Culture

Binge On TV’s Best Noir Crime Dramas And Slick Thrillers

Let's play cops and robbers.

We’ve always loved a whodunnit, ever since the earliest days of penny dreadfuls, serial newspaper thrillers and Agatha Christie paperbacks. Now TV has taken up the crime story with gusto, churning out a slew of chilling noir dramas and thrilling spy sagas for us to devour.

Perfect for a slobby binge session, these nine brilliant cops-and-robbers series will keep you guessing — and keep your heart racing — all weekend long. So, get cracking!


The Bridge

If you only watch one Scandi/Nordic crime series, make it the best one. The Bridge is a Danish/Swedish co-production about a grizzly crime that takes place on a bridge between Denmark and Sweden, which forces the local homicide units from each city to work together. From Denmark is gruff but kind detective Martin Rhodes (Kim Bodnia), and from Sweden it’s the inimitable Saga Noren (Sofia Helin).

You guys, Saga is the best character on television. A little odd, a lot compuslive and the smartest damn detective around, Helin plays Saga with a beguiling mix of tension and tenderness. And she and Bodnia have fabulous chemistry together as the crime-busting duo. The series is certainly a little grim (like all Scandi drama) but it’s ripper mystery through all three seasons. Just remember it’s subtitled, so you have to give it your full attention to ensure you don’t miss anything!

What’s the screentime commitment? So far there are three seasons, each of which comprises 10 x 60 minute episodes. It’s a medium-level committment as far as crime shows go, but it’s worth it.

Where can I watch it? The first three seasons of The Bridge are available to stream right now on Stan. And, brilliant news, SBS just dropped an amazing trailer (spoilers!) for the upcoming fourth season, which will air in 2018!


Top Of The Lake

Jane Campion has created two widlly different but wonderfully watchable seasons of her genre-bending noir crime masterwork, Top Of The Lake. The first season, which takes place in the wilds of New Zealand, follows Detective Robin Griffen (the exceptional Elisabeth Moss) as she searches for a missing (and pregnant) 12-year-old girl.

Season one premiered back in 2013, and The BBC has just released the second series, Top Of the Lake: China Girl. This one takes place in Sydney, and feels very different in tone to the first season, but Campion’s signature radical female gaze remains. Bold, atmospheric and eerily beautiful, Top Of The Lake is a must-see TV experience.

What’s the screentime commitment? Not much! Both Top Of The Lake and its sequel, China Girl, comprise 6 x 60 minute episodes. If you’re anything like me, you’ll blow through them quick smart.

Where can I watch it? Both seasons of Top Of The Lake are now available to stream on Foxtel Now. The ABC is also re-screening the first season of Top Of The Lake on Sunday nights, and episodes are available to screen for a limited time after on iView.


Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Crime doesn’t always have to be grizzly! Sometimes, solving a mystery can just be a romp. Or, so it is with the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, a lady detective living in Melbourne in the late 1920s. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an absolutely brilliant and super fun little crime procedural, starring the fabulous Essie Davies (The Babadook) as Miss Fisher.

I’ll confess that the point of Miss Fisher is less about mystery solving and more about the smart, self-possessed, sexy Phryne. Plus, the ABC spends around $1 million dollars per episode on the series, so it looks absolutely luscious. There’s also the ongoing flirtation and unrequited romance between Phryne and her detective partner Jack Robinson (Nathan Page). True, Page has just one facial expression (wooden/stoic), but their sexual tension is undeniably scrumptious.

What’s the screentime commitment? Around medium-level commitment for this one, but it’s so much fun you’ll rush to finish it. The first two seasons comprise 13 highly digestible 60 minute episodes, while the third season has just eight episodes. There’s also a film trilogy in the works!

Where can I watch it? All three seasons are available on Netflix. See you on the other side!


Broadchurch

If you haven’t yet seen Broadchurch, well, you have a very emotional weekend ahead of you. Starring Dr Who heartthrob David Tennant, the brilliant Olivia Coleman (Peep Show) and the new lady Dr Who, Jodie Whittaker, Broadchruch centres on the murder of a young boy in a small seaside town hiding (if we’re being honest here) an absurd number of secrets.

The first season is a real masterclass in tight, tense storytelling, as well as being sob-inducingly sad. After that, endure the less-good second season in order to get to the third (and likely final) extraordinary and important season. Broadchurch is wonderfully written, tragic and very beautiful — creator Chris Chibnall clearly has a bit of a thing for stunning locations as the sites for brutal crimes.

What’s the screentime commitment? It’s three seasons of 10 x 60 minute episodes. If that seems like too much time for you, skip the second season and read about it on Wikipedia.

Where can I watch it? Seasons one and two are available now on Netflix. Season three premiered on ABC this year, but will likely be available on Netflix soon.


The Americans

The Americans is one of the most complex, heart-stompingly good series on TV right now — and features, in my opinion, the best male performance on all TV. Set in the 1980s, it follows the Jennings family, Philip (Matthew Rhys, so good it hurts), Elizabeth (Kerri Russell) and their children, through their double life in the US during the cold war. See, Philip and Elizabeth are really Soviet spies implanted as an average American family in the capital to steal US state secrets.

