Best TV crime dramas to watch in 2021
Line of Duty, The Serpent and Fargo are on this year’s must-binge list
For fans of fast-paced crime dramas there is plenty to choose from on TV and the various streaming services.
A string of high-quality shows are available to watch right now and for 2021 smash hits such as Line of Duty (series six) and Fargo (series four) will return to the small screen.
Here we pick some of the best recent and forthcoming releases, as well as some previous favourites - all of which are available to binge online.
What’s new in 2021
True-crime drama The Serpent helped give BBC iPlayer viewing figures a “dramatic boost” when it was released in the new year, says Digital Spy. It tells the disturbing real-life story of Charles Sobhraj, the chief suspect in a series of “grisly unsolved murders of attractive young female backpackers across Asia in the mid-1970s”, Dead Good reports. It could well be one of the “darkest crime dramas of the year”. Watch on BBC iPlayer
The Pembrokeshire Murders
This mini-series on ITV is about the cold-case pursuit of John Cooper - the most notorious serial killer in Welsh criminal history. Starring Luke Evans and Keith Allen, The Pembrokeshire Murders gives justice for the victims, who are central to the narrative. “It is sensitive when it needs to be, and never loses sight of who suffered,” says The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson. Watch on ITV Hub
Based on a story idea from best-selling crime writer Val McDermid, this six-part thriller stars Line of Duty’s Martin Compston. Set in Scotland, three women try to unearth the truth about an unsolved murder that’s very close to home. Traces is an “easy watch”, says The Arts Desk, but it has a bad habit of “spraying coincidences and startling revelations like machine-gun fire, as if it’s frantically crushing 12 episodes into six”. Watch on BBC iPlayer
Death in Paradise (series ten)
Ralf Little returns as DI Neville Parker and is solving crimes alongside DS Florence Cassell, played by Josephine Jobert. The show is pulling out all the stops for its tenth anniversary, Radio Times reports, with Sara Martins (DS Camille Bordey) returning for a guest appearance and Ben Miller (DI Richard Poole) making a cameo. Guest stars will include Luke Pasqualino, Jason Manford, Kelvin Fletcher and Lia Williams. Watch on BBC iPlayer
What’s returning in 2021?
Marcella (season three)
The third season of Marcella, starring Anna Friel, features eight episodes, is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland and will return to ITV on 26 January. “The upcoming third outing for Marcella looks to be a change of pace from what we’ve seen before, taking a deeper dive into her complicated psyche and the devastating trauma therein,” says the Radio Times. “She has taken on a new identity, under the name of Keira, and has managed to infiltrate the infamous Maguire crime family.” Watch on ITV Hub on 26 January
Line of Duty (series six)
“If there’s a 2021 TV show we are most looking forward to, the new season of Line of Duty is definitely up there,” says the Radio Times. The popular drama follows the controversial police anti-corruption unit, AC-12, and its investigators DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), DS Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). Season six will air in March the BBC has confirmed and joining the star cast will be Trainspotting’s Kelly Macdonald. She will play DCI Joanne Davidson, a “senior investigating officer of an unsolved murder, whose unconventional conduct raises suspicions at AC-12”. Watch on BBC One in March
Fargo (series four)
Having been delayed in so-called “development hell” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many fans feared season four of the TV adaptation of 1996 black comedy film Fargo would never see the light of day. But now, more than three years after Ewan McGregor and David Thewlis lit up screens in the third season, the new series of the hit show will return in 2021, though no exact date has been announced as yet. Like the previous three seasons, the new episodes are expected to be screened on Channel 4 for UK viewers. This time around, the show - which features a new story and cast every season - stars Chris Rock and Jessie Buckley and takes place in the 1950s.
