Sharp Objects: Crime shows that are anything but procedural
As your mother always used to say, you should never run with sharp objects. It’s risky business and it could end in a nasty fall. Nevertheless, producer Marti Noxon took that risk when he teamed up with director Jean-Marc Vallée and best-selling Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn to helm HBO’s riveting prestige pulp drama Sharp Objects.
With so many big names involved – including five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams – it’s an ambitious project to say the least. But the risk paid off as Sharp Objects echoed traits of gritty noirs such as True Detective and satirical crime drama Big Little Lies.
The story involves all the tropes you’d expect from a crime drama – a tortured protagonist, a murder investigation, and unexpected secrets unfolded in the process. Yes, it’s a murder mystery, but its main character isn’t a detective. We follow reporter Camille Preaker (Adams) as she returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two young girls while nursing psychological and physical wounds from a recent incident that develops as the story progresses.
In its pre-release review, The Hollywood Reporter described the show as something of a summer popcorn thriller for grownups. “Sharp Objects builds its sense of unease as it goes, leading with a ‘Who’s killing Wind Gap’s girls?’ question before really making you care about Camille, a character who seems to start at rock bottom, but still has terrifying room to fall.”
Here’s our ranking of the top ten crime shows in a similar vein that are anything but procedural.
Queen of the South (2016 – )
USA’s high-octane Queen of the South has been compared to the likes of Breaking Bad, Narcos, and MacGyver. But what sets this show apart (and above) the rest is its Latino female lead at the front and center of an action-packed drug cartel story – a world that has traditionally been run by men. Teresa Mendoza’s (Alice Braga) journey takes her across the world from a lowly money changer to one of America’s most powerful drug queenpins – just one of the reasons she is the most badass bitch on TV.
Ted Griffin’s light drama was years ahead of its time, which is perhaps why Netflix considered picking it back up again in its slew of cult revivals. It’s the characters that pushed Terriers forward, centered on ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) who partners with his best friend – former criminal Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James) – in an unlicensed private investigation business.
Terriers might’ve been short-lived with its one-season run, but it remains a fantastically confusing neo-noir that created an entrance into the genre for future lovers of shows like True Detective & Fargo.
Search Party (2016 – )
Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) is the queen of our hearts and the queen of our screens as the central character in this charming, quirky dramedy. Merging mystery with millennialism, Search Party follows four self-absorbed twenty-somethings who become entangled in an ominous mystery when a former college acquaintance suddenly disappears. A true existentialist noir on the millennial experience, we see Shawkat’s Dory Sief let her apathy drive her to figuring out just where the fuck has her old buddy Chantal gone?
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013 – )
Crime and comedy don’t often mix, but with Brooklyn Nine-Nine they go together like coffee and a pocket donut. Wit, diversity, and a stories that go far beyond the confines of Brooklyn’s 99th NYPD detective Precinct in which it is set, the show pushes into current attitudes regarding cops in America with lightness and humor. Which is just what we need in this miserable shitheap we call Earth.
Veronica Mars (2004 – 2007)
It’s been over ten years and we still can’t stop talking about The CW’s Veronica Mars – one show we’d love to see given the Hollywood reboot treatment. The neo-noir high-school thriller saw Kristen Bell (The Good Place) as a snarky teen private investigator who, under the tutelage of her detective father, dedicates her life to cracking the toughest mysteries in the affluent town of Neptune, including the murder of her best friend Lily.
It was a risky concept, but one that paid off thanks to some fantastic narrative development, pushing the show into cult classic status.
Pushing Daisies (2007 – 2009)
TV show veteran Bryan Fuller piped up recently with a tongue-in-cheek call upon ABC to resurrect his much-loved yet short-lived quirky genre mashup Pushing Daisies. If we’re talking about crime shows that are far from procedural, this doozy’s from another planet, about a pie-maker (Lee Pace) who discovers he can resurrect the dead and goes on to solve murder mysteries with his childhood sweetheart (Anna Friel) and a dispirited private investigator (Chi McBride).
Cartoonish murders, fantastical sets, and oddball musical numbers culminate in a show added to Fuller’s canon of bizarre and amusing meditations on life, death, and the human experience.
Mindhunter (2017 – )
Yes, Mindhunter might contain many of the traits you’d find in your regular crime drama – murder investigations, a pair of mismatched detectives, battles both professional and personal – but this Netflix Originals show is not your standard serial killer fare.
In place of choppy action scenes and hyperbolized violence, David Fincher (Zodiac) has crafted a story based in reality that looks at the cause rather the effect of some of history’s most cold-blooded killings, delving into the psychology of why predators murder and providing a gritty insight into the birth of crime psychology.
Hannibal (2013 – 2015)
Bryan Fuller’s bloody ballet truly pushed the boundaries of what a crime drama could look like, in story and in style. With Mads Mikkelsen as the titular character, Hannibal is a masterclass in prestige horror, honing in on the early relationship between the renowned psychiatrist and his patient – a young FBI criminal profiler who is haunted by his ability to empathize with serial killers. It’s a true visual feast for the eyes, one that was likely served to you al dente with a nice glass of Chianti and a side of (your own) sweet breads.
True Detective (2014 – )
We’re just going to put this straight out there – the first season of True Detective was the greatest crime drama. Ever. If you don’t agree, fight us! Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) & Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) give performances close to perfection as two Louisiana cops in this brooding tale of the hunt for a serial killer.
But it’s Nic Pizzolatto’s pitch-black prose that gives the show its dark underbelly, serving up turns of mysticism and the supernatural weaved into a gripping investigation that pushes its central characters beyond the limits of the job they initially set out to do. (And yes, we refuse to even discuss the shitshow that was season two; we’re brushing it under the carpet with all the gusto of a Louisiana policing department.)
Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)
“Who killed Laura Palmer?” A question FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to the seemingly sleepy town of Twin Peaks in search of the answer for and one that shifts in meaning as the episodes of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal crime drama unfold.
From the Log Lady’s musings to the riddles of the Red Room to the sinister dealings of BOB, the show is both a whodunit but also an exploration of a town, its residents, and the secrets buried beneath its surface. As such, Twin Peaks is widely regarded as one of Lynch’s greatest works, a show that continues to serve as a benchmark for many murder mysteries since.