If you’ve read my bio on this website you know that I’m a big fan of European crime dramas. One of the reasons I like these shows so much is because of how intelligently written many of them are. The best crime series have creative, air-tight plots, lots of nail-biting suspense, and enough twists and turns to make most roller coaster enthusiasts get motion sickness. The acting has to be spot-on, as do the subtitles if the original language isn’t English. A bad translation can really kill the whole vibe.
I also like that these series don’t rely on violence, such as loud, bloody gun battles, to move their plots along. They instead tend to lean on the strengths of their writers and actors to create thrilling, often terrifying, tales.
Sometimes called “Nordic Noir,” the Scandinavians are masters of the genre, especially the Danes and Swedes. One of the best European crime series of all time is The Bridge (Broen in Danish), created in 2011 by Swedish writer Hans Rosenfeldt. The series is so mindblowingly good that it’s inspired several spinoffs, including shows tailored for audiences in the UK, US, central Europe, Russia, and Asia. Don’t be fooled, though. If you’re going to watch this series don’t settle for anything other than the original.
Some of my other favorite European crime series include both the Swedish and BBC versions of Wallander, based on the mystery novels by Swedish writer Henning Mankell. Both versions of this series are worth watching. The BBC series, starring Kenneth Branagh, is a little darker and creepier than the Swedish version, while I think the latter is a bit truer to Mankell’s work.
I’m also a sucker for the American version of the Danish series, The Crime, called The Killing. Although it’s set and filmed in the Pacific northwest, it features a talented European cast and some of the best writing and acting I’ve seen on any television series. The night I started watching it, I stayed up until one o’clock in the morning binge-watching episode after episode, and that’s not something I usually do.
Other European crime series I’ve enjoyed include the BBC’s The Fall, set in Northern Ireland. It stars Gillian Anderson, who plays one of the most bad-ass female detectives I’ve seen anywhere. Broadchurch, also made by the BBC, gets part of its creep factor from its remote setting on the Dorset coast. And if you like creepy, remote settings like I do, you’ll probably also like Shetland, a Scottish crime series set in the Shetland Islands.
The French also make some good crime dramas, though being French they occasionally lean more toward philosophizing than toward crime-solving. One of my favorite French series is La Forêt or The Forest. I’ve recently started watching Mountain Detective, a French crime series set in the Hautes-Alpes. I like it so far.
For as many excellent European crime dramas as there are out there, and there are many more good ones than I’ve mentioned here, there are also a lot of duds. If I don’t like a series after the first episode, out it goes. I’ve even been known to turn a show off after only a few minutes if I don’t think it’s going anywhere or if the plot seems too canned (usually I’m right).
Send me a note if you you have recommendations for new European crime series. I’m always looking for shows that pique my interest enough to make me want to stay up past my bedtime.