River (and a few others)

Hello! Happy new year! Let’s talk about TV shows that celebrate everything dark in the world.

One need only quickly scan my archives to know that when it comes to television, dark crime shows are my siren song. I can’t resist the dulcet tones of a tortured investigator in an ill-fitting sport coat. Blurred moral compass? Mental instability? Deteriorating personal relationships? Don’t mind if I do! I’m here for you, DCI Awesomesauce.

I have a new show for you to binge watch on Netflix.

Screenshot 2015-12-28 10.17.10

River is a BBC crime drama about detective John River, played flawlessly by Stellan Skarsgård (Avengers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Thor, Arn the Knight Templar).

River and Stevie

John River, loony-tunes extraordinaire, is a homicide detective with a tenuous hold on his sanity. He lives utterly alone except for the voices in his head that help him, sort of, solve cases. Only, don’t call them voices because that makes him sound crazy, and he’s the first one to tell his “see her or you’re fired” department therapist that he’s perfectly sane. The people he sees/voices he hears are manifests, people who have died but still have something to say to him. They are not ghosts, because ghosts don’t exist and anyone who thinks so is crazy.

Oh, John. I love you and your manifests. Go ahead and keep talking to them in the middle of the precinct while your partner looks on, horrified.


If that description makes River sound like Medium set in Great Britain, that’s only because I write a poor synopsis. That show was about a medium, someone who sees dead people. River is a depressed man who talks to himself often and vociferously. The show is more about high functioning with mental illness than it is about solving crimes.


Like every other show produced outside the US, the actors are refreshingly authentic in appearance. The women have wrinkles and belly rolls and the men are of average height and frame. No one has blinding white teeth and the lips are all of average size and puffiness.

Season one, which is six-episodes long, premiered in October 2015. BBC has yet to announce whether they will renew or cancel the show. I would be fine with either decision. I love the show and I love John River as a character, but the season ended conclusively. There are no cliff hangers or loose ends, which I respect.

Here are a few other shows I’ve been watching. Your recommendations must be shared–that goes without saying. 🙂


I would watch David Tennant read his grocery list, but that shouldn’t take away from this crime drama about a man who punishes himself for failing to solve a murder years prior. This is a show I didn’t think would see a second season, so I was very happy to see it pop up on Netflix.

The Bridge

When I last wrote about The Bridge, it was to recommend the Scandinavian version. The American version that came out shortly after is a so-so comparison. The bad: Diane Kruger‘s Sonya is nowhere near as compelling as Sofia Helin‘s Saga. The good: Demián Bichir‘s Marco Ruiz is more interesting than Kim Bodnia’s Martin. Overall, it’s a good show that gets better as the plot moves away from the original.


Idris Elba is perfection and therefore so is Luther. This is only a one-episode special that aired on December 17th, sadly. (There are also 3 seasons on Netflix for those who haven’t yet watched the show.)


I only just started watching this one over break. The episodes are a long 90 minutes, which makes is hard to watch when you have to wait until the kids are in bed. It’s pretty good, though Mali Harries’ terminal case of Mom Hair is distracting.


It’s Kenneth Branagh staring in a BBC crime drama about a Swedish detective. History says I should be foaming at the mouth like a rabid animal and creating Pinterest boards in Branagh’s honor, but I haven’t yet become obsessed.

Join the List


  1. I still haven’t figured out Netflix, since lady I heard you needed a functioning wi setup…???? But, I loved broadchurch on Pbs lady season. Are they returning with a new season? Loved David T! Will try and figure out how to see River. Also like blacklist which you turned me on to and I proceeded to jump down that rabbit hole and read all the fan blogs. Thanks for the post. Miss your writing!

    • Do not ask me technical questions! We have an AppleTV and somehow that gets us Netflix, Hulu, and a few other channels. I pretty much just wave my hand at the Mister and the TV and tell him to do that thing that makes it work.

