The Best Foreign Crime Dramas of 2020 should have been dominated by recurring series such as seasons 3 of Dark, The Rain, and Babylon Berlin, but I found them all disappointing. Although I thought the conclusion to the series was perfect, Dark’s parallel timeline in season 3 felt unnecessary and gimmicky. The Rain got silly, and Babylon Berlin was just…unsatisfying. Save Me Too, sequel to 2019 favorite Save Me, came out in 2020 to rave reviews in the UK, but in the U.S., it landed on Peacock, and I just couldn’t justify adding another channel. And because of COVID, new seasons of several favorite series, such as Trapped and Line of Duty, were postponed until 2021.
Best Foreign Crime Dramas of 2020-New Series
Here I think we will have some disagreements. As a viewing year, 2020 feels disjointed for a few reasons. One is the inevitable delay in releases due to COVID. Two is that there are now SO MANY channels airing foreign crime dramas that we aren’t all watching the same things. While it’s wonderful that people (and American networks) are catching on to the quality of international series, the multitude of channels is expensive and exhausting. That said, herewith is my list, in order:
How could you not love a series in which Vikings, cavemen and dandies from the 1800’s all come back to life and descend on modern Oslo? Throw in a female Viking detective paired with a junkie modern detective solving crimes that may involve time travel and what more could you want? A show with this much world-creating needs to be done well, and Beforeigners knocks it out of the park, from authentic dialects to hilarious culture clashes between the past and the present. The mystery is interesting too, and I can’t wait for another season.
As I’ve said ad nauseum, I love a show that teaches me something about a culture not my own. Caliphate is about a recruiter for ISIS who preys upon teen Muslim girls, not for sex, but to lure them to Raqqa, Syria, to marry soldiers there. The second storyline is about one of those wives who undertakes a dangerous undercover mission so she can get back home to Sweden. The series was tense, sad, and angering, and eye-opening.
Hide and Seek-Ukraine-Walter Presents
Sometimes a show gets you with its look and feel. This was Hide and Seek for me. Plot-wise, it’s a procedural featuring a new-in-town, damaged detective who is paired with a partner she doesn’t like, but grows to respect-fairly typical, right? But the combination of the stark visual style, the gloomy industrial town, and the chemistry of the lead characters created an atmosphere that sucked me in. When I think back on 2020, Hide and Seek stands out.
Baghdad Central is another show that I found eye-opening. It is a British series about a former inspector from the Iraqi police force who, 6 months after the US invasion of Iraq, agrees to work for the hated US-led coalition forces in Baghdad in exchange for dialysis treatment for his daughter. But he has his own agenda. I found the atmosphere of post-invasion Baghdad fascinating, even when fictionalized, and the actor who plays the inspector, Waleed Zuaiter, is fantastic. I’d love to see a prequel with his character.
Technically, Giri/Haji is a 2019 title, but it was released after my Best of 2019 list, so I’m putting it here. Giri/Haji is the story of two Japanese sons, one dutiful, one rebellious. When the dutiful one goes from Tokyo to London looking for the rebellious one, it sets off a journey, in every sense of the word. Giri/Haji is also a “motley crew” story where an outcast police officer, a scornful rent boy, and a teen girl come together with the dutiful son in his task, and end up helping each other come alive.
Best Foreign Crime Dramas of 2020-New to us
One of the greatest TV pleasures of 2020 was watching Rocco Schiavone seasons 1 & 2 , on Walter Presents. The series is not new, but we hadn’t seen it here yet. Rocco is a clever, foul-mouthed, and not a little shady, Roman cop who is demoted to the mountain town of Aosta as a punishment. The fish-out-of-water plot lines are hilarious and the crimes are gruesome. Meanwhile, Rocco struggles to maintain a presence in Rome with his pals who are low-level criminals. Rocco Schiavone is an episodic series, featuring several different crimes, but we also get a satisfying amount of time on Rocco’s story. The key to the success of Rocco Schiavone is lead actor Marco Giallini, who imbues Rocco with a pathos that sneaks up on you. As our follower Larry says, “After watching the series, I find myself missing the character and actor.” I couldn’t agree more. FYI, the show is based on a series of books that you can find here. (affiliate link)
That is our Best Foreign Crime Dramas of 2020 list! What did I miss? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on social media.
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