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The Best Crime TV Shows of the 21st Century, Ranked

The Best Crime TV Shows of the 21st Century, Ranked

[Editor’s Note: The below piece was originally published on May 12, 2017.]

As long as humans have been passing on stories, those stories have included our ability to invade each other. It’s a tradition as old as the Bible.

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In addition to documenting how people break the rules that govern our evolving notions of society, we’ve also been fascinated by those responsible for righting those wrongs. Whether it’s the detectives investigating these crimes, those within the justice system who determine the appropriate level of punishment, or the friends and family who leave after these acts have occurred, the process has become a cornerstone of many cultural touchstones.

On the TV side, the trend is as prevalent as ever during the better part of two decades of the antihero’s reign of supremacy. For every dire situation that asks the audience “how would you react in this situation?” there are often dire consequences. There’s no easier way to up the ante than by letting a character fall into a situation where they or someone in their orbit breaks the law.

Of course, these shows are never just about individuals. Even a show about the most upright Robin Hood-esque character exists in the perception of what is right or wrong.Some of the most popular shows in the genre have had a huge impact on these public perceptions, and not always positiveThe stories that deserve analysis or praise often come down to how they use that power to reveal something more than a narrow view of human nature.

So, in honor of some of the best TV shows of this still young century, we’ve rounded up 30 series that best depict this cycle of rise, fall and outcome. Sometimes criminals are our heroes. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who the show is fighting for.

[Some criteria: We’ve stuck to shows that aired a majority of their episodes in the 2000s or later and only included scripted programming. The definition of a “crime show” is elastic, but if criminal activity (or the prosecution thereof) was central to the show’s ongoing plot, we deemed it eligible for this list.]

Kristen Lopez, Liz Shannon Miller and Hanh Nguyen contributed to this list.

“Law & Order: SVU” – Credit: NBC


30. “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”

1999 to present

Now the grandfather of the “Law & Order” world, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” remains one of the most high-profile crimes, if not exploitative ones. When it originally started, we followed SVU Detectives Benson and Stabler (Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, respectively) as they worked to help victims of sexual assault and assault. The series has sparked discussion throughout its 20-year history, including when Hargitay became a vocal proponent of a timely rape package. Sure, the series is often mocked for its poor performance of some “outrageous sex” dialogue, but the world of crime procedural wouldn’t be what it is without it (it gave us one of our favorite crime-fighting duet). — kristen lopez

“Dexter” – Credit: Showtime/REX/Shutterstock


29. “Dexter”


The concept of Miami blood splatter expert Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall in his best role) channeling his serial killer urges into lynching justice against other serial killers is fantastic, making the at-home The audience excitedly supported this with a knife. As he tries to live a normal life with a woman and a son by his side, the impulse always returns and pulls him relentlessly into the most depraved realms. From case to case, killer to killer, the show does a good job of showing our fascination with blood, and Dexter’s bound to blind his friends and the cops. But it’s his relationship with his detective sister Debra that gives the show its energy and real stakes. While the later seasons went a bit off course, no one can dispute the stellar performance of the first few seasons, especially the year John Lithgow fell for a truly creepy season-long arc . — Han Nguyen

Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman,

Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman, “The Sinner” – Credit: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Peter Kramer/USA Network

28. “The Sinner”


It’s as original to make a show about a troubled detective as it is about a doctor who can heal everyone but themselves. Although “The Sinner” didn’t start out that way, it evolved into a series of best-case scenarios that balanced not only the “why” of the crime, but also the “why” of the man leading the investigation.have a few steady hands There have been more appearances on TV in the past decade than Bill Pullman’s Detective Harry Ambrose, even if it feels like the character should be doing anything but rolling in an Olympic-sized trauma swimming pool. From its captivating first season, which revolved around a bland, sunny beach stab, to its hypnotic third, steeped in the essence of fate and free will, “Sinners” rarely takes the easy path. Having a mysterious guide along the way makes it a worthwhile journey, no matter how dangerous. — steve green

“Ladies of Honor” – Credit: SundanceTV

Sundance Television

27. “The Noble Woman”

BBC/Sundance Television

Hugo Blick’s eight-episode series is a bleak but poignant tale of international diplomacy that blends political intricacies, covert espionage and the devastating consequences of mistrust in a way few shows of its kind have. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein, a businesswoman whose family history and pending infrastructure projects intertwine with Israeli-Palestinian relations at the ferocious core. She was surrounded by a group of talented people: Lindsay Duncan, Janet McTeer, Tobias Menzies, Katherine Parkinson and Stephen Rea, the MI6 who was trying to figure it all out. agent. Avoid easy answers and terse conclusions, an example of how the actions of one generation affect future generations. — Shenguang