    • To get netflix or amazon prime or hulu, you need either a smart tv (one capable of receiving a wifi signal) or a device that makes your TV smart (apple tv, roku, amazon fire TV). We have a roku. It is very easy to use – plug into the jacks on your TV and connect to your wifi signal (like you would a tablet or phone) and then select your “channels”.

    • You can watch Netflix on pretty much anything. You can sign up and watch from your computer. Or you can sign up on the computer and then install an app on your phone or tablet to watch that way. Or you can sign up on the computer and then use a variety of devices to watch on the TV (Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast TV, Playstation, XBox, Wii) or if you have a “Smart TV” then you can use the app that’s already on the TV.

      How to watch Netflix on your TV:

      How to watch Netflix on your phone or tablet:

  2. Hmm, I’ve been wondering about Broadchurch and Luther . . . are they terribly dark and gruesome? That was my thing with Wallander. I kind of liked it, but some of the murders were a bit too disturbing. 🙂

    • I LOVE Luther. I can’t say enough amazing things about it. There are a couple gruesome episodes, but they aren’t all gruesome. I watch it on Amazon through my Roku. It was free with Amazon Prime, but I don’t think its free anymore. You may be able to watch it through On Demand if you have BBCAmerica as part of your cable package.

      I saw Idris Elba in the Delta lounge in Atlanta last January. I tried really hard not to stare, which I mostly managed, but only because he was sitting behind me. I could hear him speaking. Dear lord his voice. I believe in leaving celebrities alone to live their lives, but I have the HUGEST crush on him. I had to say something and my two choices were: 1) Would you have crazy, amazing sex in the bathroom with me or 2) I really love Luther, when will new episodes air?

      Sadly, I went with 2. He said they would start filming in spring and air in England in late fall 2015. So new episodes should be coming to America soon!

      • Susan, this comment made me laugh out loud. I would have had only two questions for Idris Elba, too. 🙂 🙂

        His voice is just….gnnngha! The man could read tax code and I’d be fanning my face, screaming for more.

        • Oh man, his voice! That’s how I knew he was sitting behind me. i could hear that voice. The tax code is actually an excellent choice because its long. LONG. And so he would never stop reading to you.

      • Oh, thank you! I can handle the occasional gruesome episode. So I’m definitely adding it to my list.

        And you had an intrigue with Idris Elba? 🙂 That’s awesome. At least you could utter a complete thought . . . which is probably more than I could do in a similar situation. I’d probably manage a few incoherent words, panic, turn to leave, run into a wall, and leave him thinking I’m a bit soft in the head.

      • Ah, now that you mention, that’s exactly why I never tried Broadchurch. I had forgotten I looked into that one. I can handle the occasional episode, but I’m afraid one after another would be too much . . .

  3. I’ve watched Broad street. Very good and the scenery is fabulous. The Bridge is quite intense. Good characters. Right now we’re watching the Fall. It is very intense and disturbing but well done.
    I just wanted to add the Kurt Wallender books are addicting. I just read all of them since November. Henning Mankell is a great writer. I would really recommend them. He died ,I think, this past year.
    , but he finished the character in the book a few years ago.

    • I didn’t even realize they were a series until I noticed the mention during the opening credits. I’ll have to pick one up. It’s weird–I love crime shows but never really read crime/mystery books. I used to LOVE the Kay Scarpetta series in the late 90s, but the series went down hill after the first 5 or so. She started churning them out too fast and the characters started acting too bizarre so I lost interest.

      I just started reading Harry Hole and I have the last book in the Dragon Tattoo series, which I plan to read soon. It’s a start!

  4. I’ll suggest The River to husband. We just binge-watched a show that’s not in your genre but you might like it for the music. Mozart in the Jungle – follows a 26yo oboe-ist trying to play in the NY symphony. Pleasantly surprised to see Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell as the names in an overall very good cast.

    • I watched and loved The Killing. The Fall I started but couldn’t get into–but! I do that a lot. As much as I love crime dramas, I have to be in the mood to watch them. I stop and start until I’m ready. I did that with the American version of The Bridge and Wallander. Does that make sense?

