Outlaws, Tokyo Vice and What Makes a Good Crime Show in 2022

Crime may not pay, but crime shows sure do. This is especially true right now. Although the music has been around since midcentury, it is still very popular today. Perry Mason DragnetRecent trends have shown that scammer TV shows are at the heart of every trend. Sagas of mafia. Domestic thrillers. Docudramas and true-crime documentaries. Many of Netflix’s biggest global hits–South Korea’s Squid Game, Spain’s Money Heist, France’s Lupin, the U.S.’s Invention of Anna–speak the international language of crime.

Franchises for procedural procedures, starting Law & OrderYou can find more information here NCIS, have long been the category’s most reliable moneymakers. However, since the advent of The Sopranos The WirePay-TV networks have produced a steady stream of prestige crime dramas. This kind of drama is typically a serialized epic, with a substantial budget and a well-known ensemble cast. As the deluge continues, it’s worth asking: What makes a great crime show in 2022?

In April, three series which fit into the category of prestige crime are due to premiere. British dramedy The OutlawsFollows seven low-level offenders who rehabben a derelict structure for community service. Tokyo Vice adapts the memoir of a U.S. journalist who covered the Japanese capital’s criminal demimonde in the late 1990s. Also 61 Street centers on a lethally mismanaged drug bust on Chicago’s South Side. These shows look great from an aesthetic perspective. The production quality is high, and the backgrounds are realistic. They are distinguished by the attention that each shows to their characters.

The most traditional of the bunch, AMC’s 61st Street–like The Wire, American CrimePlease see the following: Night Of before it–frames its story as a microcosm of a broken criminal-justice system. Courtney B. Vance stars as an aging public defender with a bad prostate and a creeping suspicion that he’s wasted his life fighting courts that will always be indifferent to his poor, predominantly Black clients. This show will premiere on April 10. It offers a 360-degree view of the entire sting. The characters include politicians, gang members and parents. More people talk as members of groups than individuals. “Look at me,” an officer tells a Black teenager. “You see a blue life that doesn’t matter, right?”

Peter Moffat is the author of Night Of and Showtime’s overwrought crime drama Your Honor, it’s the kind of show that might’ve broken ground in the early years of the Black Lives Matter movement. These themes still hold true. Its combination of common hand-wringing about injustice and random thought-experiment plotting is too repetitive to have much impact.

Tokyo Vice, a bilingual action drama arriving April 7 on HBO Max, at least offers a novel setting rendered in pilot director Michael Mann‘s signature neon-noir style. Ansel Elgort plays Jake Adelstein, the first foreigner ever hired as a reporter by Japan’s most widely read newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun. When he is assigned to the beat of the police, he discovers a surprising connection between two deaths. As an outsider, he’s too conspicuous to blend in, but too cocky and naive about the norms that govern interactions among cops, the media, and various yakuza factions to stop digging when his colleagues might judge it prudent.

A Japanese co-production that’s keenly aware of cultural stereotypes on both sides of the Pacific, Tokyo ViceIt mostly ignores the exoticizing gaze that plagues so many Western images of the city. But even if you put aside the sexual misconduct allegations that continue to follow Elgort (the most serious of which he has denied), it’s strange to see the preternaturally detached Baby driverStar plays a young, upstart journalist. It is difficult to get to know the protagonist in this overcrowded genre, where stories tend to stick to the same beats as an investigation. And that’s tough when his inner life is given minimal attention.

The most promising title of all three is, therefore, it stands to reason. The OutlawsThe BBC-Amazon partnership is bringing ‘The Echo Show’ to Prime Video. It features a cast of quirky characters and thrives off their unique personalities. It is the spiritual successor to Orange is the New Black The Breakfast Club, in that it throws together people who have nothing in common but their shared punishment–and it’s refreshingly self-aware about that. “Everyone’s a type,” teen shoplifter and self-described “studious Asian good girl” Rani (Rhianne Barreto) points out in the premiere. “You’ve got your right-wing blowhard, left-wing militant, celebutante, shifty old-timer.” (The latter, fresh out of prison and eager to make amends with his rightly resentful daughter, is played by a surprisingly subdued Christopher Walken.) Rani’s “bad boy” love interest and a nerdy loner round out the crew.

Slowly but surely. Orange-style flashbacks, everyone’s story comes out. And even as it pushes forward the plot with genre standbys like gangsters and bags of cash, the show fosters unexpected bonds that stretch the characters’ understanding of themselves and one another. This can be hokey, but mostly it’s humane, merging the experiences of people from different backgrounds without thoughtlessly equating them.

As far as I’m concerned–even now that franchises reign and episodic budgets can stretch into the tens of millions–it’s always the characters that separate a competently made show from one that’s actually worth watching. This is true for crime as well as any other genre. How would it? The SopranosBe without Tony or The WireWithout Omar? It’s easy to draw in viewers with grit and suspense, or with a premise purpose-built to dramatize contemporary political divisions. Crafting characters and performances of sufficient depth that we keep coming back is more challenging, but becoming increasingly important as crime series multiply.

This article appears in TIME, April 11, 2022.

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