“Luther” – Credit: Des Willie/BBCAmerica

Des Willie/BBCA America

26. “Luther”


The British detective gets a much-needed calm upgrade as Idris Elba plays Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. Like Sherlock Holmes, Luther’s obsession with solving crimes has led to him becoming obsessive and downright violent. It also added tension to his fractured relationship with those closest to him. As if Elba’s anchor for the series wasn’t enough, the series gave us one of the creepiest villains ever: Ruth Wilson’s Alice Morgan.With the grace and imitative violence befitting Lauren Bacall Hannibal Lecter, Wilson made us both love and fear Alice. Not surprisingly, her “will they or won’t they” relationship with Luther holds much of the series together. — Kuala Lumpur

“Jett” – Image credit: Cinemax

“Jett” – Image credit: Cinemax


25. “Jeter”


Sebastian Gutierrez’s iridescent gaze on a woman trying to move beyond her past proves that dark and gritty crime stories don’t have to come at the expense of talent. Carla Gugino rarely better More Daisy “Jett” Kowalski than here, an all-around burglary expert with a personal history as complicated as her list of targets. Jumping around between work and other complex responsibilities, “Jet” is another story of how one man dives into the underworld in search of fortune, from which they can never quite escape. The show is simultaneously violent and stylized, working together to show how Jeter’s heist can also be a work of art. (The show’s one season is painfully short, but for anyone looking for more, Gutierrez and Gugino’s psychic peacock sequel “Leopard Skin” has much of the same dangerous and flashy DNA.) — Shenguang

Olivia Colman in The Landscape Architect – Credit: Stefania Rosini / HBO

Olivia Colman in The Landscape Architect – Credit: Stefania Rosini / HBO

Stefania Rossini/HBO

24. “Landscape Architect”

home theater

The ability to change perspective is fundamental to many of the shows on this list. No other show takes that idea and makes it so sly like “The Landscape Architect,” a show that’s devoted to the finesse from the opening scene. Ed Sinclair reimagines accused murderers Susan (Olivia Colman) and Christopher Edwards (David Colman) through multiple different lenses through director and co-writer Will Sharp. The true story of Hughes).At some point, both Susan and Christopher considered themselves to be stars of their own misunderstood stories, whether it’s a classic Hollywood romance or a story set in a different era or continent. The show doesn’t just replicate certain genre styles, it gives them an authentic, well-earned haze. A tragic mix of dark comedy, twisted rose-colored optimism, and the drudgery of investigative work, “The Landscape Architect” is a triumph of design. Starting with this cornucopia of styles, the show is able to show in 360 how one action or choice impacts the lives of many others. — Shenguang

“Fast money”

23. “Quick money”


Few crime dramas immerse audiences in (and at times complicate) screen violence quite like “Snabba Cash,” the Swedish drama based on the same 2010s film trilogy from Jens Lapidus ( Jens Lapidus) books. The series begins with three separate threads of Leya (Evin Ahmad), Salim (Alexander Abdallah), and Tim (Ali Alarik), all trying to balance the reality and potential of the various corners of Stockholm where they live. As things progress and their lives become connected, each of the three discovers that any kind of business requires a piece of your soul. Whether it’s the area behind the secret storage room, the boardroom, or the confrontation on the open street, every episode has a coiled snake that feels like something big and/or catastrophic could happen at any moment. Once the bullets start flying, that particular “Snabba Cash” brand of controlled mayhem is unlike any other game of its kind. — Shenguang

'Broadchurch' - Credit: Colin Hutton/BBC America

‘Broadchurch’ – Credit: Colin Hutton/BBC America

Colin Hutton/BBC America

22. “Broadchurch”


When news of the murder of a local boy is found beneath a cliff in the seaside town of Dorset, it shocks the close-knit community. Police investigations and media attention transform citizens, uncovering their secrets and long-held beliefs. While the murderer’s revelation is shocking (not least because that person had a close relationship with a high-profile citizen), it’s the nuanced examination of how that relationship was built and inevitably broken that keeps the show consistently fascinating. disturbed. David Tennant and Olivia Colman deliver tense performances as investigative detectives, helping ‘Broadchurch’ become Britain’s best small-town crime ‘Twin Peaks’ One of the heirs of the pattern, exposing the weakness of the town itself. — hydrogen nitrogen

Up Next: One of the Darkest TV Shows Ever…and One of the Shiniest

Launch Gallery: The 20 Best Crime TV Shows of the 21st Century

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