Last Updated: January 17th
Cops and robbers have been some of the most durable subjects for TV since the inception of broadcast television: Jack Webb’s Dragnet was the original docudrama. And Netflix is no exception, with great shows like Orange Is The New Black, Breaking Bad, and Peaky Blinders tackling everything from the emotional connections between gang members to the struggles of surviving prison. But, when you’re done with those, there are thousands of hours of mysteries, questionable crimes, and dangerous criminals, but we’ve narrowed it down to the fifteen best crime shows on Netflix to binge on.
American Crime Story
2 seasons, 19 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Ryan Murphy has made a name for himself on TV thanks to his nightmare-inducing anthology series, but this mini-series, which chronicles the events leading up to and following the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, proved the showrunner can do drama like no one else. Employing an award-winning cast (including Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, Courtney B. Vance, Cuba Gooding Jr., and John Travolta), Murphy charts the fall of one of the most beloved sports stars in a case that gripped the nation. The events are well-known, but it’s the meat added to the behind-the-scenes details, particularly Paulson’s portrayal of Marcia Clark, that make this a worthwhile watch. In its second season, the show moves focus on the assassination of design legend Gianni Versace by Andrew Cunanan. While not as strong as the amazing ensemble in Season 1, Season 2 boasts memorable portrayals of conflicted, complex figures by Darren Criss, Penelope Cruz, Édgar Ramírez, and (surprisingly) Ricky Martin.
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
The UK’s most popular new drama has made its way across the pond. The procedural thriller stars Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden as David Budd, a military vet turned police officer tasked with protecting a high-profile politician during a particularly dicey time. There’s plenty of suspense and action to string you along, coupled with a vulnerable performance by Madden, who ditches his King of the North swagger to play a man conflicted by his past and his present duty to his country.
Making A Murderer
2 seasons, 20 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
This is one of Netflix’s most popular documentary series, and you’ll understand why after one episode. The show follows the case of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who were arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. But what initially appears to be a clear-cut case becomes much more questionable once filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi take you inside a system that seems designed to generate guilty verdicts rather than discover the truth. The show’s second season, perhaps its strongest, follows Avery’s appeal process led by a tough-as-nails attorney who digs past the red tape to expose corruption at the highest levels of our judicial system. If the first season is a whodunnit, the second explores how such a crime was pinned on what very well could be an innocent man.
When They See Us
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 9/10
Director Ava DuVernay’s limited series about the wrongfully accused men in the Central Park Five case is an emotionally heavy reimagining of a truly tragic event in our history. The series sheds light on racial profiling and corruption in the NYPD as a group of young Black men are targeted for a heinous crime and put on trial with little evidence. It’s a gripping, heartbreaking retelling, but one that feels sadly relevant.
2 seasons, 19 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Based on the book by John Douglas, the real-life FBI agent who made “criminal profiler” a job Hollywood thought every FBI agent had, David Fincher’s moody procedural series is less focused on the whodunit, as usually that’s solved by the time they show up, and more about the psychological wear and tear that comes from trying to explore the minds of people compelled to murder, or do it because they’re bored, or any of a host of other reasons. It’s a fascinating character drama about crime and how some crimes eat at us.
2 seasons, 20 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
Ozark, from part of the team behind Ben Affleck’s The Accountant, is an example of what I call stress-watching television. A combination of Breaking Bad and Bloodline, Ozark sees a money launderer (Jason Bateman) and his wife (Laura Linney) move from Chicago to backwoods Missouri in an effort to clean $8 million in three months, lest their entire family be killed by a Mexican drug cartel. It’s not a fun show, and it’s barely entertaining, but like Bloodline, it’s the kind of series where the viewer is anxious to binge through it just to see if the antagonists will survive and how. It’s a seedy, well-written, well-acted series, and Bateman is terrific, but the entire point of Ozark is to put the viewer through the wringer: It’s tense and stressful, and we don’t watch for resolution; we watch for relief.
2 seasons, 13 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
This ironically titled show follows beat cop Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) as she juggles her job, her complicated feelings about a local man, and the brutal crime that drove her daughter to suicide. As she methodically assembles the case against who she thinks the perpetrator is, a tragedy begins to come into focus. Happy Valley can be a tough watch, but the focus on day-to-day policing, and Lancashire’s rich performance makes it a show we’re glad Netflix tracked down.
