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I Can’t Stop Watching European Crime Dramas

Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) from The Bridge, Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) from Broadchurch, Marcella Backland (Anna Friel) from Marcella.
L to R: Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) from The Bridge, Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) from Broadchurch, Marcella Backland (Anna Friel) from Marcella. Photo: Netflix, Everett Collection, Shutterstock

Every so often, I get caught up with the desire to find a creatively and spiritually fulfilling hobby — and then I inevitably end up parking myself in front of the TV to binge-watch yet another European crime drama. I’ve done this so many wretched times in the past few years that most of the shows have blended together in my mind to form one 500-hour-long dark murder mystery — with two mismatched detectives who have terrible work-life balance, and constant rain — that occupies far too much brain real estate. (I’ve also somehow watched four entire seasons of a Danish show about a sassy teacher who breaks the rules, so I clearly need help.)

Lucky for all of us, the Nordic noir boom, combined with Netflix pouring money into original content from foreign markets, means that these shows are being churned out at an alarming rate. Are they any good? Some, absolutely. Others, I suspect, are probably the quality equivalent of say, Bones, but with subtitles. Either way, they’ll draw you in.

Here are 11 series to stay in and watch until it’s warm out again.

If you can’t get enough Olivia Colman right now … Broadchurch

DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) and DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant).
Detectives Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant). Photo: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Country: U.K.
Seasons: 3
Stream it on: Netflix

Before Olivia Colman was in The Favourite, she played Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller on Broadchurch. (And before that, she was on Peep Show, which I’ll maintain was her best role yet.) At the start of this masterfully crafted crime series, Miller and Detective Inspector Alec Hardy — a spectacularly gruff David Tennant — are tasked with solving the homicide of a young local boy on a remote English shore. It spins out a compelling murder mystery, all while highlighting the effects of grief and the tensions that can arise in small towns where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

If you wish your job required leather pants: The Bridge

Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) and her leather pants.
Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) and her leather pants. Photo: ©Hulu/Courtesy Everett Collection

Country: Sweden/Denmark
Seasons: 4
Stream it on: Hulu

Full disclosure: The Bridge is my favorite pick on this list. It starts out with an eerie murder that takes place at the halfway point of the bridge that divides Malmo and Copenhagen. Swedish detective Saga Norén and Danish detective Martin Rohde are the Scandinavian odd-couple team who have to catch the killer, who soon proves to be prolific. Noren is a compelling and endearing lead character — an exceptionally competent, no-nonsense detective who’s believed to have Asperger’s, wears enviable leather pants, and zooms around in a vintage Porsche. (An American version of the show, starring Diane Kruger, was attempted, but was not as successful.)

If you want righteous vengeance: Happy Valley

Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) making an arrest.
Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) making an arrest. Photo: Ben Blackall/Netflix

Country: U.K.
Seasons: 2, so far
Stream it on: Netflix

Set in the English countryside, Happy Valley follows weary, maternal police sergeant Catherine Cawood, who’s still reeling from her daughter’s suicide several years earlier; she’s also raising her grandson, the product of her late daughter’s rape, alone. When the man who assaulted her daughter is let out of prison, Catherine becomes obsessed with tracking him down and making him pay — and it turns out that’s not nearly all he’s guilty of.

If you love psychological thrillers: Marcella

DI Rav Sangha (Ray Panthaki), DS Marcella Backland (Anna Friel), and DC Alex Dier (Charlie Covell).
Detectives Rav Sangha (Ray Panthaki), Marcella Backland (Anna Friel), and Alex Dier (Charlie Covell). Photo: Netflix

Country: U.K.
Seasons: 2, so far
Stream it on: Netflix

Marcella Backland is a London detective who’s tasked with investigating a long-dormant serial killer who’s struck again. At the same time, her husband is leaving her and trying to take the children. And to complicate things further, she’s having troublingly regular blackouts that make her unable to remember where she’s been or what she’s done.

If you have Sopranos fever: Suburra: Blood on Rome

Aureliano Adami (Alessandro Borghi) and Lele Marchilli (Eduardo Valdarnini).
Aureliano Adami (Alessandro Borghi) and Lele Marchilli (Eduardo Valdarnini). Photo: Netflix/IMDB

Country: Italy
Seasons: 1, so far
Stream it on: Netflix

Suburra: Blood on Rome opens with a priest passing out in the middle of an orgy, and just gets wilder from there. The show, a prequel to the 2015 mafia movie Suburra, focuses on three young men in Rome: Aureliano Adami, the reckless son in a local Italian crime family; Spadino Anacleti, a gay, closeted Sinti gang member; and Lele Marchilli, a policeman’s drug-dealing son. They’re drawn together by mutual interests as they try to navigate Rome’s corruption, whether it stems from Vatican bureaucracy, crime kingpins, or their own family members. Relentlessly dark, this show twists the knife every chance it gets.

