From Broadchurch To Unbelievable: The Five Best Mystery Shows Available Today

June 3, 2020 | Veronica Litt

From Broadchurch To Unbelievable: The Five Best Mystery Shows Available Today

The Regency devoured Gothic novels, Victorians were blessed with Sherlock Holmes, and the 20th century welcomed Agatha Christie. But nowadays, mystery lovers have the pleasure not of reading but binge-watching a virtually endless supply of detective dramas. Whether you’re new to the mystery genre or a seasoned couch-bound sleuth, everyone can enjoy a rollicking mystery—and these ones are the cream of the crop.

Best Mystery Shows Editorial

Line of Duty, The Ultimate Police Procedural

Logline: Moody officers investigate the links between organized crime and the London police force.

Jed Mercurio’s critically acclaimed police drama explores the ambiguous world of the London police force. As anti-corruption officer Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and undercover detective Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) investigate crooked cops, they’re drawn into a web of moral ambiguity, deception, and institutional rot.

Whether the true culprit is cruel circumstance, human weakness, or outright sadism, Line of Duty provides an unflinching look at the institutions that should protect us—and what happens when they go awry. The series’ color palette is rife with shades of grey for a reason: Line of Duty is never satisfied with simple answers.

Best Season: They’re all excellent, but the arc with Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) is especially impressive. Check out her story in seasons two and three.

Mystery Shows EditorialLine of Duty, BBC

The Bridge, The Scandi-Noir That More People Need To See

Logline: Scandi-noir starring an emotionally unavailable savant and her great vintage car.

This Danish-Swedish co-production revolves around Sofia Helin’s outstanding performance as Saga Norén, Scandinavia’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. Saga may not be the most socially skilled detective, but even her nay-sayers have to acknowledge her determination and brilliance.  Throughout the show’s four seasons, Saga unravels satisfyingly complex crimes—everything from eco-terrorism to elaborate personal vendettas—though as time passes, the cases play second fiddle to Saga’s belated bildungsroman. Viewers come to learn that Saga’s tendency to white-knuckle her way through life isn’t a choice but an inevitability given her traumatic past. With Helin’s performance and the showrunners’ willingness to take risks that would sink any other TV show, The Bridge manages to meld a nail-biter thriller with an exceptional character study.

Best Season: A bookender—the first and final seasons are standouts.

Mystery Shows EditorialThe Bridge, Nimbus Film/Filmlance International

Broadchurch, The Modern Classic

Logline: What a nice picturesque seaside town you have here, it would be a shame if something happened to it...

The Brits always love an idyllic village, especially if it comes with a secretly rotten moral core. Broadchurch takes this trope and dials it up to 11, juxtaposing the lifeless body of young Danny Latimer with the breathtaking seaside cliffs from which he fell—or, we come to suspect, was pushed.

As local detective Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) investigates the case, the show balances her pep with brooding inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant), a transplanted city cop with a mysterious past. Thanks to the natural chemistry between Colman and Tennant, the gut-punch twist ending, and the strong cast of supporting characters, the first series of Broadchurch quickly became one of the UK’s best-known and most admired capers. The lackluster second series...not so much. If you dropped off after season two and never got around to giving the third season a chance, rectify that as soon as possible. The final season replicates the first series’ attention to small-town life, but changes things up by sensitively exploring how one woman’s assault comes to impact the entire community.

Best Season: See above: Everyone loves season one, but the excellent third series deserves more recognition.

Mystery Shows EditorialBroadchurch, ITV

Shetland, The Underrated Gem

Logline: Soft-spoken Jimmy Perez investigates quiet tragedies on the Shetland Islands.

Since 2013, Shetland has slowly amassed a devoted fan base with its unique take on the detective procedural. Set on its eponymous Scottish archipelago, Shetland’s bleak beauty immediately distinguishes the show from its forensic ilk. More impressive, as Shetland progresses, viewers learn that its interest in the landscape isn’t cosmetic.

From the immigrant experience to Shetland’s impoverished old guard, the show continually returns to issues like the environment, home, and belonging. Grounded by Douglas Henshall’s sensitive portrayal of Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, Shetland is the best detective show you’ve probably never heard of.

Best Season: The first two seasons, especially the episode “Raven Black,” are incredible.

Mystery Shows EditorialShetland, ITV Studios, BBC

Unbelievable, A Powerful Feminist Spin

Logline: Two detectives do the seemingly impossible and believe a woman who says she was assaulted.

Unbelievable is the most experimental mystery show in ages. It upends the beats that structure most detective series with one brilliant alteration: It focuses on how women experience the so-called justice system with two intertwined stories. The first plot follows Marie Adler (Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever), who is assaulted by a mysterious assailant. In the brutal first episode, we see Marie come forward and file a police report—only to be told that she is lying and even charged with wasting police resources. In the second episode, we meet Marie’s white knights: Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever), two cops investigating a vicious multi-state offender.

Viewers simultaneously follow a crime from two perspectives: the traumatic aftermath faced by Marie and the slow-burn whodunnit headed by Rasmussen and Duvall. By contrasting these narratives, Unbelievable provides viewers with the thrilling pursuit they expect, while also giving equal time to victims and their experiences.

Best Season: There’s only one and it’s perfect.

Mystery Shows EditorialUnbelievable, Netflix

Honorable Mentions:

Scott & Bailey: In the mood for a comforting procedural that lets women be more than hostages and victims? This British detective series is for you.

Bodyguard: Steamy political thriller starring hot Brits Keeley Hawes and Richard Maddon. I watched this in a day and regret nothing.

The Fall: For all the people who thought Christian Grey was high-key creepy, bask in the catharsis of The Fall where Jamie Dornan promotes subtext to text and plays a remorseless killer.

Luther: Idris Elba prowls around London in a fantastic coat. What more do you want?

Veronica Mars: Nancy Drew + California sleaze = the sublunary world of Veronica Mars. Enjoy the first season but after that, proceed with caution.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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