song ‘The End of Time’ by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

*Currently showing on ABC1.


Set in small seaside communities, Broadchurch (the original British series) and Gracepoint (the US remake) each investigate the death of a young boy, which in the time it takes for the truth to come out, slowly tears each town apart.

David Tennant stars in the both versions – with a spectacular American accent in the US remake – alongside Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn. Gracepoint is due out in the US in autumn (our spring). Broadchurch has a particularly haunting soundtrack courtesy of Olafur Arnalds.

Top of the Lake

At first it feels like Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake is trying to be a bit too profound and mysterious, but it definitely gets better with each episode. Starring Mad Men’s Peggy – Elizabeth Moss – and David Wenham as investigators, the duo search for a missing and pregnant 12-year-old girl in the ficticious town Lake Top in New Zealand.

Elisabeth Moss’ accent is seriously not great, but she gives the NZ/South African/Australian vernaculars each a red hot go, and overall who acting is top notch. It’s also been praised for its efforts in dissecting rape culture.

Meanwhile, guess this is where Neighbour’s Jack Scully and Nina disappeared to.

True Detective

If you haven’t seen True Detective yet, you’ve probably heard a lot about it. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are excellent, and they’ve each been nominated for an Emmy for their performances as partners searching for a Louisiana serial killer over two decades. Originally, McConaughey was approached for the role of Marty Hart, but was drawn to Rust Cohle instead and enlisted Woody himself to join the cast. Flashback sequences dominate the first two thirds of the 8-part series and give the show a great ominous feeling. Hopefully this is something that isn’t lost in Season 2 with the new cast, which will feature four leads. Fun fact: the opening credits were created by Australian company, Elastic, who also did the credits for Game of Thrones andThe Americans.


Idris Elba is seriously great. He’s best known for his role as Stringer Bell in The Wire, but he won his first Golden Globe for Luther. In the BBC drama Elba plays an obsessive DCI who can’t let go of the terrible crimes he’s confronted with daily and who develops a ‘friendship’ of sorts with a murdering psychopath he was unable to arrest, Alice Morgan. Alice goes on to help him solve other crimes secretly by giving him insight into criminals’ motivations.


An extension of the Coen brothers’ film by the same name, Fargo continues the dark humour and atmosphere but takes the story in new directions. Fans of the film are recommended to check out the TV series featuring Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and Tom Hanks’ son Colin.

The Fall

The casting director of 50 Shades of Grey no doubt came across Jamie Dornan as the good-looking-family-man serial killer in The Fall and yelled “WE’VE FOUND OUR MAN!” It’s a gripping take on how charm and good looks can help you, well, get away with murder, while Gillian Anderson plays the senior investigating officer whom men of the Police Service of Northern Ireland are intimidated by and drawn to.

The Silence

If you watch a lot of British drama you’ll recognise familiar faces in The Silence with Hugh Bonneville, Dervia Kirwan, and Gina McKee. In The Silence 18-year-old and deaf Amelia – who has just received a cochlear earplant and is struggling to integrate into the hearing world – witnesses a murder and finds herself pulled into the investigation.

Line of Duty

Line of Duty is a “corruption in the ranks” tale beginning with the transfer of DS Steve Arnott into the anti-corruption unit. He quickly becomes suspicious of 3-year running Officer of the Year DCI Tony Gates and his high case clearance rate.


Another one that’s been adapted for the screen by more than one country (this time by the Swedes and the Brits), the series is based on the novels by Henning Mankell that follow Inspector Kurt Wallander as he eats bad food, drinks too much, struggles with family issues, and solves crime with an inconceivable intellect.

Five Days

Often in investigations there’s a lot of dead ends and leads that dry up. When we watch our little TV dramas though, it seems like everything’s moving at a cracking pace when in reality it could be days or weeks before fresh information is unearthed. Five Days attempts to serve up this reality with the five most important days of a case (1, 3, 28, 33, and 79) involving the disappearance of a mother and her two children.

The Red Riding Trilogy

This trilogy of feature length TV episodes uses the backdrop of serial killings, including the real life crimes committed by the Yorkshire Ripper, for a fictional storytelling of police corruption and organised crime. Each episode is named after a year – 1974, 1980, and 1983 – and are based on the the novels by David Pearce. Also, Sean Bean! Also, Andrew Garfield and David Morrissey, but Sean Bean!

The State of Play

Those journalists, they’re relentless! In State of Play, it’s a mixture of All The President’s Men and House of Cards, as a newspaper delves into the death of a young woman and its connections to British parliament. Stars Bill Nighy, James McAvoy, John Simm, and Kelly Macdonald – could you ask for more?

Originally published 24 July 2014 on TheVine.com.au

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