We all have a bit of an amateur detective inside of us. Whether you’re a Criminology major or you just got really invested in the Casey Anthony trial, there’s something fun about mysteries you don’t know the answer to. The draw of the unknown is a large part of the reason why shows like CSI and Law and Order: SVU have been television staples for years; they give us sensational drama and tidy, self–contained resolution all in 45 minutes. But a lot can get sacrificed in those short run–times. This becomes especially evident once you’ve watched a couple back to back.
In the real world, “mysteries” aren’t as fun as they are on TV. Criminal investigations are messy, complicated, and laden with emotional pain for the survivors. But the most thrilling shows don’t ignore this; they embrace it. From cult classics to deeper cuts, here is a list of mystery and crime shows that are compelling, emotional, and still keep us glued to our screens:
This is an obvious pick to start this list off. Beloved by many and a source of confusion for even more, Twin Peaks follows FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he arrives in quiet Twin Peaks, Washington and tries to uncover the mystery behind who killed high school student Laura Palmer. At least, that’s the “normal” synopsis—it quickly gets a lot trippier than that. Surreal and thought–provoking, this is more than just the show your weird friend liked in high school. It has dominated and defined the small–town–turned–upside–down genre since it premiered, and its influence can be felt in everything from Stranger Things to Riverdale.
The Night Of
Antiheroes are having a moment right now. Crime shows like Breaking Bad and Narcos take on the genre from the perspective of the criminals, but it takes the mystery out of things to be on their side. HBO’s The Night Of remedies this problem by giving us a story where we know as little as the person on trial. When Naz (Riz Ahmed) wakes up after a night of partying, he finds the girl he hooked up with dead next to him—and realizes he has no recollection of what happened. It’s a cut–and–dry crime show in the sense that viewers can make their own calls on Naz’s guilt or innocence—but what makes it so intelligent and riveting is the commentary it provides on the criminal justice system itself.
The BBC’s Broadchurch is a rock–solid example of smart, sensitive, and thrilling television. The show starts with the body of a young boy being found on a small–town English beach. Subsequent episodes deal as heavily in familial and community trauma as they do in suspense. Broadchurch is held up by phenomenal performances from actors like David Tennant and Olivia Colman (as the investigating detectives) and Jodie Whittaker (as Beth Latimer, the boy’s mother). Broadchurch focuses in on their pain and doesn’t abandon their developments once the case is closed. The only bad thing that we can say about this show is that it’s only three seasons long.
To the unfamiliar, Veronica Mars might come off as an unlikely choice for critical acclaim. Described as a “high school noir” and starring Kristen Bell as the title female detective, the premise sounds too cute to work as serious entertainment. But the show was, and still is, praised as not only one of the best crime shows to air on TV, but also as one of the best shows of the 2000s, full–stop. Veronica Mars hits a sweet note of teen snark and raw emotion, and skillfully depicts tragedy that could come off as sensational—a high school girl’s murder, Veronica’s sexual assault—without faltering or missing the mark. Veronica Mars is probably unlike any show you’ve ever seen, and we promise that’s a good thing.