Crime Shows Look For A New Angle, Diverse Characters

Crime shows look for a new angle, argued Berlinale Series participants on Monday. 

There is no shortage of new offerings, from Berlinale Market Selects’ “Two Sides of the Abyss,” Serbia’s “The Fall” or South Africa’s “Donkerbos,” created by Nico Scheepers, to China’s melancholic, decades-spanning “Why Try to Change Me Now,” with Golden Bear winner Yinan Diao attached as executive producer.

But while there is still an appetite for traditional detective stories, producers and broadcasters are venturing out of the “damaged, middle-aged white detective slot on a Sunday night,” suggested All3Media International’s Rachel Glaister. They are also thinking about their younger audience.

“[‘The Gymnasts’] wasn’t born as a pure crime show. We were also attracted by other themes, including coming-of-age,” said Carlotta Claori of Indigo Film when discussing the series about a tournament in the Italian Alps, gone horribly wrong.   

With “The Gymnasts” adding a female detective, absent from Ilaria Bernardini’s source novel, women are also leading in the likes of India’s “Roar” or “Brown,” presented in Berlinale Series and Market Selects respectively.

“When I read the character Rita Brown, I just felt it, because she was so different, so diverse – she was flawed, but human, super smart, super intelligent, and you can literally see the growth of this woman,” Bollywood star Karisma Kapoor told Variety about her role. 

Diversity is also key, as proven by Iceland’s “Black Sands” or Sweden’s “Detective #24,” produced by BRF and with SVT as a broadcaster. The show – where a Somali refugee turns out to be a skilled detective, is set to premiere this Spring.  

“These people, who come to [our countries], are often reduced to a number. But they have hopes and dreams, and skills,” said Ulf Synnerholm of B-Reel Films.

“SVT were fast in their decision, because they were on the lookout for a new way of telling a crime story. There are tons of crime novels you can option and start developing into series. There are fantastic companies that do it, but we didn’t want to compete with that. It felt like a fresh way of using a genre that is still hot and popular, and saying something different,” he added. 

Why Try to Change Me Now

So-called “Nordic Noir” is also transforming, playing with period setting and rich historical background, as well as a dash of psychedelics – just like in Co-Pro Series title “The Acid Clinic,” produced by SAM Productions and Asta Film.

“We are setting up a thriller with elements of Nordic Noir and then we are changing it up. Nowadays, if you just stick to one genre without trying anything else, things get boring,” noted creator Jens Dahl, exploring a true story of a 1960s doctor who used to believe that “this new exciting drug, LSD, will win him a Nobel Prize.”

Black humor can also serve as a useful addition, argued Brendan Foley, head writer behind “Tipping Point” and “The Man Who Died,” featured in Berlinale’s “Why So Series?” panel.  

“It was another example of taking a bit of a gamble with genre. It’s not your straightforward Nordic noir and it’s not your classic Finnish crime show, either: It’s quirky, slightly off-kilter, Coen brothers-like,” he said, recalling the story about a man who, after finding out he has been poisoned, starts looking for his killer.

Such “genre-blends” are bound to become more common whenever crime is concerned, observed Robert Franke, head of drama at ZDF Studios, during Berlinale Series opening. 

Ampere Analysis’ Guy Bisson mentioned “romantic crime” among top crime themes in linear TV scripted commissioning in 2022 – alongside suspense and politics – eliciting laughs from an audience.  

“Go for something lighter. If you want something dark, you can see it on the news and you can’t out-compete that,” added Franke, with ITV Studios’ Ruth Berry agreeing that “less dark crime” might be on the rise.

 “Seeing these slightly adjacent sides of crime has been very interesting,” she added. 

“As long as you keep it fresh, instead of repeating yourself, opportunities are endless,” said All3Media International’s Stephen Driscoll, mentioning “fresh storytelling and fresh faces” behind “Mystery Road: Origin,” set in the Australian outback. 

“There is a great potential to bend this genre as much as you like, looking at the crime backbone as more of a salt and pepper of any dish that you are making. You need it to make it taste of something,” argued Synnerholm.

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