On June 2, 2002, HBO revolutionized the crime TV genre forever when The Wire premiered in their infamous Sunday night 10 p.m. slot. With Snot Boogie’s dead body lying in the middle of a West Baltimore street, we immediately became captivated by the stories surrounded by the drug trade, seaport system, city government corruption, school system, and the printed media. Over the course of five seasons and 60 episodes, we took sides in the Barksdale-Standfield drug war, practiced saying "sheeeeeiiittt" like Clay Davis, wondered how McNulty kept his job, and were in total disbelief by the way Omar went out.
In an era where reality TV rules all, crime dramas have not lost their step since The Wire signed off the air in 2008. We had the difficult task of delving into the best crime TV shows since then. Covering it all from attractive serial killers to desegregation, these shows have kept us on our toes episode after episode with intense, thought-provoking writing and top-tier acting. After some intense, healthy debating, the Complex family has decided that these shows have properly carried the torch left by The Wire.
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Creator: Andrew W. Marlowe
Stars: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Susan Sullivan, Molly Quinn
Years Aired: 2009–2016
Where You Can Watch: Amazon Prime
Crime Focus: Copycat killers and NYC homicides
Castle is a procedural with a twist: crime writer follows crime solver around, falls in love. While it went on for at least two too many seasons and didn’t get the ending it deserved, the premise remains solid. The will-they-won’t-they between Castle and Beckett that lasts the first four seasons creates enough tension to keep it from getting stale, while Nathan Fillion’s charm and frequent nods to Firefly prevent the show from taking itself too seriously. Storylines surrounding Beckett’s mother’s murder case, the 3XK mystery, and Castle’s father make for some of the strongest episodes of the series, keeping the show afloat after Caskett became official. At its best, Castle was a campy romp through crime procedurals and at its worst...well. It’s finished now. Best not to speak ill of the dead.
24. Pretty little liars
Creator: I. Marlene King
Stars: Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell
Years Aired: 2010–2017
Where You Can Watch: Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix
Crime Focus: Teenage murder mysteries
You may be thinking this show about five teenage girls in small-town Pennsylvania is not really a crime show—but you’re dead wrong. In seven seasons, no less than 12 people have been murdered in a host of creative ways, like beheading yourself with your own ax, getting hit by a car, being pushed to your death (from either a clock tower or a stage) and being accidentally buried alive. It’s not just the teens who commit murder either. Throughout the series, the police of Rosewood are targets, antagonists and love interests, all while allegedly trying to solve a murder that (SPOILERS) didn’t actually happen… it’s a long story. Pretty Little Liars gifted us with a show where every major character is at some point both a perpetrator and a victim of crime. But who is Rosewood’s true villain? It’s complicated.
Creator: James Manos Jr.
Stars: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas
Years Aired: 2006–2013
Where You Can Watch: Amazon Prime, Netflix, Showtime, iTunes,
Crime Focus: Murders and bloody serial killers
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is smart, attractive and has one of the best careers as a forensic technician for the Miami Metro Police Department, which is the perfect formula for a serial killer, right? Dexter wasn't just any serial killer, Dexter was something like a crime fighter, a superhero if you will. While harboring the pain of his mother's murder, Dexter sought revenge by only killing heinous criminals who fell through the cracks of the justice system. In eight seasons, Dexter's double life took several twists and turns, reiterating that you should never judge a book by its cover.
22. Shots Fired
Creator: Reggie Rock Bythewood, Gina Prince-Bythewood
Stars: Sanaa Lathan, Stephan James, Stephen Moyer
Years Aired: 2017–2017
Where You Can Watch: Hulu, Amazon Prime
Crime Focus: Criminal justice and racially charged shootings
Fox decided to shake the table when they released the limited series Shots Fired starring Sanaa Lathan, Richard Dreyfuss, and Mack Wilds. As the Justice Department investigates the shooting and death of an unarmed white college student by Deputy Beck (Wilds), the investigators learn about an unsolved murder of an African-American teen. This discovery opened the small North Carolina town's racial wounds and propelled racial tension to an all-time high. Week after week viewers were left asking and discovering the "who?" and "why?" But in the end, the 10-hour series left more questions than answers, while the irony of the racial injustice—especially with Dreyfuss' character Arlen Cox and Wilds' character Deputy Beck—left an all too familiar sour taste in everyone's mouth.