4 seasons, 40 episodes | IMDb: 8.8/10
With Narcos, Netflix takes on the rise and fall of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellín drug cartel. Splicing together dramatized scenes and actual news footage, Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha (Elite Squad) combines Scarface and Goodfellas to track the life of Escobar. However, the real story here is not the characters as much as it is the Colombian drug trade and the spread of cocaine from South America into the U.S. in the 1980s. Escobar is used as a vehicle to illustrate the futility of the American drug war and the toll it took on both the criminals in Colombia and the authorities in the U.S. The show’s fourth season, billed as an entire separate entry, gives us a stylish re-imagining of the early days of Mexico’s drug war with Diego Luna playing the new big bad, a drug lord looking to expand his reach, while Michael Pena plays the fed tasked with busting his operation.
5 seasons, 63 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
Originally airing on A&E, and adapted from a popular mystery series, Longmire follows the sheriff of the title as he solves murder mysteries in and around the Wyoming county he’s elected sheriff of, while battling with local tribal authorities, the county government, and powerful families. What makes Longmire such a fascinating series is that what could just be Law & Order: Wyoming quickly becomes a series about aging men struggling with their feelings, their choices, and the truth hollowing out the comfortable world they’ve built for themselves, often looking squarely at the tropes of the Western and how they do and don’t hold up in the modern world. Anchored by Robert Taylor in the title role (you might remember him as one of Agent Smith’s sidekicks in The Matrix) and Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear, Longmire’s good friend and a man often stuck between his native heritage and the “white” world he’s expected to blend into, it’s a thoughtful, unexpectedly engaging series.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 7.9/10
Ted Bundy is one of the most infamous serial killers in American history so you’d think we’d know the whole of this sociopath’s exploits by now, but this docuseries manages to find a new angle on the story of Bundy’s descent into madness. Through confessional recordings, victims’ testimonies, and investigative reporting, the short series charts how Bundy, a handsome, educated white man, was able to deceive so many for so long, murdering young women along the way. What’s even more interesting about this series is that, while the show explores how Bundy’s crimes made him an idol for some, it also does justice by his victims, detailing their backstories and interviewing their surviving family members.
2 seasons, 22 episodes | IMDb: 8/10
Jessica Biel stars as a woman with a dark past in this mystery series with Bill Pullman and Christopher Abbot. Biel plays Cora, a wife and mother who commits a horrific act of violence during a family beach trip for no apparent reason. It’s only once a detective (Pullman) begins looking into her life before the murder does he discover a conspiracy plot as tangled as it is gruesome.
1 season, 10 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
It’s the question every TV fan hears sooner or later: “Have you seen The Wire?” Sadly, The Wire is over at Amazon, but on Netflix, there’s a sometimes overlooked spiritual sibling worth looking into. Irish novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett’s series follows Ra’Nell, a boy struggling to survive in public housing when his mother is committed to an institution, and two young drug dealers find themselves working their way up the food chain to the top of a questionable heap. Bennett’s warmth and humanity helps bring into focus the very real struggles preteens at the bottom of Irish society and makes for a series you won’t soon forget.
7 seasons, 92 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
If Orange Is The New Black is taking forever to come back for you, consider picking up the more serious Australian take on women in prison, Wentworth. A reimagining of the classic Australian drama Prisoner, it follows a woman in jail for attempted murder as the court figures out her case. It’s a compelling take on the prison drama with unexpected turns, being in Australia, and one of Netflix’s best sleeper series.
5 seasons, 100 episodes | IMDb: 7.8/10
Ostensibly a story about the city of Batman while Batman is still just young Bruce Wayne, Gotham quickly became the kind of sprawling, bizarre campy drama that shows like Law & Order: SVU and NCIS can only wish they were. While the show has recognizable Batman villains and even makes characters like Jim Gordon and the Penguin central to the plot, in the end it’s a grandiose melodrama about an utterly corrupt city and the one man at its center hoping to change it one case at a time. Also a character is kidnapped by pirates. No, really. That happens.
4 seasons, 30 episodes | IMDb: 8.4/10
Sometimes the justice system fails, and the wrong person is punished for a crime they didn’t commit. Rectify follows Daniel Holden (Aden Young) as, after spending half his life with a death sentence hanging over his head, is cleared by DNA evidence and has to adjust to life as not just a free man, even as many around him seek to undo his release.