  5. It’s old and we have talked about it but I used to love Criminal Minds. I had to stop watching it after I had kids but Matthew Gray Gubler was such a huge crush for me. Skinny, geeky guys who do amateur magic…I’m a sucker.

    I’m currently watching “Making a Murderer” on Netflix. It’s a multi-part documentary about a man who was wrongfully convicted and served 18 years before being released and then convicted of murder (along with his nephew). The fact that this happened in Wisconsin (and where my sister lives) is an added bonus but it’s very interesting. At the very least it shows how the poor and people with learning difficulties are vulnerable under our court system.

    Glad to see a post from you! I deactivated my FB account and I’ve missed you! 🙂

    • I just read your comment above about the Kay Scarpetta series and couldn’t agree more. Have you ever read any of the Alex Cross series by James Patterson? I LOVE his sidekick, Milo, in the book. I’ve gotten away from reading them but they were great quick reads along the same crime/mystery vein.

      • The Alex Cross series was another one that started off so well, and then James Patterson became JAMES PATTERSON and it all went to crap.

  6. I love the Fargo series. I thought season 2 was better than season 1. It just ended, so not sure when it will be available on Netflix, but I recommend it.

  7. I LOVED The Bridge mostly because I can’t get enough of Demian Bichir! I’ve had River in my sights for awhile and now I will have to check it out!!

  8. Thanks for the recommendations. Have you watched Jessica Jones? I ask because David Tennant is fabulously evil and worth the watch. It’s also deals with abuse and ptsd, within the Marvel universe.

    • I haven’t, but only because it’s Marvel and I thought it would be too super-hero-y. But, now that I know David Tennant is in it, GAME ON.

      • Not too super-heroy at all, and she’s such a complex character. I really enjoyed watching her unfold. We just binge-watched that series over the holidays as well.

      • Just FYI on Jessica Jones, in case the first few episodes are a little too disturbing – it gets better!

        Also, I’m OBSESSED with the song from River.

  9. I need to start on Luther! I also need to set time aside for the second season of Broadchurch. It can’t be as bad as the first series, right? No more children, right?
    Through a series of links, I found Dicte.
    From wiki: Dicte is a Danish series starring Iben Hjejle as crime reporter Dicte Svendsen who has returned to her hometown of Aarhus following a divorce. The series is based on Danish author Elsebeth Egholm’s series of novels about the titular character. It reenforces all the good stereotypes about family in Danish societies. I love listening to the language, but I forget I can’t understand and still turn up the volume to hear the words!

  10. I second Mozart in the Jungle, The Killing (but for the last season, which jumped the shark for me), Fargo and I loved Wallander.

    My other favorite PBS serials are Endeavour and Inspector Lewis – maybe less gruesome, but I love the characters.

    The other one I binge watched in a hurry was The Man in the High Castle, although I didn’t read the book, I’m off to find it since I can’t wait for Season 2!

  11. Not sure if it has come up yet but Luther has 3 seasons in addition to that one special. I totally binged on that over this school break!

  12. You should check out Vera on Hulu. I enjoy it a lot. Brenda Blethyn is the lead detective, and I love her. She’s flawed, and grouchy, and vulnerable. I think I’m going to enjoy River.

  13. Luther, Broadchurch and Wallander are all shows on my ‘must see next’ list that I somehow always forget about. Thanks for the reminder!

    I’ve not watched all the episodes yet but I really enjoy Case Histories – another BBC series, based on Kate Atkinson novels and with Jason Isaacs (hellooo) as the main character. It’s shot in Edinburgh, where I live, which makes it both fun and confusing to watch (“wait those two locations are at least 20mins away from each other, how did he go from here to there?”).

      • Not just a series, a series *with Jason Isaacs* *inhales* 😉 It’s really good, I really recommend giving it a try!