Creator: Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro
Stars: Pedro Pascal, Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook
Years Aired: 2015–present
Where You Can Watch: Netflix
Crime Focus: Drug cartels and kingpins
It was either the subtitles or the sexual chemistry between drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (played by the brilliant Wagner Moura) and local journalist Valeria Velez (Stephanie Sigman), but from the first season's ten episodes Narcos became the most talked about and steamiest original new show on Netflix. With a complex plot to rival the classic Godfather movies, the series takes a fictionalized look at the inner sordid world of Columbia's most notorious cocaine-slinging gangster. Fast-paced, packed with brutal performances and compelling character development, it's insightful, addictive, and very high concept. Moura's depiction of Escobar is particularly brilliant, presenting him as both tyrannical and somehow sympathetic. Only two seasons down, the show has been renewed for a third and fourth.
20. Money and Violence
Creator: Moise Verneau
Stars: Moise Verneau, Rene Guercy, Kendu Hammond
Years Aired: 2014–present
Where You Can Watch: Tidal, Amazon Prime
Crime Focus: Gritty Brooklyn crime
The DIY YouTube show based in Brooklyn took the Internet by storm back in 2014, and although it wasn’t able to bank on that momentum, it was definitely a moment for the audience lucky enough to catch it early. There was comedy, murder, drug deals, heists; everything you would want in a crime show. Money and Violence is like a Grand Theft Auto story mode brought to life with four dudes from Brooklyn running wild trying to get rich and leave the hood behind. Whenever they got close, something would bring them back down and so is life, right? We all know the feeling of coming up on some kilos and then losing them in a drug deal gone wrong. The streets need more aspiring young writers and actors to go to the lengths these guys went to entertain us. And hopefully, they’ll be rewarded with a nice Tidal deal.
19. Criminal Minds
Creator: Jeff Davis
Stars: Matthew Gray Gubler, Kirsten Vangsness, Thomas Gibson
Years Aired: 2005–present
Where You Can Watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, CBS
Crime Focus: Major serial killers and high-stakes crimes
Criminal Minds seems to be the show that never ends. It's addictive viewing and it promises to remain so for the foreseeable future. Created by Jeff Davis and broadcast on CBS, it's as real an insight into FBI criminal procedure as is possible on nighttime TV. The plot is loosely about behavioral profiling, as a series of FBI workers set about tracking down criminals in their respective cases by studying their character traits. Twelve seasons in, it's showing no signs of running out of ideas. The series can grow confusing due to the number of characters and lack of recurring ones—only a handful of actors appear across all of the episodes. It's also had its challenges, one of which was Mandy Patinkin leaving after the beginning of season three, claiming that the content was too disturbing, even for him. He clearly found a more comfortable, and less disturbing home at Homeland…
18. Tru Calling
Creator: Jon Harmon Feldman
Stars: Eliza Dushku, Shawn Reaves, Zach Galifianakis
Years Aired: 2003–2005
Where You Can Watch: Amazon
Crime Focus: Time travel crime prevention
The worst thing about living in Peak TV now is reminiscing on all the weird but great little series whose small but cult-fandom would’ve likely had it thriving today, but wasn’t enough to cut it a decade ago. Eliza Dushku’s Tru Calling is one such gem. She plays Tru, a morgue technician with typically spunky Dushku character flare, but there's a twist—she can relive the day a person died. Sometimes it’s as simple as saving their lives, sometimes there’s a greater goal at hand beyond just preventing death. At times it was clunky, yes, but more often than not it was thrilling, scary, weird, and touching. There are about five different channels/networks/streaming sites that come to mind off top that would’ve snatched a procedural premise like this up today in a heartbeat. Even better, Tru Calling wasn’t content to be a case-of-the-week. Jason Priestly, of all random resurrections, joins the series in the back half and with him brings a mountain of deliciously goofy mythology as someone who can do exactly what Tru does—but sees her changing outcomes as fatally messing with the universe’s intended plans. The series was just beginning to unpack a lot of fun experimentation with form and theme in its second season before being fatally cut short. Forget resurrecting a show that already ran its course, where’s the revival for this?