If you want to see Carey Mulligan investigate crimes: Collateral

DI Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) and DS Nathan Bilk (Nathaniel Martello-White).
Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) and Nathan Bilk (Nathaniel Martello-White). Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

Country: U.K.
Seasons: 1
Stream it on: Netflix
In this tidy mini-series with four digestible episodes, Carey Mulligan plays a failed pole-vaulter turned detective looking into the murder of a pizza-delivery driver, who is initially believed to be a Syrian refugee. The investigation ends up churning up a lot more political and military intrigue than initially meets the eye.

If you’re fully committed to everything Stanley Tucci: Fortitude

DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci)
DCI Morton (Stanley friggin’ Tucci!!!) Photo: ©Pivot/Courtesy Everett Collect

Country: U.K.
Seasons: 1
Stream it on: Prime Video

Stanley Tucci! Investigating murders! In the Arctic Circle! As a longtime Tucci-head (and obviously avid crime-drama consumer), I feel like I used the The Secret to conjure this show into existence. Although Fortitude begins as a cut-and-dried murder mystery, it evolves to contain body horror and supernatural elements. Warning: It truly goes off the rails in the last couple of episodes, but it’s worth toughing it out.

If you want to follow the adventures of an intrepid reporter: Dicte

Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle).
Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle). Photo: IMDB

Country: Denmark
Seasons: 3
Stream it on: Netflix

The lightest pick on this list by far, this show stars Iben Hjejle (you may remember her as the long-suffering girlfriend Laura in High Fidelity) as Dicte, a reporter who gets divorced and moves from big city Copenhagen back to her hometown of Aarhus. She soon finds herself side by side — and often at odds — with the local police as she races to get to the bottom of various crimes. Every two episodes focus on one crime, while Dicte’s life —from romantic tribulations to navigating life as a single mom with a teenage daughter — entertains in the background.

If you just got back from a trip to Iceland: Trapped

Andri Ólafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson).
Andri Ólafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). Photo: IMDB

Country: Iceland
Seasons: 1, so far
Stream it on: Prime Video

Iceland, the small island nation that overwhelmingly believes in magical elves and contains immense natural beauty — and approximately a million people Instagramming their vacation — has produced some pretty heady crime shows. Trapped starts with a dead body washing ashore, leading to more secrets being uncovered in this sleepy, frozen town. (Once you’ve worked your way through Trapped, there’s also Case and Lava Field for your Icelandic viewing pleasures.)

If you think scam season is year-round: Money Heist

Tokio (Úrsula Corberó).
Tokio (Úrsula Corberó). Photo: Netflix

Country: Spain
Seasons: 2, so far
Stream it on: Netflix

La Casa de Papel or, the less poetically named Money Heist, is Netflix’s most successful original foreign series. In it, a band of merry criminals get together to plan the biggest, uh, money heist ever of the Spanish Royal Mint. It’s overwhelmingly corny at times (see: the show’s name), but overall a fun ride, filled with true, nail-biting suspense.

If you just want something satisfyingly over the top: Dogs of Berlin

Erol Birkan (Fahri Yardim) and Kurt Grimmer (Felix Kramer).
Erol Birkan (Fahri Yardim) and Kurt Grimmer (Felix Kramer). Photo: Stefan Erhard/Netflix

Country: Germany
Seasons: 1, so far
Stream it on: Netflix

Dogs of Berlin is overwhelmingly, hilariously masculine. The symbolism hits you like a sledgehammer. The good-cop–bad-cop thing is incredibly overwrought. And yet! I loved this dumb show. In it, Kurt Grimmer — a former neo-Nazi turned police officer who doesn’t play by the rules, to the degree that he has virtually no redeeming qualities — is partnered with Erol Birkan, a gay, upstanding Turkish cop who’s made it his mission to clear the streets of a local crime family that’s terrorizing the neighborhood. They’re tasked with solving the murder of a Turkish soccer player who’s playing for the German national team, all while racial tensions run high in the city.

I Can’t Stop Watching European Crime Dramas