  14. Okay not quite in your usual genere but I’d think you’d like Bletchley Circle. (At least the first season…) Post WWII group of women solve a crime involving a serial killer. It’s interesting because they were all a part of the secret service during WWII but now are expected to stay home and basically not use their brains. Good stuff.

  15. If you like Broadchurch, you might like Happy Valley. It took me a bit to get used to their strong accents–I had to turn on closed captioning until I got where I could understand them but I ended up loving it and am waiting for another season.

    Glad River is good–I have it in my queue but had not started it yet. I lovd Luther, and Broadchurch, The Fall, The Killing….I’ll have to try River next.

    I binge watched 200 episodes of X files this fall in preparation for the reboot this spring, and I just finished Frankie and Grace, Transparent season 2 and Mozart in the Jungle season 2– X-files took forever but I had forgotten or missed a lot of episodes. The others were light and funny –good for the holiday season.

  16. We have enjoyed Wallander, as well as Foyle’s War and Endeavour, both BBC and both like you describe non-US TV, which I prefer. We recently watched the first two episodes of Worricker Trilogy and liked that a lot. Many Harry Potter actors which is kinda fun and a crazed Winona Ryder which was surprising. Would be interested to hear what you think of that show.

  17. Okay, I let this post sit in my reader for over a week because I had to come chat in the comments, which I just hate doing mobile and kept running out of time to do while on a laptop.

    Please give Terriers a chance. It’s a noir-ish drama, only 13 eps long (tragically, only one season, but it is a perfect, perfect thing) about two private investigators who stumble into a conspiracy. The one guy (Donal Logue, whom frankly is a selling point for me anyway) is a former cop whose alcoholism got him booted off the force after a particularly bad incident and the other used to be a thief (crossed paths with the cop at one point). Some eps are more “case of the week” type stuff while others focus on the conspiracy. There are some AMAZING characters and you’ll want to pay attention along the way, because there are many breadcrumbs thrown out that get tied back in at the end of the show. It’s dark (without being all gruesome-murdery, more just heavy and occasionally morally-compromoised), but SO FUNNY. It aired on FX but despite being critically-loved, it always had truly atrocious ratings, largely because of the terrible name which has nothing to do with the show (it was supposedly due to the scrappy nature of the detectives, but no terrier is ever even featured in any scene, so weird), and marketing materials that made it look like it was about dog-fighting. I recently rewatched it because a TV podcast I was listening to was doing “television book club” on the series, covering a few episodes per podcast, and it holds up beautifully and made me sad all over again that it didn’t run for years. It’s on Netflix.

    Something that I haven’t rewatched since it aired, but remember loving a LOT is Life, starring Damian Lewis (and coincidentally, Donal Logue is up in there). Police officer who has been wrongly imprisoned is finally freed and returned to the force. I don’t recall much of the specifics (darkness or not), but I do remember the characterization was excellent. Give it a few eps and decide if it’s for you.

    Given your Idiris Elba love, I’m not sure if you’ve seen The Wire yet, but if you have not….oh man, you really must. This one is a commitment. HBO does zero hand-holding and tosses you right into a complex world of Baltimore drug slinging and cops, with a huge cast of characters. If you can give it an entire season, that’s best. It’s both a slow starter and you feel in over your head over the first few episodes, but as you know the world, it’ll get easier. (This is one of those shows that definitely benefits from a re-watch a few years later, when you know the people from the get-go, but you’ll also immensely enjoy it if you hang in there, when the things start to come together.) Idiris Elba plays the second-in-command in the drug gang, and Dominic West (ugh, never sexier, which says something about me, I’m sure) is the screw-up (also alcoholic, hey) cop who just really wants to bust these guys. Each season focuses on slightly different areas, though the cops are a throughline (and many of the players in the drug world), so season 2 feels totally different than season 1 and so forth. This is considered by many TV critics to be the ultimate in shows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest from Instagram

Copyright © 2017 · Theme by 17th Avenue