Creator: Courtney Kemp Agboh
Stars: Lela Loren, Omari Hardwick, Naturi Naughton
Years Aired: 2014–
Where You Can Watch: Starz, Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes
Crime Focus: New York clubs and drugs
Power is The Wire if The Wire were a soap opera in a sense. The show is centered around a tight-knit group of friends and a love triangle involving a federal prosecutor. Ghost desperately wants to go legit while his right-hand man Tommy loves the fast life and will hold on to it with his life. While all this is going on, Ghost and Tommy’s mentor, Kanan (played by 50 Cent) comes home from prison with his mind set on revenge. Meanwhile, Ghost falls for his childhood friend Angela who just so happens to be a narc. If this isn’t a TV novella, I don’t know what is. I can watch this with a Spanish-dub over it with my grandmother and she would say: "Power is lit, mi niño."
16. Orange Is The New Black
Creator: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning
Years Aired: 2013–present
Where You Can Watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes
Crime Focus: Women in prison on all kinds of missions
The inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary have become the most watched jailbirds in recent TV history. Orange Is the New Black, created by Jenji Kohan and based on a true life memoir by Piper Kerman (named Piper Chapman, and played by Taylor Schilling in the series) has become a truly groundbreaking phenomenon. First off, it's Netflix's most popular original show, therefore proving the success of the medium. But more importantly, the series has dealt amply with a whole hybrid of intersectional issues—from transphobia to sexism to rape to drug trafficking to institutionalized racism. Above all, as it's on the cusp of broadcasting its fifth series, it's gained a worthy reputation as highly binge-able viewing, with constant cliffhangers, high stakes drama, and addictive characters. It's jam-packed with both humor and tragedy, taking viewers on a rollercoaster ride, albeit one contained within its prison walls.
15. the night of
Creator: Richard Price, Steven Zaillian
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Peyman Moaadi
Years Aired: 2016–present
Where You Can Watch: HBO NOW, HBO GO, Amazon Prime
Crime Focus: An intricate NYC murder case
Despite the existence of an entire class of middle-aged people who love to yell at cable news blaring from the TV in their living rooms, it’s widely accepted that a scripted series that has you screaming at the character(s) because of their behavior is not desirable. Unrelenting and deeply frustrating, the premiere of The Night Of whipped my Twitter timeline into a frenzy of armchair analysis and advice. But what makes the harrowing hour of TV so compelling is the knowledge that Riz Ahmed’s Naz, who has borrowed his father’s cab and naively embarked on a drug-fueled one-night-stand with a self-destructive stranger, won't escape his fear and poor instincts. He screws himself every step of the way, setting into motion a murder mystery about the inescapable consequences of decisions made under duress. There is no resolution, barely any lessons to be learned, only damage that can't be undone.
