“Mare of Easttown” had no business being as good as it was. Early promo materials, while promising, looked too similar to any number of other “gritty cop grapples with a new investigation and their own mental well-being” shows. The cop who takes their investigation personally is a cliché at this point, and early on, it didn’t look like even the considerable talents of Kate Winslet would be enough to save it.
That criticism turned out to be exceptionally wrong. “Mare of Easttown” transcends convention. It is arguably one of HBO’s best limited series and certainly a new benchmark for procedural dramas. In particular, Winslet has never been better, and she was rightfully awarded both the Emmy Award and Golden Globe for her performance as Marianne “Mare” Sheehan, a detective sergeant investigating the murder of single mother Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). It’s a small-town murder mystery with genuine grit, pathos, and power that is imminently bingeable and wholly worthwhile. If you loved “Mare of Easttown” and are looking for something in a similar niche, here are 13 shows you can watch right now to get all the murder and drama you crave.
“Broadchurch” is not an easy watch. Sure, the sunny fictional village of Broadchurch along the Dorset Coast is pleasant, and stars David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are as charming as ever, leaning into their comedy roots for performances as amicable lead detectives, but that’s all just an illusion. “Broadchurch” is like a murder mystery that director Mike Flanagan might conceive. It is a deeply-reflective, sorrowful foray into the murder of 11-year-old Daniel “Danny” Latimer (Oskar McNamara).
It’s a grief-filled series with no shortage of painful monologues and personal close-ups of a community ripped apart. However, that says nothing of the first series’ (in the U.K., a series is the equivalent of a U.S. television season) twist ending that catapults Series 2 into a deeply troubling trial with profound implications for all involved. Series 3, the last, shifts course considerably, focusing not on a murder but a sexual assault. The change in subject matter, though, is no less compelling. “Broadchurch” is one of a kind: a show crafted with exceptional care, perfect casting, and genuine emotion. Plus, fans of Mare Sheehan are going to love Coleman’s Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller.
When HBO launched “The Undoing,” its adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel “You Should Have Known,” critical reception was immediately mixed. For many, it was a reductive, shameless attempt to replicate the success of “Big Little Lies” without that show’s subversive interrogation of the uber-rich. Nicole Kidman, an HBO limited series stalwart, returned with natural hair and a shaky American accent as Grace Fraser, a psychologist whose life is upended when her husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant) is accused of murdering a woman with whom he was having an affair.
Just six episodes long, “The Undoing” moves at a fairly steady clip, and by the end, as murder mysteries are wont to do, it’s less about who committed the crime and more about the why. While it isn’t the best of what HBO and prestige television drama have to offer, it still works a lot better than most shows of its kind. Kidman is still unmatched when it comes to playing woman on a downward spiral, and Hugh Grant is both deliciously smarmy and empathetic when it counts most. Yes, it’s a yuppie crime drama, but it has all the sordid twists one would expect. It’s easily as bingeable as “Mare of Easttown” and, better still, can be accessed with the same subscription.
“Sharp Objects” is almost worth watching for the performances alone. The central trio of Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and newcomer Eliza Scanlen (still criminally underrated) deliver the kind of performances that, in the era before television gluttony, would be heralded as small-screen classics. Upon release, the show was largely lost in the sheer number of offerings available, and consequently, “Sharp Objects” was seen and swiftly forgotten. That’s a shame because the late Jean-Marc Vallée’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is a delectable mix of gothic horror and procedural drama that is inimitable in its tone and pacing.
Adams stars as Camille Preaker, an deeply troubled alcoholic reporter consigned to return to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on the murders of two young girls. There, she runs into her half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson), a vicious socialite who all but runs Wind Gap. Though the pace is slower than audiences might expect (the intermittent episodes all but forgo the central murder), it’s an atmospheric, gothic nightmare that consistently beguiles and surprises. Plus, it’s got one of the most vicious final twists this side of M. Night Shyamalan. It’s certifiably bone-chilling.
As was the case with “Sharp Objects,” pacing likely killed any hopes of a second season for “The Outsider.” Adapted from horror maestro Stephen King’s 2018 novel of the same name, it started with a bang. However, depending on one’s perspective, it ended with something even less than a whimper. Especially for fans of the horror genre, “The Outsider” was sensationally scary and a benchmark of King adaptations that knew when to diverge and when to stay true to the author’s vision.
