It’s no secret that TV loves a good crime drama, and Netflix has a lot of good ones on offer. But, why do we love them? Are we obsessed with death? Is it a rubbernecking effect, like passing an accident site on the highway? We know we shouldn’t watch, but we can’t look away. Or maybe it’s the armchair detective in us–the one who wants to be the first to guess whodunit.
Whatever your reason for watching, sit back and enjoy these offerings from Netflix. Or check out one of our other lists for a broader selection of binge-worthy shows on Netflix, and on Amazon Prime.
This miniseries is a continuation of the story that started with the Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, based very loosely on the murder that shocked 19th-Century America. (That movie is also available on Netflix.) In this series, the story begins in 1893 Fall River, eight months after Lizzie is acquitted for the murders of her father and stepmother. Lizzie’s reputation and finances are ruined as she and her sister Emma try to start a new life. Christina Ricci stars as the title character, Clea Duvall plays Emma Borden, and Cole Hauser plays Charlie Siringo, a Pinkerton detective who is unsatisfied with the verdict and wants to continue the investigation.
Daniel Holden was convicted of murder and spent 19 years on death row before he was proven innocent by DNA evidence. Now there’s another investigation into who killed Daniel’s teenage girlfriend, Hanna. The first season focuses on Daniel’s attempts to reintegrate himself into society, including dealing with people who were certain he was guilty. Although accused by critics of moving at a slow pace, the consensus is that viewers' patience is rewarded with rich, emotional moments and revelations. Created by Ray McKinnon for Sundance TV, this show stars Aden Young as the main character; Abigail Spencer as Daniel’s sister, Amantha; and J. Smith-Cameron as Daniel’s mother.
Bones is a procedural that has been running on Fox since 2005. It centers around the relationship between Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), a forensic anthropologist, and Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), of the FBI. The two partner to solve murders using evidence recovered from dead bodies. "Bones" is Dr. Brennan’s nickname, and she’s the team leader at a federal institution that collaborates with the FBI. Silly as it may seem, the show's dynamic mirrors the real-life relationship between the Smithsonian Museum and the FBI. Along with the murder of the week, the series explores the relationships and private lives of the characters.
Paranoid is a television mini-series created by Bill Gallagher for ITV and Netflix. After a doctor is killed in a playground, someone called the “Ghost Detective” is gathering boxes of clues and secretly interviewing witnesses. The investigation leads to a pharmaceutical company in Dusseldorf, and the detectives seek help from their German colleagues. Indira Varma plays D.S. Nina Suresh, Robert Glenister is DC Bobby Day, and Dino Fetscher is DC Alec Wayfield.
An idiosyncratic FBI agent investigates the murder of a young woman in the even more idiosyncratic town of Twin Peaks in this iconic show created by Mark Frost and David Lynch. Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, five miles from the Canadian border, Laura Palmer is murdered. Enter the FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) to help solve the case. Along with the local sheriff, Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), Cooper investigates the murder. The show moves at a slow pace as strange occurrences become commonplace and we are introduced to the townsfolk. There’s Laura’s mother (Grace Zabriskie), womanizer Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), James Hurley (James Marshall), the biker who was romantically involved with the murder victim, and Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), the victim’s best friend. There’s bound to be plenty of interest in this 20-year-old show, as with season 3 is running now as a Netflix/Showtime collaboration.
After a car accident takes the life of a family member, a police detective lives two alternating parallel lives: one with his wife and one with his son. He begins wearing different color wristbands to help him keep track of which reality he’s living in. Is one of his realities merely a dream? Awake was created by Kyle Killen and stars Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten, the accident victim. The show ran for one season on Fox.
The Code was created by Shelley Birse and stars Dan Spielman and Ashley Zukerman as two Canberra-based brothers entangled in a cover-up that involves a remote outback community and key members of the Australian Government. Ned is the older brother, who is conflicted about caring for his autistic younger brother, Jesse. Jesse has been in trouble with the law and is no longer allowed to use the internet unsupervised. When the brothers are sent a video of a murder, they investigate despite the fact that it places them both in serious danger, and there are many people involved who don’t ever want the truth to come out.
Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is the dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Widowed only a year, he is a man in psychic repair who buries his pain behind a brave face, unassuming grin, and dry wit. Longmire is a hybrid cowboy western and police procedural. Series creators John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin based the series on the books written by Craig Johnson.
Jean Bastiere (Marc-Andre Grondin) and his family live in London, where Jean runs a crime scene cleaning business. When his brother Martin (Denis Menochet) resurfaces after many years, he brings with him not only a dead body hidden in his van, but the memories and trauma that Jean hoped would stay buried forever. According to Heidi Patalano of TheWrap, “The show has the potential to become an export as beloved as shows like Wallander and The Fall—too smart for the mainstream and pleasing for those of us who consider ourselves above watching Bones.” This Franco-British television series was co-created by Ed McArdie and Corinne Marrinan, and premiered in France in 2015. It was renewed for a second season by Esquire.
