In Depth

Best new TV crime dramas to watch in 2021 – and older shows to binge

Landscapers, Vigil and Time are on this year’s must-watch list



Olivia Colman and David Thewlis star in this Sky Original which premieres on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW on Tuesday 7 December. Inspired by real events, this four-part limited series tells a unique love story involving a seemingly ordinary couple who become the focus of an extraordinary investigation when a couple of dead bodies are discovered in the back garden of a house in Nottingham.

Colman “dazzles” as a real-life murderer in this “strange, gorgeous celebration of English eccentricity”, The Independent said. But if you like your true-crime dramas “serious and linear”, Digital Spy added, Landscapers may take “a bit of getting used to”. 


You Don’t Know Me 

Tense new BBC crime show about a young South Londoner charged with murder. Pleading innocence, he sacks his barrister to tell his own story. In this courtroom drama “the audience gets to be the jury”, said Rebecca Nicholson in The Guardian. “Hopefully the members of the jury, including those at home, will have the patience to see it through.”

Adapted from a novel by Imran Mahmood, You Don’t Know Me stars Samuel Adewunmi as the accused, known only as “Hero”. The whole thing revolves around Adewunmi, who is in practically every scene, “walking the line between trustworthy and suspicious”, said Ed Cumming in The Independent. It is “testament to his warm, canny star performance” that we keep guessing. “Guilty or not”, this Hero makes a “very plausible case”.



Jimmy McGovern’s three-part BBC prison drama Time is “just about perfect”, said Hugo Rifkind in The Times. It stars Sean Bean as a middle-class teacher, Mark, jailed for causing a death through drink driving, and Stephen Graham as a prison guard, Eric. Mark is an older man guilt-stricken about his crime, and is “immediately clocked as a victim by vicious young inmate bullies”; Eric is a decent person coerced into bringing in drugs by a gang. A common theme unites their stories and a handful of equally “deft” subplots: how is it possible “to atone for past inhumanity” in a system that “perpetuates inhumanity anew”? The acting is superb, said Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, and the drama becomes more moving and “enraging” at every turn. “Time well spent.” 



Showtrial starts, of course, with a murder: Hannah (Abra Thompson) is a student, found dead after a ball in Bristol. Chief among the suspects is her ex-friend Talitha Campbell (Celine Buckens) – rich, arrogant and “deeply unpleasant to everyone she meets”, said Alison Rowat in The Herald.

I thought it was “great”, said Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Away from the students, much of the drama concerns technical wranglings between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service; there’s also an abuse storyline and a “grief subplot” centring on the victim’s mother. All these strands could have stood alone, but here they are “twisted together”. It’s Buckens, though, who steals the show, turning in a mesmerising performance “right on the edge of ham” as a rich kid with emerald nails “clearly destined to break”. 



The BBC brought out the big guns for this submarine-set drama: Martin Compston (AKA Line of Duty’s Steve Arnott), Doctor Foster’s Suranne Jones, Connor Swindells (best known for playing Adam in Sex Education) and Downton Abbey’s Rose Leslie are just a handful of the notable names in this gripping maritime crime series. Vigil is a “dense, sharply written” and “absolute treat of a show”, said The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan. “It’s one that viewers will surely want to dive into”.



The popular French language mystery thriller Lupin returned for a second series on Netflix. Inspired by the adventures of Arsène Lupin, gentleman thief Assane Diop (played by Omar Sy) sets out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted by the wealthy Hubert Pellegrini. Created by the British writer George Kay, the first series was one of the most successful ever on Netflix and if you haven’t streamed it yet then “you’re seriously missing out”, said Lauren Morris of Radio Times. “An exciting, gripping and action-filled heist caper featuring a terrific performance from Sy, Lupin is guaranteed to steal your heart.”


Mare of Easttown

Kate Winslet is mesmerising in the new HBO crime drama Mare of Easttown, said Carol Midgley in The Times. Make-up-free and “permanently sour-faced”, she plays Mare Sheehan, an “unhappy, junk-food-eating” detective in a small Pennsylvania town that “reeks of poverty and dead ends”. At the outset, she’s working on the case of a 19-year-old woman who disappeared a year ago. And then the body of another teenager, a young mother, is found.

