This year, we were delighted to see that our list of Best Foreign Crime Dramas is extremely diverse, with only 1 entry per country and spread across several channels. Notably, our list doesn’t have a lot of crossovers with other reviewer’s lists except for the outstanding Happy Valley Season 3. So, I hope you find something here that you haven’t yet watched.
If there is a glaring omission, it’s possible I didn’t see it, or I didn’t review it. For example, the excellent Slow Horses, on AppleTV, was widely reviewed, so I didn’t bother. But I did love it. Also, I took a hiatus from September-December, so I may have missed some obvious standouts. Without further ado, here is our list of Best Foreign Crime Dramas of 2023, in no particular order.
Totenfrau, Austria, Netflix
Totenfrau, or Woman of the Dead, is a darkly humorous series about an undertaker named Blum (Anna Maria Mühe) who inherited a funeral home from her parents. When her husband is mowed down right in front of her, Blum, unsatisfied with the police department’s lack of progress, takes the investigation into her own hands. Soon she discovers some ugly secrets about her town, and her investigation turns into a revenge plot. Blum is a quirky character who becomes unhinged as the series progresses, leaving us to question her moral authority as she pursues vigilante justice. With swift pacing, twists, and cliffhanger episode endings, Totenfrau is a great watch. You can read our full review here.
Lost: Those Who Kill, Denmark, Acorn
Louise Bergstein (Natalie Madueño) is back as our favorite flawed profiler in Lost: Those Who Kill, the third season of the Those Who Kill franchise reboot. (FYI you can watch the original 2011 season 1 of Those Who Kill on the Topic channel). Louise is still reeling from the events of season 2, known as Blinded, and she is vulnerable and less aloof this time around. This season is unique because it is split into 2 cases, four years apart. As in earlier seasons, we meet the perpetrators immediately. Both are young and have a troubled past that is tied to Breidablik, a co-living farm that resembles a commune. With the humanizing of Louise and the heartbreaking stories behind the murders, Lost has a satisfying emotional heft that was missing in the first two seasons of Those Who Kill. You can read our full review here.
Dahaad, India, Prime
In Dahaad, insubordinate female sub-inspector Anjali Bhatti (Sonakshi Sinha) discovers that multiple Jane Does in the local morgue are not suicides, as previously thought, but rather victims of a serial killer who preys on women of a low caste, whose families are less likely to report them missing. Because Anjali herself is from a low caste, she has valuable insight that helps her with the investigation. We meet the killer immediately. Anand Swarnakar (Vijay Varma) is a married literature teacher at a local girl’s college who seduces women from lower castes and convinces them to run off with him. Vijay Varma’s performance as a charming creep is outstanding. Dahaad is a high caliber series that exposes an outdated ideology in India: that women do not have agency, which leaves them vulnerable to men in myriad ways. You can read our full review here.
Christian Season 1, Italy, Topic
Christian is an excellent series that seems like it shouldn’t work as well as it does. Christian is an enforcer at a huge building complex on the outskirts of Rome, working for his low-level gangster brother. One day, the stigmata (wounds of Christ) appear on Christian’s hands and he can no longer do his job. In fact, his touch performs miracles, such as bringing his neighbor back to life from an overdose. Christian tries to hide his gift, but is unable to. Meanwhile, there is a menacing man from the Vatican on his trail. Christian is a loyal, well-meaning guy, sure of his place in the world, and this miraculous intervention completely upends his life. Christian is gritty, crude, funny, and people behave how you would expect them to-with skepticism and greed. You need a good lead actor to pull this off, and Edoardo Pesce does it. Season 2 gets wonky, but season 1 is perfect. You can read our full review here.
Holy Spider [Film], Iran, Netflix
Holy Spider, an Iranian film on Netflix, is based on the true story of Saeed Hanaei (Mehdi Bajestani), an ex-militia man who systematically killed 16 prostitutes over the course of 1 year in the holy city of Mashhad. Tenacious (fictional) female journalist Arezoo Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) comes to Mashhad from Tehran to cover the story. When she arrives, she is exasperated, but not surprised, to learn that the police have not yet caught Saeed; in fact, they are barely trying. The film also follows the unrepenting Saeed, who is a devout Muslim, and a devoted husband and father, but is tormented by his own failure to become a martyr in the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s. The performances and directing are fantastic in Holy Spider. In fact, it competed for the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2022, and catapulted the career of Zar Amir-Ebrahimi to another level. You can read our full review here.
Fauda* Season 4, Israel, Netflix
*Due to the terrorist attack on October 7 in Israel, Fauda, with its criticism of some of Israel’s tactics in fighting terrorists, may be offensive to some viewers. This review is in no way meant to take a stand on the issues regarding Israel/Hamas/Palestine.
After a weak season 3, Fauda, the popular Israeli series on Netflix, returns to form with season 4. Captain ‘Gabi’ Ayub (Itzik Cohen) recruits a retired, estranged, and reluctant Doron (Lior Raz) to accompany him to Brussels to meet with a nervous source named Omar (Amir Boutrous). While they are there, Hezbollah kidnaps Gabi right under Doron’s nose. The team assembles in Brussels to find Gabi, but he is gone. So, the Mossad plants Doron with Omar’s sister to “help” her find her brother, who has reached out in distress. Making the mission personal and taking the team out of Israel made it feel like a progression of the story. And we spend a lot of time with the characters we’ve grown attached to, seeing how the job has taken its toll on their lives. It’s a few episodes too long, but season 4 of Fauda is back to its jaw-clenching roots. You can read our full review here.
Happy Valley Season 3, UK, AMC+, Acorn
In this final season, Happy Valley delivers viewers the showdown they’ve been waiting for between Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) and Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire). It’s been several years since season 2, and Ryan, who is the son of Royce and Catherine’s deceased daughter, is now 16 and enamored with his jail-ridden father, who he has been seeing on the sly thanks to Clare (Siobhan Finneran), Catherine’s sister, and her partner Neil (Con O’Neill). When Clare’s betrayal comes to light, Catherine’s rage is terrifying. But at 16, Ryan is old enough to have an opinion and to make a choice regarding his father, and Catherine has to acknowledge that. The suspense of waiting for Ryan to see the truth before Royce gets out of jail is stomach clenching. With some of the best writing and performances in television, it’s sad to see Happy Valley come to an end, but the final season delivers a very satisfying end to the series. You can read our full review here.
That’s the list! There were many other worthy foreign crime dramas in 2023, but these stood out when thinking back on the year as a whole. As always, I’d love to hear what you loved (or hated) in 2023.
Looking for more of the best in foreign TV? Don’t miss our other great reviews HERE!