14. True Detective
Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams
Years Aired: 2014–present
Where You Can Watch: HBO NOW, HBO GO, Amazon Prime, iTunes
Crime Focus: Police investigations in an anthology series
Another HBO masterpiece, True Detective began with its initial eight episodes by taking Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson to the small screen as two homicide detectives who pursue a deadly killer in Louisiana. Each series, however, begins with a new cast and a new setting, upping the ante from the one before. For season two, it was Taylor Kitsch, Colin Farrell, and Rachel McAdams now placed in a detective unit in California, investigating the killing of a politician. It's a bold and ambitious concept but it pulled in the critical acclaim and has been praised as a shining example of the new golden age of television, particularly for its first season. Writing for the third season is currently underway, but who will star and where the action will take place is anyone's guess…
13. Sons of Anarchy
Creator: Kurt Sutter
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior |
Years Aired: 2008–2014
Where You Can Watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, iTunes
Crime Focus: Ruthless biker clubs
It’s hard to think about Sons now without the memories being painful. Instead of roaring to its inevitable Greek tragedy of a conclusion with aplomb like parent show The Shield (from whence SoA creator Kurt Sutter came), Sons sputters somewhere after the halfway point of its seven-season run. As the ratings grew, Sutter’s worst instincts ran unchecked: the episodes ballooned to unnecessary lengths, arcs were extended in a contrived holding pattern, and the misery levels approached self-parody. But Sons will always live on lists like these for those first four seasons, which brilliantly married highbrow Shakespearean themes with the lowbrow setting of a biker club that’d sooner slit your throat than let you label them a gang. The Sons of Anarchy are a family, and the original concept is the stuff genius TV premises are made of: An heir, Jax Teller, wrestling with a seemingly well-meaning stepfather and helicopter (motorcycle?) mommy grooming him for the throne and the ghost of his father who, via an unearthed manuscript, reveals his club became a cancerous monstrosity he never intended. The Sons are outlaws who live illegally but within reason, and justify it by using ill-gotten gains to keep their idyllic California hamlet (pun intended) free of corporate corruption. Of course, the slope is doomed to get slippier—Jax’s father knew it, the man who would become his stepfather ignored it. Running guns became the gateway to running drugs, murder, betrayal, and corruption. Crime grew from being a means to an outlaw end to full-on engulfing every aspect of the Sons’ lives. In most antihero shows, we meet a man who has already more-or-less made his decision on the person he’s going to be. What made Jax, and the show, special was his unique fork-in-the-road dilemma as the would-be heir apparent. In the end, though, the inevitability of his fate should’ve been thrilling. Instead, the show’s quality sank, and with it, the height of its overall legacy.
Creator: Noah Hawley
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Ewan McGregor
Years Aired: 2014–present
Where You Can Watch: Hulu, FX NOW, Amazon, iTunes
Crime Focus: Freezing Minnesota murder and mystery
FX’s Fargo, a black-comedy anthology series loosely based off the Coen Brothers’ film, is a world of moral ambiguity. Penned by writer Noah Hawley and executive produced by the Coens themselves, the show keeps the same tone as its 1996 precursor ; the people who you are set up to hate end up charming your pants off, the characters who at first elicit the most sympathy end up behaving very badly, crimes are committed in an absurdist fashion, and yet it all ends up making a little too much sense. Fargo is also a casting director's wet dream as each season manages to bring out stellar and atypical performances from some familiar actors (Martin Freeman, Kirsten Dunst), furthering the established legacies of some of our on-screen favorites (Billy Bob Thornton, Ted Danson), and conjuring breakout performances from previously under the radar talent (Allison Tolman, Bokeem Woodbine). Currently in its third season, and a very strong third showing, to say the least, we are introduced to twice the Ewan McGregor, as he plays the brothers Emmit and Raymond Stussy. While one is a successful “Parking Lot King,” the other is a financially struggling probation officer. In an interview with Vulture’s TV podcast, Hawley remarked on what he was trying to achieve with the double dose of McGregor, explaining that “as much as one of them is the underdog and the other one’s the winner, you can’t help but see the family resemblance.” Hawley likes his lines blurred, which is a winning recipe for any true-to-life crime story.
11. Show Me A Hero
Creator: David Simon, William F. Zorzi
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Peter Riegert, Natalie Paul, Winona Ryder
Years Aired: 2015
Where You Can Watch: HBO NOW, HBO GO, Amazon Prime
Crime Focus: Community-wide scandals, racism, and political tension
This list couldn't be complete without an appearance from David Simon and his Wire collaborator William F. Zorzi. With their six-part HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, Zorzi, Simon, and the rest of their excellent crew and cast, try to do just what the title asks, by unraveling the intricate, important story of former Yonkers Mayor, Nick Wasicsko, and his battle to desegregate the city after he's elected at age 28 in the late 1980s.
Based on the 1999 nonfiction tale of the same name from The New York Times writer, Lisa Belkin, Zorzi and Simon complete yet another noteworthy series that meticulously unpacks the trials and tribulations of Mayor Wasicsko and his city, Yonkers. With their known journalistic chops, fast-paced, sometimes funny flavor, the show reveals how mostly middle-class and white east Yonkers residents react in uproar, violence, protest, and more, when their newly elected mayor—who also actually ran against a federal judge's court order to add scattered public housing throughout Yonkers—decides his city must uphold the order to desegregate their community.