Written by Pennsylvania native Brad Ingelsby, this is “a perfectly conjured study of a community”, said Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, focusing as much on how the locals endure these terrible events as on the process of finding the culprits. Everything and everyone feels “real”, and you care about “every tiny part” – not least Mare’s new relationship with an author and college lecturer, played by Guy Pearce, whom she picks up in a bar. The series reminded me of BBC One’s Happy Valley, said Anita Singh in The Daily Telegraph, but I didn’t think it was in the same league as that top-notch drama. Still, the plot – which is too slow to start – does get going, and Winslet aces a role that could have seemed clichéd in less skilled hands.


Line of Duty (series six)

Trainspotting’s Kelly Macdonald joins the Line of Duty cast for series six of Line of Duty. Macdonald plays DCI Joanne Davidson, a “senior investigating officer of an unsolved murder, whose unconventional conduct raises suspicions at AC-12”. Martin Compston (DS Steve Arnott), Vicky McClure (DS Kate Fleming) and Adrian Dunbar (Superintendent Ted Hastings) reprise their roles as the key investigators.



This two-hour ITV adaptation of Peter James’s bestselling crime novel is “full of immensely satisfying action”, plus there’s a “star lead performance” from John Simm, said The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan. Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (played by Simm) is a hard-working police officer who has given his life to the job and has to investigate the disappearance of a property developer who goes missing after his stag do goes wrong. Grace is a “cut above the average detective drama”, said The Independent’s Ed Cumming.



The lives of the people of Allende, a Mexican border town, are overtaken by a powerful cartel’s operations, leading to tragedy. Inspired by true events, Somos “flips the script on brutal cartel crime epics”, said The Guardian’s Jack Seale. This Netflix drama “centres on the people who are usually peripheral casualties in crime shows like Narcos - the residents of Allende, who were all killed in a horrific real-life massacre”.


Before We Die

In this high-octane six-part drama series Lesley Sharp stars as Hannah Laing, a senior police detective who is forced to make a terrible decision as her son, Christian (Patrick Gibson) goes off the rails. With their relationship seemingly beyond repair, Hannah gets a chance at redemption when Christian becomes caught up in the investigation into the brutal murder of one of Hannah’s colleagues and their paths cross again in unexpected circumstances.



From the close-up of a knife plunging into a piece of meat at a dinner party, the plot of Intruder was “signposted like a golf sale”, said Victoria Segal in The Sunday Times. It stars Elaine Cassidy as Rebecca, a journalist whose husband Sam (Tom Meeten) stabs a burglar in the back during a break-in at their seaside house. It’s an “intriguing” opening, but things spiral into absurdity when Rebecca takes responsibility for the killing, and tries to pass it off as self-defence. Her friend Angela (Helen Behan), who is having an affair with Sam, then turns into a Fatal Attraction-style liability – whereupon Rebecca forges an alliance with the local drugs kingpin. Sally Lindsay is stuck in the middle of it all, playing an honest copper.


Your Honor 

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston stars as a New Orleans judge forced to confront his own convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run. The ten episode mini-series from Showtime is “elegantly shot, with credible dialogue and a robust, well-made quality”, said The Independent. And Cranston is “back doing what he does best – playing the devoted parent”.


Who Killed Sara?

Released on 24 March on Netflix in the UK, this Mexican crime series has “gone down a hit with fans”, said the Daily Express. Starring Narcos’ Manolo Cardona, the story follows Álex Guzmán, who is hell-bent on exacting revenge and proving he was framed for his sister’s murder. He sets out to unearth much more than the crime’s real culprit. Fans of shows like Money Heist, Sky Rojo and Narcos should be excited about this murder mystery.


