Grab a blanket and close the blinds (because people are weird and look through your windows, just ask BTK) and get ready to stream these European crime series. They’ve got everything from mob bosses to low-level thugs and ritualistic murders. Oh and, 24-hour sunlight, people who worship an iron mine, and a killer obsessed with scent glands—Europe’s just got it and doing it better (*ahem* Germany).
We’ve all seen the good-cop/bad-cop murder dramas, but in Europe, even their cop shows are refreshing. Seriously, I don’t even like cop dramas but the ones on this list are pretty friggin’ great. Just be sure you’ve got a strong stomach and an iron-clad heart . . . these are some of the most engrossing (and a little gross) European crime series you should stream—because hey, you’ve probably got time, and it’s cold outside anyway.
1. Criminal Anthology (Germany, Spain, France)
“Criminal” is an anthology series that is available across Europe. At its core, the story takes place within police headquarters, specifically in an interrogation room. The focus is on fictional cases, concerning fictional suspects that are trying to avoid the pitfall of confession. What makes the entire anthology appealing is the familiarity and believability of each case; allowing each one of them to stand independently.
In the first episode, “Criminal: Germany” introduces us to two men who grew up on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall and may (or may not) have been lovers—and things get hectic when one of them goes missing. In brilliant German fashion, it starts slow but ends with a surprising twist.
In “Criminal: Spain,” a gruesome murder has police hyper-focused on tearing a confession from would-be suspects. Where “Criminal: Spain” differs, is in the consistent game of cat-and-mouse that unfolds across the interrogation table. With the subjects trying to verbally sway the police in another direction rather than another—pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
The first episode introduces us to a woman named Isabel who is brought in for questioning after her brother, wanted for murder, is on the run. The entire session is full of Isabel’s musings on self-love, the fall of modern society’s capacity for love, and her dog.
In “Criminal France,” the first episode introduces us to Bataclan Massacre survivor, Émelie, who is asked to recount the night of the attack that resulted in the death of her boyfriend. But for investigators, Émelie’s timeline doesn’t quite add up. That’s the great thing about this criminal anthology; you think the police are 10 steps ahead, but the audience is proven wrong.
Stream the entire “Criminal” anthology on Netflix
2. Trapped (Iceland)
Thanks to the real-life parallels between a missing person case in Iceland and the series “Trapped,” the show has seen an uptick in popularity. (Why? Because people are into some weird stuff, man). In a secluded town in Iceland, a torso is recovered by a fishing boat and it’s assumed a ferry may be holding the killer. When investigators learn that one of the passengers was involved with a human trafficking ring, they stop anyone from leaving, living up to the show’s namesake.
“Trapped” is probably my favorite on this list, it truly lives up to its title in every way; from the main character, police chief Andri who is literally trapped between divorce and marriage (and in his overall personal life) to the town in which the events take place, where it’s hard to imagine there’s any other human civilization on earth, to the snowstorm that prevents anyone from leaving. It’s just absolutely brilliant! If you want to feel extra chilly this winter season (or at least compare your lock-down blues to the barren landscape of Iceland), “Trapped” will help you count your lucky stars that you have no real idea what being isolated and cold truly feels like.
Stream “Trapped” on Amazon Prime Video
3. Spiral (France)
Americans like to poke friendly fun at the French (thanks guys for your aid during the revolution. . .ours anyway), but they aren’t all champagne and Marie Antoinette feathers. They have a dark side too, and “Spiral” is a perfect example of such. While this series isn’t new (2005 to be exact) the first episode opens with an unexpected cadaver, all wrapped in guise and left as what’s only assumed as a “warning” to the rest of the world. If you’re not expecting it, it’ll jolt you to the core and you’ll whisper to yourself that you just weren’t ready for that.
This gruesome, intelligent series is also magnificently subtle, which means you have to pay attention—the French will not spoon-feed you the plot. There are six principal characters battling their own personal demons, each with their own self-centered agenda unfolding alongside their work, like bodies showing up in dumpsters, on railways, and in trunks. . .just another day at the office.
Stream “Spiral” on Amazon Prime Video
4. Black Spot (France and Belgium)
This French-Belgian hybrid takes place in the fictional town of Villefranche that draws the attention of the new District Attorney, Franck Siriani, when he notices an uptick in the town’s murder rate—six times the national average— and all taking place in the surrounding forest (which is weird, creepy af, and filled with ritualistic symbology.) Of course, local law enforcement and many of the locals aren’t happy or helpful with Siriani snooping about, so he doesn’t have an easy time figuring out why people go missing and/or turn up dead in the Villefranche forest.
What he does discover is that the local head of police, Laurene Weiss, went missing in the very same forest years earlier, missing two fingers and with no memory of where she was for three days. Making for an interesting turn of events, to say the least.
“Black Spot” is predicted to be the next international hit for Netflix (remember “Dark”?) and it’s not hard to see why. The fictional town of Villefranche is steeped in magic, mystique, and thrilling (though murderous) suspense. Personally, I’d like to live in Villefranche. . .Murder or no murder.
