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Shows Like The Blacklist That Crime Drama Fans Need To Watch

In "The Blacklist" we meet Raymond "Red" Reddington — played deliciously with the sinister wit and charm of James Spader — a dangerous and notorious fugitive who offers to turn himself in and help the FBI hunt down others of his ilk, from a list of targets he's compiled himself. In exchange for immunity from his past crimes, and under the condition that he works solely with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), with whom he holds a unique fascination, Red offers the FBI his services as an expert in the field of dark secrets and criminal masterminds. 

With its blending of police procedural and psychological thriller, plus a healthy dose of Spader's acting prowess — hamming it up as the twisted evil genius turned do-gooder — the hit NBC show has dazzled audiences for nearly a decade. It proved so popular it received its own spinoff series, "The Blacklist: Redemption" lead by "X-Men" star Famke Janssen, a show that fans of "The Blacklist" no doubt tuned into during its brief single season run.

But what if you're looking for more shows with a sinister, morally grey protagonist like "The Blacklist"? Or you need a new tense crime drama to binge? Perhaps another series that threads the needle between thrilling and disturbing? Well, look no further. We've assembled our own list of some of the best of them.


"Blindspot" opens on a large duffel bag, found abandoned in Times Square, with a simple note attached that reads "Call the FBI." Inside is a unidentified woman with amnesia (played by Jamie Alexander of "Thor" fame), who we know only as Jane Doe, naked but for a body laden with intricate tattoo art from head to toe.

Framed as a spy thriller of sorts, "Blindspot" is a unique twist on the same formula used for "The Blacklist": A whip-smart agent — in this case Jane Doe, who replaces Spader's 'scary and villainous' with her own brand of 'seductive and cold blooded' — hunts down a list of targets one by one, week after week. Red's ominous notebook in "The Blacklist" is swapped out here for Jane's wide array of mysterious tattoos, with each design representing a clue that will lead her to her next target.

The NBC series' episodic mysteries propel a narrative that thrills just enough to set aside some of the more outrageous stories that strain credibility. But its the alluring and ruthless Jane that's really the draw of the series — and not just for her inked figure (which we see a lot of), but for Alexander's fierce performance as the cunning manhunter with no past or identity but what she makes for herself. 

The Following

The next entry on our list is less episodic, with season long stories. "The Following" tracks FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) on a manhunt for murderous cult leader Joe Caroll (James Purefoy, of "Rome"). Like "The Blacklist," it stars a bonafide Hollywood heavyweight who chases down the FBI's most wanted. Gorier than most other network shows, "The Following," which aired on Fox, is unsubtle in its depiction of graphic violence, taking cues from slasher flicks like "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" that were penned previously by the show's creator Kevin Williamson. But that's about all the show has in common with those teen horror movies, as "The Following" is far more of a captivating psychological drama, ala "Se7en." Bacon's turn as the morally twisted Hardy, whose body count rivals those of the killers he's chasing, and his relationship with Carrol, are a joy to watch.

The first two seasons involve the hunt for Caroll and its aftermath. Season 3 turns "Silence Of The Lambs," with a seasoned killer in prison frequently visited by the reluctant Hardy, who needs his help to track down the FBI's newest target. The season-long stories are both terrifying and engrossing, and play out like a violent game of "you're it" with a serial killer.


If you need a fix of gritty anti-hero, Idris Elba's "Luther" is sure to satisfy. Among the best action dramas of the last decade, and possibly the best the Brits have produced period, the STARZ series centers on John Luther, a perpetually tormented British detective with a moral compass that rarely points in the right direction. Never afraid to break the rules in order to bring the bad guy down, Luther is the epitome of the complicated cop, unafraid to cross the line from upstanding officer to ethically ambiguous vigilante. Joining Luther on the edges of the law is his unpredictable ally Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), a sociopathic former killer — and the target of Luther's first investigation — who sympathizes with him in his struggles both professional and personal. The two tortured souls come to understand and care for each other, becoming one of the genre's most intriguing odd couples.

"Luther" is more than just unpredictable stories; it offers surprising character dynamics too, because in "Luther," nothing and nobody is ever quite what they seem. The show is packed with shocking revelations and tense action, but it's the title character who will keep you coming back, no matter what criminal he's trying to bring down. 

The Punisher

Spun off from his show-stopping appearance on "Daredevil," (also highly recommended), Netflix's "The Punisher" puts Jon Bernthal in the driver's seat of his own series. The actor absolutely owns the role of Frank Castle, the vigilante ex-soldier who hunts down the city's underworld criminals with fearless brutality. He's opposed by Castle's former squad-mate Jigsaw (Ben Barnes), who sits at the heart of a conspiracy involving military contract killers that may have played a part in the death of his family. The series is full of explosive action, but also offers up surprising depth for a character who is often seen as a one-dimensional killing machine. The series unexpectedly explores many facets of the life of an ex-soldier, with a subplot involving Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber), another U.S. Army veteran, who comes home from the war and finds himself without a cause to fight for. Troubled and alone, Lewis turns to violence — offering us a sympathetic mirror for the title character, and illustrating the fine line that can sometimes lie between what we perceive as good and evil. 

