Among the television works that follow a police investigation, there is a special section for a small town TV shows about big crimes in a small town. An almost integral part of the pattern is the arrival of an investigator from a larger city to reinforce the local policewoman, whose familiarity with the residents is an advantage but also a potential disadvantage. The personal lives of the protagonists are often complicated in such a way that it can cause them to behave unprofessionally. And of course, we expect tension between the two investigators – and at least one of them is troubled by a previous case he failed to solve. Here are the top 10 best small town shows.
1. Broadchurch (2013-2017)
Once again, in its third season, “Broadchurch” surpasses expectations. The small town show’s brilliance is attributed to the brilliant cast featuring actors who are not simply blessed with good looks, the well-crafted script created carefully and with foresight, the captivating pace and atmosphere that keeps viewers hanging on for more and the feeling that it was all masterfully created with respect and confidence in its viewers. Broadchurch is a small coastal town in Dorset where Alec Hardy arrived to take on the investigation of Danny Latimer’s murder along with his local partner Ellie Miller in Season 1.
In season three, Eli and Alec face a difficult new case. A woman was assaulted at a mansion party she attended, with many guests present. The attacker had deliberately set out to commit the crime – they had premeditated their actions and taken steps to make sure they would not be caught. This makes it clear that this is not an isolated act, but instead the work of a serial offender who may soon strike again.
The allure of Broadchurch, throughout its seasons, lies in its subtle approach to dealing with the issues it covers. The truth and relevance behind the case are gradually uncovered and underlying themes such as male-female relations and power dynamics between people are delicately woven in. Such discretion could be what draws viewers towards binge-watching it; that feeling that even when an answer presents itself, one can never truly see it.
2. Mare of Easttown (2021)
HBO’s Mare of Easttown, which brings Kate Winslet back to the small screen a decade after Mildred Pierce, is a small-town series that doesn’t break new ground, but it doesn’t need to. The familiar small town plot pattern is encrypted into the drama.
Mare Sheehan, a police detective in a small, non-pastoral town in Pennsylvania, is not a particularly soft and pleasant woman. Her mother, her teenage daughter, and also her youngest grandson who was born to her late son live with her at home. Four generations under one house is not an easy thing to manage. On top of that, her ex-husband moved to live in the house opposite his new partner. In addition to the tensions at home, Mare is haunted by the unsolved disappearance of a girl whose mother blames the police for missing her. Now the body of another girl is found lying in the riverbed, and it is not clear if there is a connection between the two cases, but district detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) is attached to the investigation, which Mare is not really happy about. Another guest in the vicinity is the writer Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) who once wrote a celebrated book. Now he teaches at the local college and woos the detective who intrigues him because she is different from the women he used to date.
3. Top of the Lake (2013-2017)
This is a small town crime show that grabs you and puts you on the couch, but it also drops a five-pound sledgehammer of pain, sorrow, and melancholy on you with every new episode. It has a lot of mystery and an intriguing plot that progresses slowly, but surely.
Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men) is a Sydney-based investigator specializing in child crimes. She returns to the small town where she grew up to feed her dying mother and finds herself in the middle of an investigation. Tui, the focus of the investigation, is a 12-year-old girl who entered the frozen lake in the center of the town when she was five months pregnant. During the investigation, Robin discovers that in “Laketop” the concepts of “justice and law” are not subject to the accepted channels, but rather to one man, Matt, Tui’s father. During the investigation, Robin realizes that the townspeople are hiding a dark secret and she will have to confront her past as well. Add to this complicated plot a group of sleepwalking women, led by a guru with gray hair and a small, boyish body (Holly Hunter, “The Piano“) who settle in containers in the middle of the New Zealand wilderness and serve as a sort of refuge for the local residents.
4. Happy Valley (2014-2023)
“Happy Valley” is an ironic nickname for a small town in West Yorkshire, an area plagued by drugs and crime where the plot of the series takes place. At its center is Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), a tough police sergeant in her late 40s, who, in addition to her demanding and dangerous work, is also dealing with the suicide of her daughter Becky. Catherine lives with her little sister Claire (Siobhan Finneran), an alcoholic and heroin addict in rehab, along with Ryan (Rhys Connah), Becky’s son who was born just a few days before she ended her life.
We first meet Catherine eight years after her daughter committed suicide at the age of 18 – and just as Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), the man who assaulted Becky, got her pregnant, and led her to commit suicide, was released from prison. Katherine is still in touch with her ex-husband, who divorced her after she took on Ryan. Her second son, Daniel, also refuses to talk to her and, like his father, wants nothing to do with Becky’s son. The release of Tommy Lee Royce unsettles Catherine, who fears his return to town and the discovery that he has a son. Royce returns to the life of crime and is involved in a kidnapping, which leads to this Catherine’s private and professional lives mixing in the most tragic way, which brings her to the edge and puts her family and professional ties to the test.
“Happy Valley” is a crime drama, but it also has many other things, which make it unique and make it one of the highest-quality BBC series of recent years. It is both a family drama and a character study, and it has a social statement that is relevant to the socio-economic climate of Britain, but also very universal – and it is mainly written with great talent, from the construction of the characters, through the tense plot to the smallest subtleties in the dialogues.
5. The Sinner (2017- 2021)
The plot focuses on the intricacies of the past and personality of Cora (Jessica Biel), a young woman who lives in a small town, is in a relationship, and mother of a toddler, apparently normative, who one bright and sunny morning commits a brutal murder. Many witnesses saw her and she admits to the act, but she does not know how to explain it. According to her, she has no idea what made her suddenly attack another person like that. Her partner, Mason (Christopher Abbott from “Girls”) has no idea either.
