When I made my Top 5 list of American crime shows on television, I promised to do the same thing for the Brits. This list reaches farther back into history, mainly because I loved British crime shows long before American ones were worth watching. As before, the idea isn't to put out an objective canon. These just happen to be the shows that switched a light on for me.
To be honest, this shouldn't be on the list. I'm not a fan of CSI-style forensics shows, cold case files, or episodic stories. But Waking the Dead has one redeeming quality that counteracts everything: Trevor Eve as Boyd. He's having fun chewing up the scenery, and I'm having fun with him.
As in the American list, I had to throw in a mini-series. The coppers in Conviction are real people. Their mistakes lead to real moral dilemmas. This series also illustrates one of the reasons I like crime fiction in general: the scale of the action and what's at stake don't have to be monumental for the drama to be seriously absorbing.
3. Foyle's War
Given my thing for anti-heroes, this may be a surprising choice. But hey -- great theme music, great sidekicks, and above all, Michael Kitchen as Foyle, a plausible moral stalwart (which is not easy to pull off these days). This eccentric fly-fishing Detective Chief Superintendent is always delivering sermons to his bureaucratic and social superiors, and I love 'em all. Even when justice can't be done -- as when the killer turns out to be essential to the war effort -- Foyle says, "Fine, I'll nick you when the war is over." The way Kitchen delivers his lines -- that alone is worth the price of admission.
I identify with Fitz way too much. I even like his sense of style. While Robbie Coltrane is clearly the show-stopper, there are some impressive supporting characters: the despicable Jimmy Beck, DCI Billborough with his "dying man's statement," a host of soon-to-be-famous guest stars. Memory plays tricks: re-watching Cracker, I'm astonished how few episodes there are relative to the number of scenes this show etched on my mid-90s brain.
This should come as no surprise. Season 5, with Steven Mackintosh as The Street, is my favorite, but they're all pretty great. Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison is simply iconic. She manages to be selfish, ambitious, all too human, yet utterly sympathetic. Prime Suspect was the first crime show I can remember watching that clearly cared about its craft. I adored it and still do.
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Now that I've started, I'm thinking of so many shows I'm leaving out. But that's the nature of the beast. What do you think? Have I omitted something brilliant?