Jack Taylor is an Irish TV drama set in Galway, based on the book series by Ken Bruen. The title character (Iain Glen) is a former police officer with the Garda Siochana, who now works as a “finder” or private investigator. He’s a hard-drinking, old-school-type who knows his city like the back of his hand--but he was fired as a cop for assaulting a politician after pulling him over for a traffic violation. Although there’s nothing particularly original in this show’s content, Iain Glen breathes new life into this old genre and the Galway setting is simultaneously dysfunctional and breathtaking.
Hell on Wheels was created by Joe and Tony Gayton for AMC. It is an American Western TV series that begins in 1865, shortly after President Lincoln’s assassination, and tells the story of the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The show takes its name from the encampment of laborers, prostitutes, mercenaries, and others who followed construction of the railroad cross-country. At the center of the series is Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), a former confederate soldier who works as foreman and chief engineer after his wife and son were murdered by Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Ripper Street takes place in the poor Whitechapel section of London, 1889, just six months after the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders. When more mutilated victims turn up, it’s up to DI Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and his partner, DS Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), to discover whether the Ripper is at it again. Reid and his wife Emily (Amanda Hale) have suffered their own tragedy surrounding the death of their only daughter, Mathilda. There is some mystery surrounding the girl that only slowly emerges through the season, but causes a rift between Reid and Emily. Filmed in Dublin, the show has recreated the period in London very convincingly.
Gotham was created by Bruno Heller as a prelude to the Batman stories. It tells the story of Commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he begins his career in Gotham and meets the young, newly orphaned Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). Gordon has his work cut out for him as the hard-working straight arrow in a corrupt (at worst) and lazy (at best) police department. Donal Logue plays Harvey Bullock, Gordon’s partner, who is willing to try it Gordon’s way as long as he doesn’t have to work too hard. Robin Lord Taylor is fabulous as Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, as is Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney. Sam Perwee plays Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s fatherly butler.
After 30 years away, Dr. Blake returns to Australia to take over his father's medical practice. As the town's doctor and the area police surgeon, Dr. Blake encounters a steady stream of mysteries that he can't help trying to solve. Blake's absence included a period in China during World War II, giving him plenty of secrets and tragic backstory of his own as he digs into the secrets of his hometown. This series ran for five seasons and netted Craig McLachlan three Logie nominations for his performance as Dr. Blake.
Written by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), this hard-hitting ABC series is a good sign that broadcast network television is becoming more like cable--I discovered it through Netflix, and was surprised to learn it had originated on ABC. It’s a spellbinding look at a murder case in Modesto, CA, and the racism, drugs, gangs, and corruption faced (and committed) by the characters at every turn. In other words, it’s the story of America and everything that’s wrong with our legal system.
Idris Elba is amazing as DCI John Luther, the heartbroken, genius, violent, and tormented cop who returns to duty after a mental-health leave only to come face-to-face with a psychotic serial killer, chillingly portrayed by Ruth Wilson. He’s tortured by the breakup of his marriage and on a tight leash with the police department, who aren’t sure they can trust him to keep it together. The show was created by Neil Cross and is well-written, but owes most of its success to the irrepressible talent of Idris Elba, who raises the quality of the overall series tremendously. I could watch him and listen to his voice forever.
This Netflix original series begins in the late 1970s and follows the rise of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) from his first involvement in the cocaine trade. The story is told through the eyes of American DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook). Murphy and his partner, Pedro Pascal (Javiar Pena), work with a task force to cooperate with the Colombian authorities and ultimately end the flow of cocaine into the US, where it has become a major problem. The series unfolds in the style of a docudrama, which might be difficult to follow at first, but the story is fascinating, and you may very well find yourself rooting for the bad guy. Pablo Escobar is a fully-realized character; Murphy, although the narrator throughout the first season, isn't developed enough to make us care about the character, while his partner, Pascal, is softer and more human.
A young boy is murdered in the small English town of Broadchurch, and everyone suspects everyone else. Olivia Colman plays the local sheriff who takes on the case, while David Tennant plays the tortured detective who has arrived from Scotland Yard to oversee the investigation. As an outsider, he can't trust anyone, even his partner. This short series is a tense and emotionally fraught mystery and small-town drama. Though it went on for two seasons, it may be better to think of the seasons as entirely different shows: several years after the first, critically-acclaimed season, the cast was brought together for a second season that follows the aftermath of the original story. Season 1 is far superior and stands on its own, although Colman and Tennant's performances are just as strong in the follow-up.