At first, it seems like several shows in one. Though I wouldn’t dare spoil anything here, there’s a twist in its second episode that radically reworks the show’s trajectory. Ostensibly the story of a man accused of a crime he couldn’t have committed (he wasn’t in town at the time) despite being present at the scene, it’s really a horrific reflection on identity, doppelgangers, and primordial demons. Actress Cynthia Erivo who plays Holly Gibney is the show’s jewel. A recurring character in King’s work, Gibney transcends the savant cliché, and Erivo’s performance retains the character’s eccentricities while firmly positioning her as “The Outsider’s” true hero. HBO doesn’t often delve into straight-up horror, and that likely accounts for the show’s early procedural feel. Yet, if “The Outsider” is any indication, it’s a risk they should take more often.
“Happy Valley” is brutal. Sally Wainwright’s BBC One crime drama is slow-going at first, saving its cruel, violent hand for the end. A sensational Sarah Lancashire stars as Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant in West Yorkshire. She lives with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran), balancing a relationship with her son (Karl Davies) while still grieving over the suicide of her teenage daughter. That daughter was involved with Tommy Royce (James Norton), a drug dealer and suspected rapist who has been terrorizing young women in Catherine’s neighborhood.
Both Series 1 and Series 2 follow ongoing threads. In October 2021, the BBC announced a third series scheduled to begin filming in early 2022. Nonetheless, the first two remain some of the most thrilling seasons of procedural television around. Lancashire is especially astounding, and while the series may mandate subtitles for some viewers (the accents are thick), it has some of the best writing this side of “Broadchurch.” It abounds with twists and turns without ever forgetting the core human element.
“The Cry” is unconventional, and fortunately, very short. Most procedural thrillers run out of steam quickly, overplaying their hands and dragging mysteries on for longer than is necessary. With just four episodes, “The Cry” is a condensed crime thriller, but it’s no less astounding for its short length.
Jenna Coleman and Ewen Leslie star as Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson, an engaged couple and new parents traveling from Scotland to Australia to visit family. On the way, they stop at a local grocery store to buy supplies. When they return to the car, their infant son Noah is missing. A manhunt ensues, and public scrutiny mounts. With little to no physical evidence, the question remains: What happened to baby Noah? As written by Jacquelin Perske, the answer doesn’t remain a mystery for long. By the end of episode 2, it becomes clear what happened. There are still considerable twists in store, however.
For fans of thrillers looking for something as short and sweet as “Mare of Easttown,” “The Cry” more than fits the bill.
“The Investigation” is another of HBO’s newest offerings. Directed by Tobias Lindholm, this six-part true crime series follows the investigation into the death of Kim Wall, a 30-year-old Swedish journalist. Wall, a freelance journalist, boarded a submarine in August 2017 to interview its owner Pater Madsen, a Danish entrepreneur. She never returned. Weeks later, parts of her dismembered body were found scattered around the area. New discoveries continued until November of that same year.
Adapting true crime can be difficult, especially if shows lean too heavily into the whodunnit element of it all. It’s hard to maintain interest when the answer is known. Luckily, “The Investigation” is something akin to restorative justice. It honors Wall’s legacy and the local authorities responsible for tracking the killer down. A profound meditation on grief and tragedy, it isn’t for the faint of heart, but as a counterpart to “Mare of Easttown’s” fictionalized thrills, it isn’t to be missed.
Don’t F**k With Cats
In the same sense that adapting true crime to serialized television is difficult, true crime documentaries aren’t exactly easy to accomplish successfully. Part of that is sheer volume. There is no shortage of true crime documentaries, podcasts, books, and television specials available, and distinguishing any given property among the abundance of true crime content is difficult (unless it’s something as unique as “Tiger King). There is also the question of simple ethics. Too often, the lens is focused on the crime and perpetrators, ignoring the legacy of victims and exploiting real tragedy for cheap thrills.
“Don’t F**k With Cats” broke the mold. Netflix’s three-part true crime documentary principally follows Deanna Thompson, otherwise known as “Baudi Mooven,” a data analysist who endeavors to track down the perpetrator responsible for a series of online videos featuring the killing of cats. Soon, the perpetrator graduates to killing humans, and the hunt is on.
“Don’t F**k With Cats” is respectful of both the victims and the dedicated weirdos responsible for tracking the killer down. It’s a larger-than-life story — one certainly suited to Netflix’s platform — and should be the benchmark for how the streaming service approaches similar stories in the future. It’s short, tactful, and incredibly thrilling.
I would die for “American Vandal,” and I will never forgive Netflix for canceling it after its second season. In fact, I’ve been tempted more than once to vandalize the Netflix offices with crude, spray-painted images because of their decision. Of course, I would (probably) never do that.
