It’s likely most of us will never commit the kind of crimes worthy of our own TV show, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy watching fictional characters behaving badly in prestige streaming dramas. That’s why TV is considered the best form of escapism after all.
Whether’s it’s historically-based accounts of street gangs smuggling goods during the Prohibition era, black comedies set in frosty Minnesota suburbs, Italian mobsters going scorched earth in New Jersey, or science teachers cooking meth in their campers, a life of crime is exciting, dangerous, and a story worth telling — on TV at least.
We’ve rounded up some of the best crime dramas streaming right now. Enjoy, but please, don’t go getting any ideas.
4 seasons, 44 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney chew up every scene in this dark and moody crime drama about a well-off Chicago family forced to emigrate to the Ozarks and funnel cash through riverboat casinos on behalf of Mexican Cartels. They got to this point thanks to a betrayal and an affair but their plan to escape this dismally-lit purgatory runs into a few snags thanks to local crime families and heroin operations drawing some unwanted attention. Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a finance wizard who must cook the books for the cartel after his business partner screws him while Linney plays Wendy, his wife who harbors some dangerous ambitions of her own. Every episode has you questioning whether one or more of the Byrde family – which includes two teenage kids – will kick the bucket thanks to a scheme gone wrong (and whether they might actually deserve to die for the things they’ve done).
4 seasons, 42 episodes | IMDb: 8.9/10
Noah Hawley managed to do the impossible with this adaptation, translating the quirky, violent, darkly-funny leanings of the Coen Brothers into a TV series that expands the frigid, folksy world of small-town crime into something even more sinister and bleak. Each season welcomes a new criminal mastermind – we’re talking Ewan McGregor stamp heists and Jean Smart heading up a crime syndicate – but there’s some overlap in characters and location that ties this whole universe together nicely.
3 seasons, 30 episodes | IMDb: 8.8/10
The lore around Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar can’t possibly live up to how wild and dangerous his real life was – something this series does its best to distill over three seasons. Wagner Moura plays the charismatic, quick-tempered criminal visionary, a man who grew up in the slums, rose to a position of wealth and influence and squandered it with his paranoid delusions of grandeur. Of course, the show also gives us a glimpse of the guys trying to catch Escobar – Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook play DEA agents who learn playing by the rules won’t net them the bad guy here – but the fun of this show is in watching wilily drug lord outsmart law enforcement time and time again.
5 seasons, 60 episodes | IMDb: 9.3/10
The Wire showcased the angst, fear, and torture of its characters — the politicians and cops but also the drug dealers and gang leaders — as well as their ambition, survivalism, and love. A cacophony of emotions, all on display against the backdrop of a city beat down by desperation, apathy, and good people without the support or endurance to win out. There are clear reasons why many see this show as the greatest of all time. You’ll pick up on them early and they won’t fade from memory.
6 seasons, 86 episodes | IMDb: 9.2/10
There’s a reason this show is known as The Godfather of prestige TV. Not only does it take an unflinching look at the New Jersey mob, led by a hot-tempered, surprisingly introspective leader — it also ushered in an era of storytelling on the small screen that put character development and suspenseful plot twists front and center. James Gandolfini gives the performance that would define his career, playing Tony Soprano, a mob boss running a crime syndicate while also struggling to be a family man and wrestle his own inner demon via therapy. Funny, sharp-witted, violent, and often heartbreaking — The Sopranos covers the full range of human emotions and still finds a way to make us empathize with, if not outright root for, the bad guy.
6 seasons, 36 episodes | IMDb: 8.8/10
By order of the Peaky f*cking Blinders, you need to watch this period crime drama on Netflix. Following a crime family trying to build their business – which quickly morphs from running betting rings and fixing horse races to smuggling liquor and assassinating IRA supporters on behalf of The Crown – the series is an acting showcase for Cillian Murphy, who plays the tough-yet-tormented World War I vet and Peaky Blinders leader Tommy Shelby. He’s joined by his brothers and his shrewd gypsy Aunt Polly (a terrific Helen McCrory) as the gang fights to expand its turf past Birmingham, into the halls of Parliament.
5 seasons, 57 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
Another period piece, this prestige crime drama on HBO gives fans a gritty, violent look at the Prohibition Era from the viewpoint of mob bosses like Al Capone who ran the streets at that time. While those bigger names are later additions, the bulk of the series focuses on Steve Buscemi’s Atlantic City overlord Nucky Thompson, a political power player and corrupt businessman who profited during the 1920s and early 1930s. Nucky has a host of enemies – from government types to crime syndicates hoping to usurp his rule – and a bit of a tortured past that makes him an especially formidable and calculating gangster. There’s enough time-accurate detail to keep historical buffs happy and plenty of star-studded cameos to make each season an exciting watch.
5 seasons, 62 episodes | IMDb: 9.5/10
A high school science teacher is likely the last person you’d expect to become a ruthless, calculating drug lord, and yet, Brian Cranston plays the future “Heisenberg” so convincingly, that we’re starting to suspect every chemistry professor has some kind of illegal side hustle going on. Cranston’s Walter White certainly does, struggling to make ends meet within the school system while facing down a terminal cancer diagnosis. He decides to take advantage of the boom in illegal drug use in his New Mexico town by cooking meth in a camper — and distributing it with the help of a former student named Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). What begins as a way to financially secure his family’s future once he’s gone morphs into a cautionary tale of greed and ambition, one filled with violence, betrayal, sleazy bad guys, and a surprising number of catchphrases.
Better Call Saul
5 seasons, 57 episodes | IMDb: 8.8/10
Remember those sleazy characters from Breaking Bad? Well, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is one of them. But before he becomes the go-to attorney for criminal masterminds like Walter White, he’s just Jimmy McGill, a struggling court-appointed attorney and former con artist living in the shadow of his successful older brother. To move up in the world, he begins taking on clients like former police officer turned career criminal Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) who introduces him to even more dangerous and powerful kingpins, all hoping McGill will help them sweep their many wrongdoings under the proverbial legal rug.
Sons Of Anarchy
7 Seasons, 92 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, and Ron Pearlman star in this biker gang drama that takes fans on one hell of a ride through the criminal underworld of California’s Central Valley. Hunnam plays Jax Teller, a young father and vice president of SAMCRO, an outlaw biker gang running the streets of Charming. His mother Gemma (Sagal) is married to current president Clay Morrow (Pearlman) after Jax’s father, who founded the club, died. There’s plenty of criminal activity to keep you worried the law might finally catch up with these guys – think gun-running, shootouts, money laundering, and more – plus some Shakespearean drama between the main trio of Jax, Gemma, and Clay that goes in a direction you won’t see coming.