Unforgotten (series four)
Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar return as DCI Cassie Stuart and DI Sunny Khan for series four of Unforgotten on ITV. The main cast will be joined by Sheila Hancock (New Tricks), Susan Lynch (Killing Eve), Phaldut Sharma (EastEnders), Liz White (Life On Mars), Andy Nyman (Peaky Blinders), Clare Calbraith (Baptiste) and Lucy Speed (Marcella). The fourth series opens with the discovery of a dismembered body in a scrap metal yard, which the team believe has been stored in a domestic freezer for thirty years. Various clues lead to the victim being identified as Matthew Walsh, a young man in his mid-twenties who went missing in March 1990. Watch on ITV in early 2021
Shows you can still binge watch
The psychopathic Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer, is typically flamboyant - and disconcertingly funny. Eve, with her marriage on the rocks, is cast back into the world of spying and assassins in the latest series, while Villanelle combines contract killing with a personal journey of her own. So popular is this show that the BBC brought forward its premier to keep viewers entertained during the coronavirus lockdown. You’ll hear very few complaints about that. The show “feels much like a new relationship”, says The Observer’s Brandon Katz. “It’s sexy and seductive, exciting and new.” Watch on BBC iPlayer
Channel 4’s Deadwater Fell is “basically Broadchurch in Scotland”, says Lucy Mangan in The Guardian. “David Tennant is a doctor rather than a policeman, and at the centre of a crime rather than investigating it, and he’s letting his freckles show, but switch your mind to its Broadchurch setting and you will not be disappointed,” says Mangan. The actor plays Tom, whose wife and three children die in a house fire but it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. Watch on Channel 4
Netflix premiered the long-awaited third season of the disturbing, gloomy smash hit Ozark last year, replete with more deception, destruction and death, courtesy of stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. It received glowing reviews from critics, many of whom agree that it is a marked improvement over the polarising second season, with The Observer suggesting that the show is “gloriously back on track, with Linney truly coming into her own as the boiler-room fire in the hole”. Watch on Netflix
Joe Barton’s crime thriller completely “flew under the radar” when it first ran on the BBC at the end of last year, says Gerard Gilbert in The Independent, and although the title “didn’t help attract the punters”, the series is “nigh-on faultless”. The BBC drama, which was subsequently released on Netflix earlier this year, follows the story of a Tokyo cop sent to London to find his long-lost brother who has become an enforcer for the Yakuza, a Japanese crime syndicate. Stylistically bold and wholly unpredictable, the drama feels more like an art-house production than one backed by the BBC. It builds to an unexpected climax that “no other show in 2019 could have attempted”, The Guardian says. Watch on Netflix
The Pale Horse
An atypical novel from 20th-century crime queen Agatha Christie – it features none of her celebrated detectives like Hercule Poirot or Mrs Marple – The Pale Horse has been adapted into a two-part BBC series by The ABC Murders and Ordeal by Innocence writer Sarah Phelps. The show stars Rufus Sewell as Mark Easterbrook, a well-off man married to a much younger woman but still haunted by the death of his first wife, who is implicated in a mysterious series of killings. It is the fifth of Christie’s novels Phelps has rewritten for television since 2015. The show also features rising stage star Sheila Atim, best known for the Bob Dylan jukebox musical Girl From the North Country. “Phelps excels at displaying the cankered truth beneath privileged, polite society,” says The Times. Watch on Amazon Prime
This four-part mini-series is an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2018 book The Outsider and stars Jason Bateman, Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp and Paddy Considine. Dead Good Books says that Bateman plays a “Little League coach who is arrested in front of half the town for kidnapping, torturing, killing and mutilating an eleven-year-old boy”, adding that “he insists he’s innocent, while the town turns against him”. Slate’s Jack Hamilton says: “The series’ first two hours, in particular, are almost unbearably bleak... But for those who stick with it - and you should - The Outsider offers terrific performances, beguiling yet careful storytelling, and no shortage of genuinely terrifying moments.” Watch on Sky
McDonald & Dodds
Commissioned as two feature-length episodes - The Fall of the House of Crockett and A Wilderness of Mirrors - McDonald & Dodds stars Tala Gouveia and Jason Watkins as an unlikely detective duo. A tough cop from the streets of south London, DCI McDonald (Gouveia) is transferred to Bath to investigate a murder. “Imagine Simon Pegg from Hot Fuzz as a crime-solving woman of colour with sarcastic eyebrows,” says Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian. Watch on ITV Hub
“Netflix’s Criminal is, depending on how you want to look at it, either one big, bold experiment or four smaller experiments,” explains Rolling Stone. There are technically four shows - Criminal: United Kingdom, Criminal: France, Criminal: Germany and Criminal: Spain - each with three episodes depicting three intense police interrogations, all filmed in one studio in Madrid. The first UK edition focuses on David Tennant who plays a doctor accused of abusing and murdering his teenage stepdaughter - not a million miles away from his role in Channel 4’s 2020 offering Deadwater Fell. In the second, Captain America’s Hayley Atwell is called in after her sister’s housemate is poisoned. “The interrogations themselves largely work as one-act plays, because the suspects are given ample characterization and build-up,” says Rolling Stone. Watch on Netflix
Martin Freeman stars as the real-life detective superintendent Steve Fulcher, who was tasked with investigating the disappearance of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan in Wiltshire in March 2011. Fulcher, whose book serves as the basis for the show, breaks police protocol and extracts confessions from the killer Christopher Halliwell for the murder of O’Callaghan and another woman, 20-year-old Becky Godden-Edwards. Written by Jeff Pope, A Confession follows the investigation and the subsequent fallout. Watch on Amazon Prime
The title of Jack Thorne’s Channel 4 show suggests it is not a straightforward crime drama, but it does centre on a community seeking justice. A small Welsh town is left grieving after a catastrophic gas explosion leaves a group of children dead. Happy Valley favourite Sarah Lancashire stars as the mother of one teenager left with life-changing injuries from the accident. The four-part drama explores “questions of blame and accountability”, says the London Evening Standard, noting that the Grenfell Tower fire caused Thorne to shift his focus while working on the project. Watch on Channel 4
Quicksand is a Scandi-noir offering, based on on the bestselling novel of the same name by Malin Persson Giolito and adapted by Camilla Ahlgren, creator of The Bridge. The show tells the story of a teenager who finds herself on trial for murder after a tragedy at a school sends shock waves through a wealthy Stockholm suburb. Den of Geek says that this riveting show has gone surprisingly under the radar of mainstream critics, adding: “If you're missing The Bridge as much as we are, you might be about to discover a brilliant little gem”. Watch on Netflix