If there’s one TV genre that will never die, it’s crime dramas. Which is ironic, because 99 per cent of them rely on at least one of their characters snuffing it in the very first episode.
Whether it’s coppers – corrupt or otherwise – tracking down bad guys or the bad guys (or girls) themselves spearheading a gripping heist or murder mystery, there’s always plenty of crime on our screens. Why? Well, they’re a reliable audience grabber; we love to dive into these dangerous, fast-paced worlds that are worlds away from our dull desk jobs and the daily grind of having to decide what’s for tea.
Crime dramas also attract some of the biggest actors. Sarah Lancashire, Keeley Hawes, Matthew Macfadyen and Jason Watkins have all appeared in 2023 thrillers, while shows like Blue Lights and Better have introduced some brilliant new talent to a wider audience.
They also have the staying power to go on and on… and on and on. Endeavour came to an end earlier this year after an impressive nine series. If the astronomical TV body count is to be believed, there’s no shortage of murders for our on-screen detectives to get stuck into.
Here are the best crime dramas that have had us gripping our sofas in 2023.
Blue Lights, BBC iPlayer
This cop drama set itself apart from the pack with its Northern Ireland setting. It’s written by the team behind The Salisbury Poisonings and stars Siân Brooke, Katherine Devlin and Nathan Braniff as three new recruits in the PSNI (the Police Service of Northern Ireland) as they fight the good fight against criminal gangs, an untrusting community and even their fellow recruits. With immense pressure coming from all angles, all three of them work to pass their probation – and survive.
Six Four, ITVX
Based on Hideo Yokoyama’s 2012 novel of the same name, but with the action transported from Japan to Glasgow, Six Four is a pacey tale of kidnap, corruption and betrayal. While investigating the cold case of missing teenager Julie Mackie, detective Chris O’Neill (Kevin McKidd) is floored when his own daughter disappears. His inquiries lead him to believe the two cases could be linked and uncovers a series of unmissable errors and corruption in the original search for Mackie. Meanwhile, his wife Michelle (Vinette Robinson) takes the hunt for her daughter into her own hands, not aware of the spider’s web of deceit she’s about to wade into.
Happy Valley, BBC iPlayer
It had been a long time coming – seven years, in fact – but the wait for a third series of Happy Valley ended early in the year. Sarah Lancashire returned as Catherine Cawood (her best role ever as far as I’m concerned), picking up years after her grandson, Ryan (Rhys Connah), decided to write to his estranged father, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), in prison. Now 16, Ryan wants to develop a relationship with his dad, though Catherine is unsurprisingly against the idea. It’s the last ever series, so expect a fiery – and nail-biting – end.
Could Unforgotten survive without Nicola Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart? That was the worry as the show entered its fourth series and the first since Cassie’s death. But Sinéad Keenan has made sure the answer is a loud, resounding yes as she joins DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) to solve a new murder as the stand-offish DCI Jessica James. Together they’re tasked with working out what happened to the woman whose body is found stuffed up a chimney. After a few episodes, you may find yourself forgetting she hasn’t been involved since the beginning.
The Gold, BBC iPlayer
This dramatisation of the infamous 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery in which six armed men steal £26m worth of gold from a London security depot is as stylish and fun as it is gripping. With no way to get rid of the bullion without alerting suspicion, the gang turn to a local crime boss, who works out a way to sell the gold back to the market. Meanwhile, tenacious Scotland Yard detective Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville) sets up an operation to catch the thieves with the help of rookie coppers Nicki (Charlotte Spencer) and Tony (Emun Elliott).
Matthew Macfadyen’s most memorable performance of the year might be as the bumbling but scheming Tom Wambsgans in the final season of Succession, but his part as disgraced MP John Stonehouse isn’t to be ignored. The funny and tense three-parter tells the unbelievable story of Stonehouse’s faked death, a misguided attempt to overcome the mountains of debt he’d accrued through dodgy business dealings. It’s also the first time Macfadyen has appeared on screen with his real life wife Keeley Hawes (who plays John’s wife Barbara Stonehouse) since Spooks in 2004.
The Bay, ITVX
Last series newcomer Marsha Thomason proved she had what it takes to step into Morven Christie’s shoes as lead in The Bay. This year she returned for another case as DS Jenn Townsend, no longer Morecambe’s new family liaison officer on the block, but still struggling with her home life. When Jenn is called to a murder scene at the home of a broken family, she realises the only way to the truth is to gain their trust and convince them to share what happened.
Another long-running and much loved crime drama came to an end in 2023, as ITV’s Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour said its final goodbyes after over a decade on television. The three last episodes concern a murder in an orchestra, the death of a uniformed police officer and a series of death notices in the Oxford Mail, but even so, it’s certainly a more cosy and unchallenging show than some of the others on this list. A good reminder that not all crime dramas have to be dark and depressing.
Desperate Measures, My5
When teenage reprobate Finn (Jesse Cescatti-McFarlane) loses £25,000 worth of drugs belonging to a local mobster in an unexpected raid, his mum Rowan (Amanda Abbington, Sherlock) takes it upon herself to recoup the money… by robbing the bank she works at. Desperate measures indeed. So begins an addictive cat-and-mouse thriller as Rowan attempts to both go undetected by the investigating police and stay in the good books of the terrifying drug gang.
Better, BBC iPlayer
When DI Lou Slack (Leila Farzad) was a young police officer, she made a deal with criminal heavyweight Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan): she would turn a blind eye to his offences, and he would make sure her career flourished. Now, Lou is ready to start a more honest life, which means bringing down the man she’s come to love like a brother and finally facing up to her own involvement in the Leeds criminal underworld. Corrupt coppers working with organised crime groups is certainly something we’ve seen before, but who knows when — or if — Line of Duty will be back.
The Catch, My5
Fans of The Holiday will enjoy this second Channel 5 adaptation of a TM Logan thriller in which Jason Watkins plays fisherman Ed Collier. When his daughter Abbie (Poppy Gilbert) meets and falls in love with a younger man, Ryan (Aneurin Barnard), Ed is worried she will abandon him and her family for a new life. With a sneaking suspicion that Ryan isn’t who he says he is, Ed sets about uncovering the truth about Abbie’s beau, exposing secrets and lies about his own past along the way.
Kaleidoscope isn’t just any old heist drama — its eight episodes, each named after a colour, can be watched in any order you choose (with the exception of “White”, which acts as the series finale). Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) leads a highly-skilled crew as they take $7 billion from a vault belonging to SLS, a global corporate security firm. Things don’t go exactly to plan, as greed, betrayal and various other threats upend the slick operation. But what order the events happen in is completely up to you.