Gritty television shows hold a firm grip on our collective imagination. Dark storytelling is nothing new. After all, no genre is so persistent in motion pictures than horror. But with television moving towards streaming, vast hours of real estate for gritty entertainment suddenly appeared.
So whereas in the past a limited number of late-night timeslots put a ceiling on adult shows, Netflix gives us twisted entertainment for every hour of the day. Its a truly a golden age for crime and punishment. And it’s not like we are all sadists or masochists. It is just that the dark vestiges of human experience make great drama. So to satisfy your morbid curiosity, let us dive into the grittiest Netflix originals we could find.
Economic inequality is one of the leading issues the world faces today. The rich becoming richer is an undeniable statistical fact. It is only natural that storytellers will create a show around the problem, especially considering that 3% is Brazillian. The country is at once an emerging global economic power, but also famous for its favela slums. The show is not only a glimpse into our future but also a striking commentary on everyday life in Brazil.
The show is set in a dystopian future defined by a strict divide between progress and devastation. Rich and poor. Offshore and inland. Through a rigorous and brutal system called The Process, people have a chance to get a better life. The problem is, only 3% make it through, and leave the continent for one of the offshore islands. But those who fail might not even make it out of the trials alive.
Directed by City of God cinematographer Cesar Charlone, 3% is Netflix’s first Portuguese language TV-Show. It is a fresh take on its genre, following the participants of Process 104. On a production level, it might lag behind a little but makes up for it through tight storytelling and a compelling vision of survivors in a broken world. Two seasons of the show are currently streaming on Netflix, with more likely to come.
Intersecting the struggles of healthy family life with the high stakes of organized criminality is a favorite TV topic. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Fargo are all great examples of this. And, the stories are popular for a good reason. Have we not all dreamt of what would happen if we started to break the law in some fashion? Ozark is Netflix’s answer to this question.
Financial planner Mike Byrde (Jason Bateman) lives a quiet life in the suburbs of Chicago. He is married to his wife Wendy (Laura Linney), with whom he has two kids: Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). Life is comfortable until suddenly he relocates the entire family to a resort community in the Missouri Ozarks. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Byrdes, Mike has laundered money for a Mexican drug lord. After things go wrong, he not only has to save his family and repay his debts but deal with local criminals and the tribulations of a family who wants to go back home.
The first season of this gritty crime drama is available right now, with season two on its way to be released later this year.
It sounds like a story ripped from a Saw movie. Back in 2003, a man with a bomb strapped around his neck attempted to rob a bank, lest the explosive would kill him. Known as the “Pizza Bomber,” the case made tabloid headlines, leaving people to wonder who could do such a thing.
Following the success of their true crime documentaries, Netflix released the story of the “Pizza Bomber” with Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist. With twists and turns only real life can create, Evil Genius is a captivating story. This is a story of an overzealous investigation, mass media attention, and the extremes some humans are willing to go. The show explores the set-up and aftermath of the failed heist, making it a fascinating portrayal of crime in the 21st century. And it is just too crazy.
In a 4-part docu-series, Evil Genius is available for true crime fans right now. It is too strange of a story not to check out for yourself.
In November 1969, a young nun at a Catholic school was found dead. Popular with students and faculty alike the case brought up one question: Who killed Sister Cathy? Another entry in Netflix’s collection of engrossing true crime shows The Keepers strikes a more sinister tone than most. While murder comes in many forms, barely any of them are institutionally sanctioned.
The Keepers tells the story and the real-life disappearance and murder of Cathy Cesnik. Her former students believe that the story told to the public was a cover-up, and reopen the case decades later. But more than just the murder, the school Sister Cathy taught at faces allegations of sexual abuse. And in this tight-knit community, the question arises whether or not the authorities are more willing to protect the lives of their children or the sanctity of their church. And are willing to go far enough to kill.
The abuse of power and the deep scars of trauma are the driving force of this 7-part miniseries. This is an infuriating portrayal of organized injustice.
Serial killers have taken on mythological proportions in our culture. They are the proverbial monster under our beds we warn our children about. They are the antithesis of what makes us human – the dark reflection in the corners of our collective humanity. More than any other crime story, serial killers have captured our imaginations. Despite the continuous presence of their stories, Netflix’s Mindhunter can carve out its original angle on serial killers.
Inspired by true events, Mindhunter follows the early days of criminal psychology at the FBI. Set in 1977, the story follows young and ambitious Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), and his quest to gain an understanding of criminality that goes beyond the currently accepted dogma. Together with colleague Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), he originates the Behaviour Science Unit. They begin to interview incarcerated serial killers, with hopes of using the gained knowledge to solve existing cases. However, Holden is not anticipating everything: What toll will be starring into the abyss have? And when will the monsters in the closet strike back?