Things turn upside down for the Jennings when an FBI intelligence agent, Stan Beeman (the underrated Noah Emmerich), moves in next door. The series deals in the moral ambiguities of fighting for your countries, in the destructive power of secrets and lies, and in what makes a family — and a marriage. Rhys, who plays the gentle but ruthless Philip, is an absolute revelation; watching him onscreen makes my heart shrivel and expand at alarming rates. It’s exceedingly rewarding television.

What’s the screentime commitment? It’s five seasons of 13 x 60 minute episodes, so, a lot. Start off slow, this one will take more than just a weekend to binge.

Where can I watch it? Seasons one to three are available to stream on Foxtel Now. The rest you’ll have to access using Dark Internet Magic.


Happy Valley

Team, this one absolutely broke my heart. A brilliant and criminally underwatched show, Happy Valley centres on an unfortunate town in the valleys of West Yorkshire, and the steely copper who keeps the crims in check. The excellent Sarah Lancashire plays Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant with a tragic family history.

Happy Valley is an extraordinary but brutal series, really quite dark and dingy in subject. It’s also astonishing and very, very addictive. The best part: Lancashire’s blazing performance as the no-nonsense Catherine.  She’s not your usual crime show lead, and that’s what makes her so wonderful. It’s a sickening series sometimes, but it’s well worth watching if you’re looking for a crime show with a bit more bite.

What’s the screentime commitment? Not much — it’s a tight and tightly-plotted little series. There’s two seasons out so far, each one with 6 x 60 minute episodes. You can smash that out in one bad-weather weekend.

Where can I watch it? Both seasons are available to stream on Netflix. Just make sure you’ve got someone lovely to watch (and cuddle) with!


Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is one of those stalwart mid-2000s shows that improves with every rewatch. Like early seasons of The OC and Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars has a sharp wit, a keen sense of social satire and a killer motormouth lead in Kristen Bell’s Veronica (to match Seth Cohen and Blair Waldorf). It also happens to be one of the best noir crime reduxes in the last few decades.

Veronica Mars is the daughter of a disgraced former sherrif-turned private investigator, who jumps in on the criminal investigation game to solve the murder of her best friend Lilly Kane (a perky young Amanda Seyfried). Veronica Mars is worth watching for the sharp writing and Bell’s brilliant performance (which, if it had premiered ten years later, would’ve won her a slew of award nominations).

What’s the screentime commitment? The first two seasons are 22 x 45 minute episodes, and the third season is a tad shorter, at just 20 episodes, to accommodate the series’ untimely cancellation. Then you’ll want to watch the 90-minute Veronica Mars Movie, which was released, mainly as fan service, in 2014 and still retains some of the signature Mars shine.

Where can I watch it? Unfortunately it’s not available to stream anywhere, but you can purchase the whole thing, including the movie, on iTunes.


Luther

If you’ve ever wondered where the world’s collective thirst for Idris Elba comes from, can I introduce you to Luther? Luther centres on Sherlock-esque police detective John Luther (Elba), who is back on the force after an anger-related incident saw him briefly suspended. Luther is unconventional, grumpy and terrible at playing with others, but he’s a bloody good detective. This comes in handy when he is sent in to solve the mysterious double murder of married academics, who are found by their genius daughter Alice (the wonderful Ruth Wilson).

Luther is a complex and often pretty ridiculous show, but it leans into the tragic aspects of life as an outsider. It’s also a show that does not pull punches, so prepare for a bit of tragedy in your life. Plus there’s Elba’s excellent performance: he’s not just an unfairly attractive silver fox, he’s also charming, sympathetic and a highly appealing companion for Luther‘s sweetly short (and criminally underwatched) four seasons.

What’s the screentime commitment? The first season is 6 x 60-minute episodes, the second and third seasons are 4 x 60-minute episodes, and the fourth season is just two episodes. And: there will be a fifth season of Luther, which is currently filming in the UK.

Where can I watch it? Seasons one to three of Luther are available to stream on Stan and Netflix.


Spooks

If you’ve never watched an episode of Spooks before, I am about to change your whole damn life. The series, which ran for a decade, follows a unit of MI5 in the British Intelligence Service: a rotating roster of hot spies for you to lust over, root for, then mourn fiercely when they meet their untimely end. See, the “spooks” on Spooks never last very long before meeting their (usually fairly grizzly) end, and that’s just one thing that makes the show so heart-pumpingly good. It’s also a brilliant mystery, a thrilling spy saga, and a lot of fun.

Over its long decade on-air, the series featured a few people you might be familiar with: there was Tom Quinn (Matthew McFayden aka Mr Darcy in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice), Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo, aka Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma), the divine Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones, general British hunk about town), and Lucas North (Richard Armitage, another British hunk about town). Get to know them, get to love them. Just be warned: Spooks is long as heck and you’ll want to watch all of it. So see you in about a month!

What is the screentime commitment? Look, I won’t lie to you. There are 10 seasons, each comprising 8 x 60-minute episodes. Plus, there’s a Spooks movie — Spooks: The Greater Good — so that’s another two hours. It’s worth every second.

Where can I watch it? No Australian streaming service has yet bought the entire Spooks back catalogue, but you can purchase it on iTunes. Stan does have the Spooks movie, which stars Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harrington and is a surprising amount of fun.