The Irregulars 

Set in Victorian London, the series follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner, the elusive Sherlock Holmes. As the crimes take on a horrifying supernatural edge and a dark power emerges, it’ll be up to the Irregulars to come together to save not only London but the entire world. The Irregulars “feels like Netflix threw every one of its originals into a blender”, said Cosmopolitan. The show “might not knock your socks off”, Empire adds, but it offers “more than enough intrigue to warrant hoovering up the show’s entire eight-episode run”.


The Investigation

This six-part Danish-language drama from Tobias Lindholm is a “radical take” on the true-crime genre, said The Independent. When 30-year-old Swedish journalist Kim Wall disappears, attention turns to a wealthy inventor and his private submarine. This feels like a “new direction for true crime”, said The Guardian, an “antidote of sorts to the showier serial killer documentaries that seem to be everywhere”.


The Flight Attendant

Summer came early to Sky One with the arrival of The Flight Attendant – a “lively” HBO thriller that’s “the TV equivalent of a beach read”, said Daniel Fienberg in The Hollywood Reporter. Kaley Cuoco stars as Cassie Bowden, the titular flight attendant and party girl, who flirts with a “scruffy-but rich” stranger (Michiel Huisman) on a red-eye to Bangkok, only to wake up the next morning, after an alcohol-induced blackout, in a hotel room, next to his bloody corpse. Panic-stricken, she cleans up as best she can and flees, but with the FBI, a mysterious flick-knife-toting villainess (Michelle Gomez) and sundry other dark forces on her tail, moving on from this does not prove easy.

Cassie Bowden is a “powerhouse” of a role, and watching Cuoco ace it is “absurdly pleasurable”, said Suzi Feay in the FT. Played for laughs at first, her vodka habit soon comes to seem as darkly troubling as the corpse itself, and the series cleverly uses her memory loss to confuse the timeline. Based on a novel by Chris Bohjalian, it is “pitch black”, but also “pulpy and surreal”, with real “comic spark”, said Caroline Framke in Variety. This is a series that you may find “hard to stop watching, even if you try”.



This “astute” thriller is a fine addition to the growing Irish noir genre, said Lucy Mangan in The Guardian. James Nesbitt stars as weary detective Tom Brannick, whose investigation into a kidnapping puts him on the trail of “Goliath” – the suspected killer of four people in the lead-up to the Good Friday Agreement. His superiors in the Northern Ireland police don’t want him reopening old wounds, but for Brannick it’s personal. The plot is dense, but enjoyably so, and there’s black humour mixed in to let it breathe.

BBC One’s four-part drama is written by Chris Brandon, said Anita Singh in The Daily Telegraph, but it has executive producer Jed Mercurio’s fingerprints all over it: “You don’t know whom to trust, none of the characters ever smile and senior detectives spend their time looking broodily out of windows.” Laced with clues and fine set pieces – among them a heart-thumping bomb-disposal scene – it adds up to a “jolting” thriller. Nesbitt eases into his role “like a favourite coat”, said Ed Cumming in The Independent, giving Brannick the “anguished, unforced humanity” of a decent man driven to distraction. The opening is sluggish, but this “ruggedly” realistic series soon hits its stride.



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.



The “brash, expensive” eight-part crime drama ZeroZeroZero has arrived on British screens a year after it appeared in the US and Italy, said Ed Cumming in The Independent. Based on a novel by Gomorrah writer Roberto Saviano, its grand ambition is to explore the global cocaine trade by focusing on the suppliers in Mexico, the buyers in Italy, and the middlemen operating out of New Orleans. Packed with spectacular set pieces, it’s “about as subtle as an elephant loading a dishwasher” - and it makes for “exuberant”, if “bleak”, entertainment for “long February nights”.


The Serpent 

True-crime drama The Serpent helped give BBC iPlayer viewing figures a “dramatic boost” when it was released in the new year, said 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”.


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,” said The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson.



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”, said 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”.


Killing Eve

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”, said The Observer’s Brandon Katz. “It’s sexy and seductive, exciting and new.”


Deadwater Fell

Channel 4’s Deadwater Fell is “basically Broadchurch in Scotland”, said 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,” said 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.


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