With directors such as David Fincher attached, Mindhunter was a critical success, making it one of the 2017’s top shows for Netflix. The first season is already streaming, while a second one is on its way and will most likely be released later this year.
The Confession Tapes
Imagine being imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, coerced into a false confession. What does something like this do to a person? Netflix’s The Confession Tapes seeks to answer precisely this.
In seven episodes the shows deal with six different murder cases. It questions the validity of the confessions that lead to convictions. Using experts on false confessions, miscarriage of justice, criminal law, and psychology, each case is looked at through a different lens. What if the crime did not occur as previously assumed? What if the guilty party is still out there? Its an indictment on how the police are conducting its interrogation, and a mystery until the end.
The Confession Tapes are available to all Netflix subscribers right now.
The Frankenstein Chronicles
Similarly to its titular character, The Frankenstein Chronicles has a mixed history of its life and death. Formerly a British TV-Show, it was canceled, only for Netflix to renew it after a three-year hiatus. Whereas Netflix is at this point famous for being the number one address for crime documentaries, The Frankenstein Chronicles take a different approach.
The show follows Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean). His investigation leads him to the dead body of a small child. It is, however, not an ordinary corpse. No actual child looks like this, as it appears to be created from the bodies of seven or eight children that have been stitched together. Marlott sets out to track down whoever was responsible for this monstrous crime, as he dives head first into the world of the 19th century. A century defined by obscene wealth, contrasted with the daily struggle of the destitute.
Despite its initial gritty set-up, The Frankenstein Chronicles is not as much of a horror show as you might think. Loosely inspired by Mary Shelly’s original book, the show takes the premise of creating life from dead flesh and turns into a crime mystery. If that sounds like an appealing combination, its because it is. Avoiding the trappings of either genre, the mix feels at once fresh, yet intuitively familiar. A unique entry among gritty TV shows.
Currently, two seasons are streaming on Netflix, including the British first season.
Originally titled “One of Us,” Retribution is another BBC Netflix picked up. Set in the remote lands of northern Scottland, the gritty landscape is as much a character on the show as the people. It is a rugged land, where only a few people stay to call it home. Hard on its inhabitants and their character, one wonders how the places we live in shape us.
Set in the Scottish Highlands, the shows tells the story of two childhood sweethearts coming home from their honeymoon, only to be found brutally murdered. Their families and neighbors are devastated by this loss to their lives and community. However, events turn even darker when a strange man arrives in the small village, injured after a car crash. Things are not as they seem, and the whole town begins to wonder: Is this man the killer?
Award-nominated and winning, Retribution was a massive success in its home country. With its singularly British setting, it creates a feeling of claustrophobia, that contrasts with the vast emptiness of its environment. The people are trapped here. Either by their choice of community or by deadly circumstance. Netflix picked up the miniseries for international distribution, with all four episodes available.
Four Seasons in Havana
For a long time noir dominated the gritty crime genre. The hard-boiled detectives, the femme fatale, the low lighting and the smoke-filled rooms. The 40s and 50s loved these types of anti-hero stories. Stories whose influence we feel still today. Four Seasons in Havana, based on a popular series of novels, follows this grand tradition of old-school crime stories. But instead of being a mere homage, it adds a gritty Cuban twist.
Mario Conde (Jorge Perugorría) is a middle-aged, divorced philanderer who smokes and drinks too much. Wistfully and melancholic he drifts through a year in Havana. An easy enough life, were it not for his job investigating the dark side of the capital. With drugs, prostitution, and corruption, the beauty of Cuba is not what it seems.
With gripping writing and beautiful visuals, critics and audiences lauded the show for its realistic portrayal of the poverty ravishing parts of the island. Four Seasons in Havana follows an unlikely hero navigating the moral decay that took ahold of his country, and himself. One season of the gritty show is available for streaming.
There Is Even More Gritty TV to Watch
Netflix is filled with shows for fans of gritty TV dramas. The selection here is only the tip of the iceberg. True crime fans especially will find more than enough material to keep themselves entertained for weeks of binging. Additionally, the wide variety of shows that are not even Netflix originals only adds to the already staggering selection. But the best part is that shows keep on coming. Between new seasons of existing hits and potential new gritty favorites, it is hard not to get value from your subscription.
Featured image: Screenshot via embedded YouTube video