"The Punisher" gives fans more than just action and violence, with complex characters and a message. Contract issues prevented the series from running any further than its first fantastic season, but it remains an uncompromising vision for the Marvel character that stands not just as a solid adaptation of the comic book, but a top tier action drama on its own merits.

The Sinner

Another criminal procedural series with a big star as its lead, USA Network's "The Sinner" sees Bill Pullman  in the role of Harry Ambrose, an Upstate New York police detective who investigates murders with unusual motivations and unlikely culprits. Based on the novel by Petra Hammesfahr, "The Sinner" is less a "hunt for a killer" story than most police crime dramas, and is often referred to as a "whydunnit" — rather than a whodunnit mystery — where the audience knows the identity of the killer almost right from the off. But the stories easily keep viewers' attention as the investigation unfolds and we come to understand the motivation behind the grisly murders.

The crux of "The Sinner" is Ambrose's attempts to untangle the tale of each crime, getting into the head of the perpetrator, discovering the complex nature of their relationship with their victim, and understanding what in their life brought them to the point of murder. As the stories unfold, situations grow from a single crime to a broader conspiracy, as Ambrose's investigation into the life of the killer opens up a whole new web of lies and murder, leading him to new targets and new mysteries. Though the series offers little that breaks new ground, it delivers everything you want in a satisfying detective story, with compelling characters and fun twists and turns that will leave you guessing until the very end.

Person of Interest

A surprising mix of "Homeland" and "The Minority Report," the CBS drama "Person of Interest" stars Jim Caviezel ("Passion of the Christ") and Michael Emerson ("Lost"), in a criminal manhunt series with a unique starting premise. It begins with billionaire programmer Harold Finch (Emerson), who creates an advanced artificial intelligence program that can process enormous amounts of data in an effort to predict terrorist attacks. As a side effect, the A.I. also begins producing so-called "irrelevant" data pointing to would-be criminals. Burdened with the knowledge that he could stop any number of crimes, Finch recruits former Special Forces solider John Reese (Caveziel) to parse through this "irrelevant data" and hunt down the would-be killers to stop their crimes before they happen. The problem? All Finch has are a list of social security numbers, with no indication whether they belong to the perpetrator or the victim. It's a brilliant and unique blend of science fiction, crime drama, and spy thriller, and it predates "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" which was built from a similar idea.

From the beginning, the series brings up a lot of questions surrounding the moral implications of the premise, and the series doesn't shy away from them, exploring the ethical issues that arise around freedom vs. safety. Built off the back of shows like "24," "Person of Interest" became perhaps the quintessential modern manhunt series, providing more than exciting action and spy drama, but sparking thought provoking topical debates as well. Five seasons and over 100 episodes make it particularly binge-worthy.


"The Blacklist" has often been described as a spiritual sequel to "Silence Of The Lambs," so what better show to watch next than the series that expanded on the world of Hannibal Lecter? Conceived of by "Pushing Daises" creator Bryan Fuller, "Hannibal" is a reimagined prequel to the Hollywood classic that takes its inspiration mostly from author Thomas Harris' first Hannibal novel, "Red Dragon." (How exactly the show fits into the movie timeline is a bit confusing.)

"Red Dragon" protagonist Will Graham gets the FBI agent spotlight (Clarice Darling recently got her own show on CBS) as a rookie agent who is partnered with FBI psychological profiler — and part time serial killer — Hannibal Lecter. The 'villain as the lead' premise from "The Blacklist" is on full display here, with the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen giving one of the most intense performances of his career in the role of the deranged murderer hiding in plain sight, offering his insight on the criminal mind to the young Graham (Hugh Darcy). It's a psychological thriller in every sense, with the interplay between Lecter and Graham being the star attraction. Stylish, ambitious, and unflinchingly disturbing, it skirts the edges of acceptable prime time network television (the show originally aired on NBC). "Hannibal" is the rare crime drama that walks on oddly philosophical ground, but does so in satisfying fashion, and has left fans screaming for a follow-up ever since its Season 3 conclusion in 2015.


With its modern reinterpretation of 19th century detective icon Sherlock Holmes, many feared that "Elementary" would be little more than an American copy of BBC's popular "Sherlock" series. And while the show does carry many of the same traits owing to its use of the same source material, it's anything but an imitation of its acclaimed British cousin. Swapping out Martin Freeman for a gender-bended Watson played by the accomplished Lucy Liu, "Elementary" excels with a stellar cast that includes "Trainspotting" star Jonny Lee Miller as the legendary detective. And while Benedict Cumberbatch's series was a web of mind-bending stories, "Elementary" chose to focus more on straightforward, classic Holmes-ian mysteries and whodunnits, a welcome change for viewers looking for an American take on Sherlock Holmes.

