I am addicted to British TV crime series, with an occasional seasoning of Scandinavian noir or French série policière. But my latest binge was American: The Killing (four seasons streaming now on Prime Video.) Oops, now I read the small print, The Killing is based on a Swedish series. It is set in Seattle where it’s always raining, and the characters wear North Face outer layers over their hoodies and Scandinavian knitwear. I happen to live near Seattle, and I’m happy to perpetuate the rain myth—it’s meant to keep Californians from inflating our housing market—but I couldn’t help guffawing at the bloopers: one second, Linden is driving northbound on I-5; next shot, she’s headed in the opposite direction to the same destination. That aside, this is compelling, gory television, with deeply flawed characters—the police as well as the criminals.

Back to the Brits. The current crop includes:

  • Steeltown Murders (Acorn TV) based on real events in South Wales. Other excellent British true crime: Stonehouse (BritBox), In Plain Sight (BritBox), The Sixth Commandment (BritBox)
  • Slow Horses (Apple TV+) Secret Service intrigue, not strictly crime, but a superb adaptation of Mick Herron’s novels with Gary Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas heading a great cast.
  • Criminal Record (Apple TV+) The racial politics of policing in London.
  • Bad Sisters (Apple TV+) More slapstick than gritty. Irish women against the patriarchy.
  • The sublime Sarah Lancashire returned for a third season of Happy Valley (Acorn TV) which ticks all the boxes for me.

Although my preference is for the hard-edged, there are some classics I return to for comfort-viewing.

  • Inspector Morse (BritBox) and its spin-offs Endeavor (PBS Passport) and Lewis (BritBox).
  • Foyle’s War (Acorn TV)
  • Vera (BritBox)

I’ve never gotten into Midsomer Murders (Acorn TV)—too cozy, and the astronomical Cotswold village murder count beggars belief.

There are so many more excellent shows still streaming from pre-Covid times: Broadchurch, Line of Duty, Unforgotten, to name three. What distinguishes all these series from U.S.-made shows is the acting. British actors inhabit the characters they play. They are not glossy and good-looking with perfect teeth and a wardrobe to match. If the part requires an overweight, acne-scarred slob, that’s who you’ll see on screen. Looking at you, Gary Oldman.

I should mention a few favorites from across the water (the English Channel, that is):

  • Dicte, Denmark (PBS Passport)
  • Astrid, France (PBS Passport)
  • Babylon Berlin, Germany (Netflix)
  • Lupin, France (Netflix)

I don’t mind sub-titles; they make me feel sophisticated somehow. And hearing the dialog in a language I don’t understand showcases the quality of the acting.

Is my obsession with crime shows unhealthy? I don’t think so. It’s not the body count that draws me. In any case, with strict British gun laws, there’s rarely more than one corpse on show. I like the ingenious plotting, the complicated characters, and, again, the superb acting.

What are your favorite European imports?  I’m always on the lookout for recommendations.

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