The 20 Best TV Crime Shows of the 21st Century, Ranked
We rank the greatest series of the past two decades that follow legendary rule-breakers, complicated detectives and the outer limits of human nature.
As long as humans have been passing down stories, those tales have included our capacity to transgress against each other. It’s a tradition literally as old as the Bible.
And beyond documenting how people break the rules that govern our evolving notions of society, we’re constantly fascinated by those charged with righting those wrongs. Whether it follows the detectives who investigate those crimes, those within the judicial system who determine the proper level of punishment, or the friends and family members left in the wake of these actions, this process has become the cornerstone of many of cultural touchstones.
On the TV side, for the better part of two decades when the antihero has reigned supreme, that trend is as prevalent as ever. For every harrowing situation that asks an audience “How would you react in this situation?” there are often dire consequences. There’s no simpler way to raise the stakes than by plunging characters into a situation where they or someone in their orbit have broken the law.
So to honor some of the best television of this young century, we’ve gathered twenty series that best chart this cycle of rise, fall and consequence. Sometimes, the criminals are our heroes. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who the show is fighting for.
“Veronica Mars” might have started the way a lot of crime stories do — with the death of a young woman — but it quickly found its own voice, and the compelling teen detective drama was far more grown-up than people might have originally assumed. Season 1, which followed plucky Veronica (Kristen Bell) as she tried to figure out who murdered her best friend, while also helping out her fellow students with their various problems, is perhaps one of the few existing examples of a perfect season of television. Seasons 2 and 3, focusing on different crimes, never quite lived up to it, but the show was consistently brilliant at balancing hardcore crime with a fun noir edge. — LSM