On the face of it, it sounds like a case that the police would love to close as quickly as possible, but Cora’s lack of motive causes one of the detectives involved in the case, Harry (Bill Pullman) to continue investigating. The
Each 45 minutes episode long is full of twists, the dynamic male and female relationships, as she tries to understand why he wants to help her at all. From episode to episode, clues pile up and the picture begins to become clearer, with the feeling during the viewing that we want to decipher not only the murder but also Kor’s character.
6. Shetland (2013)
A British television crime drama series based on the characters from the “Shetland Quartet” novels by Ann Cleeves. The series is set in the remote small Scottish town archipelago of Shetland and follows Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) as he investigates a range of crimes that occur on the islands.
The series begins with the discovery of a young woman’s body on a secluded beach. DI Perez and his team investigate the murder, and their initial inquiry leads them to the close-knit community of the Shetland Islands, where secrets and long-held grudges are common. As the investigation unfolds, Perez discovers that the case is more complex than he initially thought, and he is drawn into a web of deceit and betrayal that stretches back several years.
The series is full of stunning locations, intricate plots, and compelling characters. It explores themes of loyalty, family, and community, as well as the challenges of living in a remote and isolated environment. “Shetland” has been praised for its realistic depiction of the Shetland Islands, as well as its ability to blend crime drama with a strong sense of place and culture.
7. Ozark (2017-2021)
The series follows financial planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), who relocates his family from the Chicago suburbs to a summer resort community in the small town of Ozarks of Missouri. Marty has to launder $8 million for a drug cartel to save his family’s life.
As the Byrdes attempt to settle into their new lives, they encounter a variety of obstacles and challenges, including local criminals, rival drug cartels, and corrupt politicians. The series explores themes of family, loyalty, and the dark side of the American Dream, as well as the consequences of one’s actions.
Throughout the series, Marty must navigate the dangerous world of drug trafficking and money laundering while trying to keep his family safe. He is aided in his efforts by his wife Wendy (Laura Linney), who becomes increasingly involved in the criminal underworld, as well as a cast of colorful characters, including a local strip club owner and a corrupt FBI agent.
One of the fun things about Ozark is the fact that from the moment it started until the end, it manages to magnetize the viewers to the screen with a rhythmic plot without a bad moment. The multitude of characters and the subplots created tension throughout each episode and kept the viewers on their toes throughout the seasons. The meandering script leaves no loose ends at the end of the series and gives depth and development to the characters. The fluctuation between the human place left in Marty and the analytical composure with which he can carry out cruel actions and decisions, make him a fascinating character that causes an ambivalent attitude when watching it.
8. Fargo (2014-)
The show is set in the fictional small town of Bemidji, Minnesota, and the surrounding areas. Each season follows a different set of characters as they become embroiled in various criminal activities, ranging from fraud and extortion to murder and organized crime.
The wicked crime comedy gained the status of a cult film, and Hawley successfully continued it through three seasons accompanying brutal, remorseless but resourceful psychopathic assassins. Or ordinary citizens who became such after going through a process of moral corruption by choice or by the necessity of the circumstances. Be that as it may, the many fans of the series greatly enjoyed the guilt-free enjoyment of being in the company of eccentric, strange, opaque, and insensitive characters. Types of characters that we don’t get to meet in real life, luckily. And if that’s what they’re looking for in “Fargo,” they might be disappointed with the fourth season.
9. Secrets and Lies (2015-2016)
A thriller with elements of a telenovela spread over 10 short and addictive episodes. Ben Crawford is a married man and the father of two young daughters who is also a painter in his profession, finds the body of a little boy in the woods during his morning run. The discovery makes him the immediate suspect and his life is turned upside down when these and other clues tie him to the event.
He becomes an outcast within his small community and is labeled by them as a child murderer, even before he was convicted in the trial. His problem is that he does not remember anything from what happened the night before the body was found because he went out with his best friend to the pub and drank too much. The case is investigated by a tough and sharp detective named Cornell who does not let go of Ben and makes his life bitter.
It turns out that the murdered child was his son, who was born after Ben had sex with his neighbor. The betrayal undermines Ben’s relationship with his wife, who is trying to find the golden path between her anger at his betrayal and the desire to support Ben. Ben tries on his own to find out the truth while his marriage is falling apart.
The small-town crime series is full of twists, when in each episode a suspicion arises that one of the participating characters is connected to the murder, maybe it’s one of the neighbors, or maybe it’s a person who hired Ben’s services as a colorist, maybe it’s his best friend, maybe it’s someone else. The ending is especially surprising. It’s fun to watch the whole series in one weekend.
10. Midnight Mass (2021)
The plot mainly takes place on Crockett Island, a tiny island, about 50 km from the mainland where there is a single settlement of 127 inhabitants. A delay in the return of the elderly priest of the small community from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem sets in motion a mysterious and mystical suspense plot that deals with faith and religion in general, and with Catholicism in particular.
The small community on the isolated island is a devout Catholic and life revolves around church ceremonies. The name of each episode in the series is like the name of a book in the Old and New Testaments, starting from “Genesis” to “The Vision of John”, which heralds the end of days. Riley Flynn (Zach Guilford), is a guy who left the island for the “mainland”, but returns to his parent’s house after serving years in prison for causing death in a car accident while drunk. Riley, the altar boy in the past, returns to the small town mentally broken just when the pilgrim priest is delayed in his return, and in his place appears a young and charismatic priest (Haymish Linklater), who revives the small community and instills in it a belief in miracles and eternal life.
This is a modal window. From here the plot gets complicated and includes a sophisticated use of the principles of Christianity and especially of the sacrament “The Lord’s Supper”, drinking the blood and eating the flesh of Jesus, as a metaphor for dark and supernatural rituals.