Stream “Black Spot” on Netflix
5. Perfume aka “Parfum” (Germany)
Inspired by the novel of the same name by Patrick Suskind, “Perfume” opens with the murder of a singer-songwriter whose scent glands have been removed. Investigators hone in on the victim’s complex group of friends that all attended boarding school with her. One of them being a “master” perfume mixologist who is passionate about scents (to say the least) is hinted at as being the killer, though that seems a little too obvious (so he probably isn’t.) As the investigation progresses, more victims turn up under the same circumstances, and whoever the killer is, they taunt police by throwing them off their trail using— you guessed it— scent.
“Perfume” is as equally intriguing as it is disturbing, and I find myself in a bit of a contradiction: I’m fascinated the further the story moves along but also continually distressed by each character’s motive. I want to know who is this twisted, yet ingeniously manipulating the people involved, who honestly sort of deserve it—every single character has a dirty secret. Be forewarned, “Perfume” is a chaotic, macabre train wreck you can’t seem to look away from.
Stream “Perfume” on Netflix
6. Gomorrah (Italy)
Fans of “The Sopranos” might want to take a look at this grittier, darker, and altogether more grown-up gangster series. Pietro Savastano is the head of the Savastano Camorra clan of Secondigliano, an Italian Mafia-type criminal organization/ secret society. In “Gomorrah,” what we see is through the eyes of right-hand-mobster Ciro Di Marzio. Marzio begins to question his faith in the organization when he sees just how far Savastano is willing to go in maintaining power. In true, complex fashion, Marzio still feels obligated to follow his grisly to-do list.
If you’re expecting the usual American-mob-family traditions, you will be disappointed. Rather than feel for the mobsters, you’re not justifying their actions so much as swallowing the harsh reality of the life they lead. With “Gomorrah,” you aren’t even expected to forgive them, just accept that there aren’t always heroes. . . or even villains.
Stream “Gomorrah” on HBO Max or Amazon Prime Video
7. Midnight Sun (France and Sweden)
It’s mid-summer, the sun won’t set for roughly thirty days, and that makes everyone a little crazy. They call it the midnight sun, but in Kiruna, Sweden, even a 24-hour illumination can’t shine a light on anyone’s secrets.
“Midnight Sun” begins with the death of a French citizen in Kiruna, Sweden, beckoning Parisian investigator Kahina Zadi, who is supposed to be on vacation (oh, and her estranged brother just showed up on her doorstep, so. . . ) Zadi is paired with a stoic, almost reluctant prosecution officer, Rutger Burlin, and later Anders Harnesk, (who is somewhat an outcast thanks to his odd behavior and Sámi* indigenous blood).
What follows is a gory trail of ritualistic murders, insomnia, a dreamy helicopter operator, (who is also a little suspicious), and a large iron mine that’s eerily referred to as “mummy” or “Mother” of the town. When Burlin is murdered during the investigation, things only get stranger and all the more puzzling. One suspect begins to connect to another, leaving more questions than answers on the investigative table.
Stream “Midnight Sun” on Hulu
*Sámi are the indigenous peoples of Sweden.
8. Umbre (Romania)
Romania might not be a country you think of when you hear European crime series (Idk about you, I go straight to Dracula)—but “Umbre” isn’t to be missed. A taxi driver, Relu Oncescu, picks up an unlikely side gig for a mob boss, making him a taxi driving family man by day and a thug by night. Things get messy for Relu when he accidentally kills someone and gains notoriety by the boss or “The Captain.”
To add to Relu’s dilemma, his teenage daughter and the Captain’s son enter into a romance—cue the star-crossed lovers. It’s easy to fall into forgiveness with Relu, after all, Romania still has the fresh, bleak shadow of the Soviet Union on its landscape and Relu is merely trying to make a better life for his family. It’s like “Taxi Driver” meets Romanian Frank Sheeran. You never know what you’ll do in a pinch, so who are we to judge?
Stream “Umbre” on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, & HBO Max
9. Braquo (France)
Like “Spiral,” “Braquo” is an older French television drama, with its final season wrapping in 2016. And, similarly to “Spiral,” this show isn’t your typical run of the mill good-cop/bad-cop fluff. In fact, it’s just plain gruesome, grim, and one simply can’t be faint of heart.
“Braquo” is as tough and bloody as the group of out-law cops it follows. When the leader of the team, Max Rossi, is accused of corruption, he commits suicide after grueling interrogation by Vogel of the internal affairs bureau. Upon Rossi’s death, he’s pronounced guilty, much to his team’s discontent. Insistent on Rossi’s innocence, the team collaborates to clear his name, breaking the law they swore to enforce in order to bring the truth to light.
Judging on this list, it would seem like France is having the last laugh. They are making up the bulk of European crime series after all.
Stream “Braquo” on Hulu
Looking for more international binges? Check out these 7 Foreign Films the Revolutionized the Industry.
Main image of Kit Harington in Criminal/Netflix/Colin Hutton
About the Author/s
Amaris Pollinger is the Music + Entertainment Editor at the New Jersey Digest. She lives on the fringes of a ghostly battlefield with her husband and their pets.
Addicted to coffee, a lover of wine, music, and history, she just wants to hang out on a cozy porch somewhere.