As you can imagine, all kinds of drama unfold, and Oscar Isaac does an incredible job portraying the stress and determination of a mayor forced to run a city in conflict. And for a 1980s tale of bureaucratic and community-wide racial turmoil, this story still holds true.
10. VERONICA MARS
Creator: Rob Thomas
Stars: Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III
Years Aired: 2004-2007
Where You Can Watch: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes
Crime Focus: Crime in the affluent town of Neptune
Badass female detectives are few and far between in TV series. Particularly teenage ones. Veronica Mars, however, put defied that with sharp-witted dialogue and a clever metaphor on how high school is effectively hell. It made a star of Kristen Bell, who plays the eponymous lead. She's a private investigator who lives in the fictional town of Neptune, California. When Veronica's not going to high school, she's taking tips from her detective father, solving different cases in every episode. The series is also noteworthy for being one of the first forays into acting post-Mean Girls for a young Amanda Seyfried, and for featuring "We Used To Be Friends" by The Dandy Warhols as its theme tune. Veronica Mars balanced a sense of progressive character development and themes with an affable zeitgeist-y cool.
9. AMERICAN CRIME
Creator: John Ridley
Stars: Felicity Huffman, Regina King
Years Aired: 2015-2017
Where You Can Watch: Netflix, Amazon, ABC, iTunes, Google Play
Crime Focus: The fallout from a racially motivated murder and more
American Crime is one of those shows you anticipate a commercial break so that you can breathe again. Each season, the anthology drama tackled a new socio-political issue the would leave viewers uncomfortable with how true to life the series felt. Season one dealt with racial tensions after a murder of a veteran shook a community, season two tackled socioeconomic differences and sexual orientation among high school students, while season three's timely plot centered on immigration and human trafficking. Although canceled by ABC at the conclusion of the third season, the show was well written, well directed, and had top-notch performances from Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, and two-time Emmy Award-winning Regina King. The show’s content, season after season, might have been too real for some Americans to handle.
8. BOARDWALK EMPIRE
Creator: Terence Winter
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Michael Kenneth Williams
Years Aired: 2010-2014
Where You Can Watch: Amazon, HBO NOW, HBO GO, iTunes, Google Play
Crime Focus: Atlantic City during the prohibition era
An HBO show that truly demonstrated the power of epic TV-making over feature length films, Boardwalk Empire is a full sensory, cinematic experience. With a blockbuster lead actor in Steve Buscemi and a pilot episode directed by Martin Scorsese, it sucks the viewer into Prohibition Era Atlantic City and redefines crime period drama for the small screen. Based loosely on history, the show revolves around Buscemi's Enoch Thompson (written after Enoch L Johnson, a politician who ruled Atlantic City in the 1920s and 30s). Thompson is as corrupt as they come, wheeling and dealing with mobsters while being the hero to his local community and going about his daily business with government agents. It's no coincidence that Emmy-award winner and former Sopranos executive producer Terence Winter is Boardwalk Empire's creator—the show has been widely acclaimed as one of the best since. It requires patience but the reward is spellbinding acting.
7. TOP OF THE LAKE
Creator: Jane Campion, Gerard Lee
Stars: Elizabeth Moss, Peter Mullan
Years Aired: 2013–present
Where You Can Watch: Hulu, Amazon, Google Play
Crime Focus: A small town in New Zealand where a pregnant 12-year-old goes missing
The best crime shows are never just crime shows, though some shows ask you to dig deeper for the subtext than others. Jane Campion’s miniseries does not bury the lede. Explicitly concerned with power structures that permit and promote the abuse of women (and possible patriarchy-dismantling alternatives) Top of the Lake takes a crime show staple—the missing girl, specifically made available to the viewer through a portrait photograph—and crafts an alternate narrative. Elisabeth Moss plays Detective Robin Griffin, who returns to the small town in New Zealand that raised her (and tried to break her) to investigate the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old named Tui. The ending may feel rushed, but the first few episodes emphasize slow, character-driven storytelling that introduces memorable parts like Holly Hunter’s all-women-commune-founder G.J. and Peter Mullan’s Matt Mitcham, a powerful figure in the town with—surprise—plenty of secrets.