“American Vandal” is a thrilling, hilarious, and genuinely tense faux true-crime documentary that is inimitable in form and content. A parody of the burgeoning true crime trend, its first (and best) season follows Tyler Alvarez’s Peter Maldonado, a Hanover High School anchor and documentarian.
Someone has left 27 faculty cars vandalized with phallic images, and all fingers point to Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), the school’s class clown and signature burnout. An investigation is launched per Peter’s documentary. As fun as the show is (and as silly as the crime ends up being), it’s incredibly thrilling. Creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda adroitly subvert expectations and wisely render the comparatively innocuous crime as a genuinely compelling mystery no different than those of shows with higher stakes. Season 2 expands on the format well, and it’s a shame that “American Vandal” is no more.
Like “American Vandal,” “Mindhunter” is a show I’ll never forgive Netflix for canceling. Adapted from John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” “Mindhunter” is like “Criminal Minds” with real murderers. Starring Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv as a trio of agents developing the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), it’s a true-to-reality foray into some of the most vicious serial killers this country has ever seen.
Notably grounded and splendidly acted (with a standout performance from Cameron Britton as recurring serial killer Ed Kemper), “Mindhunter” is true adult drama. It’s patient, never exploitative, and feels like David Fincher’s dreamscape incarnate (rightfully so since he executive produced). It’s a must-watch for true crime fans and one of the best fictionalized accounts of the BSU around. It puts “Criminal Minds” and similar shows to shame.
Incidentally, Tobias Lindholm, creator of the previously mentioned “The Investigation,” helmed two episodes “Mindhunter.”
“The Missing” is mostly predicated on one Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), a French detective investigating missing-persons cases in and around France. Procedural thrillers often live or die based on the detectives in charge (a tragedy for “The Dublin Murders” which was based on a book whose detectives were far more interesting than their screen counterparts). However, Julien Baptiste is a knockout. He’s a little goofy, sure, but he’s tender and sweet. More than anything, he’s committed to justice, and he’s damn good at finding it.
Series 1 has Baptiste investigating the disappearance of a five-year-old British tourist whose parents had taken him along for a vacation. Eight years later, the investigation is reopened, and a retired Baptiste is brought back into the fray after the discovery of a new piece of evidence. Series 2 has Baptiste rejoining another old case after a missing girl is found and claims to have been held captive with the subject of one of Baptiste’s cold cases. It’s grim, dour stuff, and like “Mare of Easttown,” the answers often hurt more than they help. Yet, for all the pain, it’s a swirling portrait of grief, healing, and cruelty that transcends convention.
“The Killing” is arguably the most controversial entry on this list. While its two-part premiere was met with near universal acclaim, with credit going to Mireille Enos’ performance, Patty Jenkins’ (of “Wonder Woman” fame) direction, and the gritty, faux-Danish art direction (“The Killing” is adapted from a popular Danish show, “Forbrydelsen”), subsequent episodes floundered. The worst sin came in “The Killing’s” first season finale. In that episode, the murder of Rosie Larson (Katie Findlay) is ostensibly solved — only for the final moments to pull the rug out from under the revelation with a final twist.
In an interview with Uproxx, creator Veena Sud remarked, “… Some people may not be so happy that we didn’t tie it up in a bow at the end of the season, but we never promised that, and we’re trying to do something different here.”
Opinions were mixed, but “The Killing” returned for a strong sophomore season, an even stronger third season with an entirely new case, and even an F-bomb laden final chapter on Netflix. While rough going at times, “The Killing” is a contemporary cult classic for a reason.
Top Of The Lake
“Top of the Lake” isn’t going to work for everyone. Even by procedural standards, it’s slow and recurrently ignores its central crime for deep, pathos-laden dives into the minutiae of its setting and core players. Yet, for those who can work their way through the colloquial muck, “Top of the Lake” has a lot to offer.
Elizabeth Moss is especially good as Detective Robin Griffin, the officer spearheading the investigations into the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old in Series 1 and the death of an unidentified young girl in Series 2. The peripheral players are particularly good, with special credit going to Holly Hunter as a cult leader in Series 1 and Alice Englert’s Series 2 role as Robin’s daughter.
“Top of the Lake” is gritty, dense, deeply political (something to be expected with Jane Campion both producing and directing), and never boring. It both demands and rewards patience. With an unconventional setting and subversive leads, “Top of the Lake” is at the top of its game.
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