This Masterpiece Mystery series stars the enigmatic Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role and Martin Freeman as Watson. Set in modern-day London, Watson is an army doctor recently returned from Afghanistan, who blogs about Sherlock as a way to reintegrate himself into society. Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a fast-thinking, fast-talking, energetic firebrand who describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath.” He is impatient with those who can’t keep up, which amounts to almost everyone except his brother Mycroft and his arch-nemesis Moriarty. Like the original Sherlock Holmes character written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he has a strong tendency towards drug abuse and an off-putting personality. I highly recommend this wildly entertaining show.
Hans Rosenfeldt and Nicola Larder created this contemporary British police procedural for Netflix. Marcella (Anna Friel) is a Detective Sergeant who took a ten-year hiatus from her work to raise a family, leaving behind an unsolved serial killer case. When bodies start turning up killed in the same way, she returns to work. She mainly does a great job, except when she has blackouts--neither the audience nor the protagonist is sure that Marcella isn’t guilty of the murders she’s investigating. As the season unfolds, we learn more about Marcella’s personal history. The show is effective in keeping the audience guessing and not spelling out every occurrence, but trusting the audience to think for themselves. It's emotionally accessible, well-plotted, and very high-quality viewing.
This show was created by Allan Cubitt and stars Gillian Anderson (X-Files) as Stella Gibson, a competent, but very human police detective called in to help the Belfast police track a serial killer who’s been murdering young women. Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Gray) plays Paul Spector, the serial killer who doubles as a grief counselor and hides behind the facade of a normal family he actually seems to love. You won’t believe how much compassion a ruthless killer can get by loving his little girl and doing a few husband-y things, while planning the unspeakable acts he commits without his family ever having a clue. The cat-and-mouse games with Stella are fascinating, and you’ll find yourself wondering if, even as she closes in, she’s falling for Paul's stunning good looks and charm. The series is compelling, terrifying at times, and well worth binging on. Colin Morgan (Merlin) is memorable as D.S. Tom Anderson, a stand-in love interest for Stella who seems to see a similarity between himself and the killer she tracks.
Liv Moore discovers one day that she's a zombie, with an insatiable craving for brains. Luckily, a job in a morgue gives her access to all the brains she can eat. She soon realizes that eating the recently deceased's brains also gives her some of their memories--and when the deceased is a murder victim, those memories can be the missing clue to solve the crime. So Liv tries her best to help the police without giving away her secret, and the show takes shape as a weird police procedural. Despite the goofy premise, and a lot of genuinely funny moments, iZombie also takes its story to some very emotional places.
Sons of Anarchy stars the gorgeous Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, next in line to lead the titular motorcycle club. Based on the Hamlet paradigm, this show was written by Kurt Sutter, partly as a vehicle for his gifted wife, Katey Sagal, to play Jax’s mom: Gemma, queen of the bikers. Her second husband, Clay Morrow (brilliantly portrayed by Ron Perlman of Hellboy fame), is the current president of Samcro (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original). I could go on and on about the excellent writing, wonderful ensemble, great performances, casting, and lots of other treats for viewers, but instead, I’ll recommend you check it out for yourself.
If I had to choose only one show streaming on Netflix, that would be a very tough decision, but Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy, would be in the top two. The series tells the story of an Irish/Gypsy gang coming to power in 1920-ish Birmingham, England. Their leader is Tommy Shelby, the family's second son, haunted by the trauma of fighting in World War I. Through fixing horse races, running guns, and all manner of illegal activities, the superstitious but calculating Shelby is very much a modern-day anti-hero: handsome, flawed to the max, and incredibly lovable. The matriarch of the family is Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory), who represents the gypsy half of the family and seems to only get more beautiful as she ages--she ran the family business while the boys were off fighting in France. Tommy's older brother is Arthur (Paul Anderson), far too hot-headed to lead. Third is John, a widower/father of four desperate for another wife. The only girl in the family is Ada, played by Sophie Rundle, and she’s a spoiled princess in love with the forbidden communist agitator, Freddie Thorne (Iddo Goldberg). Tommy's love interest is Grace (Anabelle Wallis) the lovely Irish barmaid who is not quite who she appears to be. There are many villains, but the arch-nemesis is Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill), the Northern Irish Constable called in by Winston Churchill himself to clean up the streets of Birmingham. Peaky Blinders is truly television at its best.
What is there to say about Breaking Bad that hasn’t been said already? Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece won 16 Emmys and takes you on a wild ride all the way to the bottom. I’m sure there’s no one left on the planet that hasn’t seen it, but if you are the last, I’m jealous that it’s all still in front of you--I recommend rectifying that serious error immediately. The show stars Bryan Cranston as Walter White, the chemistry teacher who turns crystal meth dealer in order to provide for his family after he learns he has terminal cancer. His sidekick, Jesse Pinkman is a former student and drug addict, brilliantly portrayed by Aaron Paul.