Creator: Ann Biderman
Stars: Regina King, Michael Cudlitz, Benjamin McKenzie
Years Aired: 2009-2013
Where You Can Watch: Hulu, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes
Crime Focus: An LAPD squad unit
Southland from Emmy-winning writer Ann Biderman is a real look at the underbelly of the LAPD. Most of the action happens in the passenger seat of cop cars roaming the treacherous L.A. streets, and usually in the day time. The action follows the lives of many of L.A.'s finest officers, all of whom have their own sordid personal troubles, but the narrative doesn't get too bogged down in their soap operas. Rather, each episode is its own entity, beginning at the climax of a story, then rewinding back to the start to provide an insight into the thrilling, life-threatening, and downright exhausting task of protecting L.A.'s rabid ganglands and twisted communities. Also, bonus points for being the show that The OC's Benjamin McKenzie (a.k.a. Ryan Atwood) graduated to post teen drama.
Creator: Graham Yost
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter
Years Aired: 2010-2015
Where You Can Watch: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play
Crime Focus: A tough U.S. Marshall in Miami
The show has barely left the airwaves and yet, Justified is already one of the most underrated series to come out of the Peak, Prestige, whatever TV era, ever. Maybe what’s frustrating is that, had it bowed just a few years later, it would’ve run during FX’s own golden age, the current climate in which the network commands a respectable aura of must-see TV to match HBO. Justified was just as deserving to be on FX as Atlanta, The Americans or any Noah Hawley show.
As a series centered around a quick-draw U.S. Marshal funneling a lifetime of repressed anger through the barrel of his gun, there are, of course, plenty of titillating gunfights to go around. But this being an Elmore Leonard adaptation, one that rivals the great Jackie Brown for faithfulness to source, the standout here is the dialog. Slickly phrased banter is casually volleyed between some of the most richly drawn cops and crooks you’ve ever seen on TV—even the smallest of roles was a memorably idiosyncratic lived-in character. Even more lived-in is the universe, which plants Timothy Olyphant’s Marshal Raylan Givens back in the Kentucky hole he spent his adulthood trying to escape, forced to confront his demons at every turn be they old flames, friends turned foe, or reminders of his miserable upbringing; Raylan’s petty criminal father is a frequent antagonist.
The mythology is equally as textured and rich, and all without the hackneyed hand-holding of flashbacks—every family has a legacy and a history of each other, and the context is all right there in their present-day interactions. This is Game of Thrones, in an oil mining town. Raylan’s archnemesis—the always superb Walton Goggins—is also a friend from way back, the extent of their connection is succinctly and brilliantly summed up with “We dug coal together.” No one does charming, wry badass, but tortured leading man quite as well as Timothy Olyphant did here; why he wasn’t swimming in Emmy nominations will keep me up at night forever. There have been plenty of lawman shows before and after Justified, none of which feature the hero tossing a bullet at a foe with the warning that “the next one’s coming faster.”
4. AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON
Creator: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Stars: Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Nathan Lane, David Schwimmer, John Travolta
Years Aired: 2016-2017
Where You Can Watch: Netflix, Amazon, Google Play
Crime Focus: The O.J. Simpson trial
It's sometimes easy to forget that the real TV legacy of the Kardashians began with the trial of NFL sports star O.J. Simpson. In this FX series, it's David Schwimmer who plays Robert Kardashian, Kris Jenner's former husband and father to Kim et al, but most importantly a member of O.J.'s defense team. The series boasts an enviable cast with Cuba Gooding Jr as the defendant himself, John Travolta as litigator Robert Shapiro, and even Selma Blair as Kris (then Kardashian). The action follows the 1995 courtroom drama, beginning with the murder of Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, his subsequent charging, and the building of his infamous and ultimately successful defense team. Given the notion that the real trial itself became the first that was publicly televised to such a degree, it's slightly meta to be re-watching a fictionalized version, but the show is as gripping and nail-biting as it would have been if you didn't already know the outcome.
