What to watch during a global health crisis that keeps you shut in your home? Stare terrified at pandemic dramas and zombie shows? Or maybe you’ll want to go to the other extreme with heartwarming dramas – anything from The Golden Girls to Jane the Virgin.
Personally, I’m turning to crime. There’s a reason cop shows are so successful – done well they grip you from the get-go, keep the suspense going to the final chase, and the real world disappears. Crime dramas may not bear much resemblance to reality (certainly a lot of coppers think this), but they are how a lot of people get their views about law enforcement. I’m homing in on the recent flowering of euro-crime, which is where some of the best work has been done in recent years.
Tartan Noir is a leader in the field. So, where else could I possibly start but with Taggart – given that I used to write it.
More than 100 episodes, 26 years’ worth of grit and groove backdropped by Glasgow at its funkiest in every sense. Taggart is unique in the genre as it’s about a cop family. It offers a choice of three father figures (the original Taggart, Jardine, and Burke – the officers who succeeded the original Taggart), big sister Sergeant Reid (Blythe Duff – always the best thing about the show), wayward brother Robbie Ross and the Peter Pan-like Fraser.
The series has always been as much about their relationships as about the crimes they solve together. A trailblazer in the genre, try one of the early seasons to see ye olde Glasgow – or watch series 19-24 (ok – full disclosure: when I was one of the writers…)
I only picked up on the très chic Spiral on series four, and series seven ended here in the UK a couple of months back, so there’s a bit of back catalogue to catch up on. Captain Laure Berthaud polices the rougher areas of Paris. Her personal life is a car crash, those of her lieutenants, Gilou and Tintin are not much better. And their professional lives are, if anything, more disastrous.
Spiral has the feel of an updated NYDP Blue – it’s as much about the failings of the police as the evil-doings of the baddies. And there’s an extra, classy, courtroom drama element.
It’s hardly a weekend break round the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre, yet it still manages to be exotic. Dark and twisted it is, and completely realistic – yet somehow still alluring. While we’re in lockdown, this whiff of Parisian life is a strange kind of tonic. And there are still three whole series I’ve yet to view.
Over the border to Spain, and Money Heist is up there with Killing Eve as one of the most compelling and stylish series of recent years. A wildly ambitious robbery of the Spanish royal mint, under the guidance of a flawed genius known only as The Professor, it all starts to go wrong quickly.
Part suspense-movie, part soap opera, Money Heist is politically sophisticated, fast-moving, multi-charactered – and utterly moreish.
Each of the gangsters has a code name (“Tokyo”, “Nairobi”, etc) and a compelling back story of what brought them to this point. As do each of the hostages they take.
Casa de Papel, to give it the original Spanish name, has been an unexpected hit internationally. Lots of stories, great music, Salvador Dali masks, tapas. But there is a serious, radical underbelly to this show. More than just entertainment, it’s got a point to make. About what money is, what it does, who’s got it, who hasn’t and who wants it. Series four starts this month – so do catch up quickly.
A round-Europe tour. Who needs a rail card? Or freedom of movement. Criminal is an anthology of four mini cop-series, three episodes each for the UK, Spain, France, and Germany – enough to keep you going.
Each episode is standalone and what they all share is that the action seldom moves out of the interrogation room. If anyone is old enough to remember Robbie Coltrane in the superb 1990s series Cracker, it’s the same idea. Investigators finally get the truth out of a suspect and break him or her. If you think that’s limiting, it really isn’t.
Start with David Tenant in the British episodes – dark and surprising. Personally, I liked the German ones best of the others, but they’re all tight, taut and brilliantly acted. Intense, relentless scrutiny, but witty, too. It’s the best of both worlds, each episode building to its own finale, but within a box-set series.
It would be a crime to talk about Euro Noir and not mention the original, and still the greatest of them all. Amazingly it’s more than ten years old. I can still remember everyone talking about this new Danish series and finally catching up with it. Series one has 20 episodes, which I watched on the trot, with just the odd break for the loo or to have a snooze. One murder, one investigation, led by DI Sarah Lund. Moody and gripping, it still feels fresh and totally authentic.
Series two and three are outstanding, too – but that first series is television history. Don’t worry about the subtitles, you’ll soon be in so deep you won’t notice. I’ve never watched the American remake, which has had mixed reviews. Lockdown might be the perfect time to give it a try but only after treating myself to watching all of the original Danish episodes over again.
There’s something hypnotic in its pace, the washed-out colours of on-screen Copenhagen, Sofie Grabol’s absorbing performance. The first, and still the best, of the Scandi-noirs.
And there are so many other great Euro-crime series: Norway’s Wisting, the Swedish/Danish The Bridge, Scotland’s fantastic Shetland. Who’s your favourite? Laure Berthaud, Sara or Saga, Raquel in Madrid? Or Taggart in Glasgow?