Creator: Bryan Fuller
Stars: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Lawerence Fishburne
Years Aired: 2013-2015
Where You Can Watch: Amazon, iTunes
Crime Focus: An FBI profiler who empathizes with serial killers, a.k.a. Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Lecter first rose to fame via 1991's cinematic masterpiece The Silence Of The Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. The character and his world, however, was such a fascination to fans that it warranted its own NBC series, which lasted three seasons. Foregoing The Silence Of The Lambs, the TV thriller focused on Hannibal and Red Dragon, the other novels by Thomas Harris which were also turned into film adaptations. Mads Mikkelsen adopted the role of the treacherous, nightmarish Lecter, while Lawrence Fishburne and Gillian Anderson rounded up the tremendous cast. Bryan Fuller, who created the series, was inspired by the likes of Davids Lynch and Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick in his approach to the myth of Lecter. His intention was to force the titular cannibal into an even stranger universe than he inhabited before. And it worked. While the series only ran for a limited number of seasons, it allowed for a deeper exploration into all the various corners and sub-plots of the initial films. Delicious.
2. breaking Bad
Creator: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn
Years Aired: 2008-2013
Where You Can Watch: Netflix, AMC, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play
Crime Focus: The classic high school chemistry teacher turned Meth dealer
Breaking Bad is not the show for those who suffer from stress. A darkly humorous, utterly tragic, and culturally riveting premise from the get-go, the show follows the dicey escapades of a high school chemistry teacher (Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston) as he becomes a crystal meth cook after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Concerned about providing for his wife and two children, he turns to drug production as a way of making long-term provisions for his family, but soon enough White turns into his alter ego Heisenberg and season-by-season his moral compass begins to chip away. Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it offers up a warped alternative view on the American Dream, as one good-natured citizen slowly but surely becomes one of America's most dangerous at the hands of societal pressure. The series is as lauded for its plot twists, violence, and stand-out performances as it is for its well-timed humor and meme-able quotes from Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman.
1. THE SHIELD
Creator: Shawn Ryan
Stars: Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Glen Close
Years Aired: 2002-2008
Where You Can Watch: Hulu, Amazon, Google Play
Crime Focus: A crooked L.A. cop and his squad
Balance is crucial. If there’s a Wire, a series so hyper-realistic in its reflection of the failures of the American city that it hews closer to documentary than fiction at times, then there must be a Shield: a series interested in exploring the same themes, but with pulp fiction as its base. The execution is the same, but where The Wire has characters on both sides of the law presented as equal shades of gray (give or take a Marlo), The Shield has archvillains. It has shootouts. It has moments of extreme, stomach-churning violence and A-list special guests like Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker, and Anthony Anderson that The Wire would’ve found distracting. And yet, it’s equally as visceral.
Sopranos and Wire get all the credit but your favorite Golden Age/Peak TV antihero is just as much Vic Mackey’s son as he is Tony Soprano’s. Set in a fictional L.A. district, the series flits between the everyday banal horror of beat cops, detectives tracking larger, headline-level criminals, and the bureaucracies associated with being police chief, The Shield is, arguably, the best cop show of all time. Then, of course, there’s Vic Mackey, who as he declares in the series’ pilot, is “a different kind of cop.” Michael Chiklis has the hard job of presenting the many different facets of Vic, who leads his precinct’s “Strike Team,” a special unit for policing the streets that he handily abuses for both his own benefit and the practical greater good. Vic is at once the pragmatic, commanding peacekeeper, charming maverick, and ugly opportunist. The pilot ends with him and his team committing an unspeakable act. And while the violence just snowballed from there, the series managed to stay grounded by having Vic and his team recognize just how badly they abused their power—its specter hangs over the rest of the series, their comeuppance looming with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. In the interim, we’re treated to seven seasons worth of the most nail-biting suspense across any cable drama to date; the blueprint it established for a roller-coaster final arc is identifiable in all contemporary classics (whatup Breaking Bad). We get deliciously pulp moments like Anthony Anderson showing a different, Emmy-worthy side of himself as a villainous kingpin not above murdering children. The same exploration of the way our systems fail the people are all there but in a way that feels closer to escapism than the harsh truth. The Shield pioneered FX into being the network we know today. It pioneered the marriage between heady intelligent television and mass entertainment. Not NYPD Blue, not The Wire. A different kind of cop.