With strong writing and an impeccable cast that also included Rhys Ifans, John Noble, Natalie Dormer, and Sean Pertwee, the series impressed audiences with clever stories and compelling characters, not to mention plenty of the expected zigs and zags you'd want in a murder mystery. "Elementary" twisted the Sherlock Holmes mythos in just the right ways too, remaining faithful to the spirit of the original while offering up plenty of surprises for longtime fans. The BBC's "Sherlock" had the typical limited British run, but if you're craving more gritty modern Holmes, you'll get seven seasons and 154 episodes of "Elementary," which should keep you plenty busy binging on Hulu.

The Equalizer

We're going a bit further back for this one, with "The Equalizer" being the original prototype for the sub-genre of mysterious anti-hero chasing down violent criminals. It was the 1980s equivalent of "The Blacklist," with star Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a retired government agent who serves as a one-man "A-Team," tracking down criminals as a volunteer mercenary-for-hire. McCall, who once served as a covert ops soldier for an unnamed, clandestine intelligence agency, uses his unique set of skills as good Samaritan manhunter to aid those in trouble. He seeks personal redemption through stopping criminals and helping people out of sticky situations with little more than his guts and his gun.

It was memorable enough to be turned into a movie in 2012 starring Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace-Moretz and directed by action thriller auteur Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day"); and it was rebooted as a TV series in 2020 with Queen Latifah in the gender swapped title role of Robyn McCall. Though the new series earned tepid reviews, it was renewed for a second season, so perhaps it will wind up on this list in due time. For now, if you want a show about a person in trouble, with the odds against them, stream the original version of "The Equalizer."


From Amazon Studios came Absentia, lead by "Castle" star Stana Katic as Emily Byrne, an intrepid FBI agent who is declared dead after going missing while investigating a deadly serial killer. But six years later, Byrne resurfaces with an equal six year gap in her memory, and returns to a world that has passed her by: Her husband's new wife is the mother to her young children, including a son who doesn't even seem to want her back in his life. On top of all that, when new murder victims pop up with evidence pointing in her direction, she quickly finds her colleagues have made her the prime suspect.

Initially announced as just a miniseries, "Absentia" wound up receiving three seasons of 10 episodes each. The series straddles the line between a standard cop show and a prestige psycho-drama, propped up by Katic's impressive performance as the tortured Byrne. Katic shows her range as the traumatized FBI agent who juggles picking up the pieces after being thought to be dead for six years, putting together the mystery of her memory gaps, trying to catch a killer, and avoiding suspicion herself. It's a complex series, and a lesser known gem that received surprisingly little fanfare. "Absentia" is worth checking out if you want something new and fresh beyond the more widely known entries on this list.


We're going to guess that many Looper readers may have already dipped their toe into the chronicles of paradoxically heroic serial killer Dexter Morgan and watched the highly acclaimed series that bears his name, but plenty of people may have missed out since it concluded its run in 2013. The Showtime sensation, starring Michael C. Hall in his star-making role, was based on the series of novels that started with "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," and remains as one of the best crime thrillers of its era. 

Tune in and you'll find Dexter Morgan, the disturbed ex-serial killer living a seemingly normal life, but still tormented by an undeniable compulsion to kill. With a strict moral compass, he chooses to hunt down vile criminals and use them to feed his hunger for blood. But Dexter is also a police forensics expert, and he must balance his life as a murderous vigilante with his job as a member of the Miami PD. With his skills in forensics and connections within the police force, he tracks down criminals, but as his body count piles up, he must also evade suspicion as his fellow officers slowly close in him. It's a nail-biting thriller and one of the rare shows where you're truly on the edge of your seat through every episode. If you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for? Now is as perfect a time as any to fire up "Dexter" before watching the brand new revival "Dexter: New Blood."  

The Alienist

The only period drama on this list, "The Alienist" nonetheless earns its place as a high quality detective drama with fine performances from a top tier cast, and sharp scripts adapted from a series of mystery novels by Caleb Carr. The show is set in New York in the 1890s, when future President and then-police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt seeks out the services of Laszlo Kreizler, a criminal psychologist (colloquially known at the time as an "alienist") to track down the person responsible for a series of horrific child murders that are plaguing the city. Lavishly produced, it convincingly portrays the dirty, musty world of old New York — a television drama with high production values and an all-star cast — something not often seen on basic cable outposts like TNT. Instead it's a much darker show than the likes of "Law & Order" reruns that dot the channel's usual programming, and surprised critics with a sophisticated story of murder, mixed with timeless topics like corruption, privilege, and class struggle.

Starring Daniel Brühl, who more recently turned heads as Baron Zemo in "Falcon and the Winter Soldier," Dakota Fanning ("Ocean's Eight"), and Luke Evans ("The Hobbit" trilogy), "The Alienist" is an addictive period piece that's sure to satisfy fans of "The Blacklist" who can appreciate its remarkable historical flavor.

Mr. Robot

"Mr. Robot" takes the dark anti-hero to new and unexpected heights, with Rami Malek in a career defining performance. He takes on the role of computer programmer turned vigilante hacker Elliot Anderson, who is recruited by a mysterious man known only as Mr. Robot to help take down the monolithic E-Corp that seemingly controls most of the world's financial data. Visually stunning and narratively captivating, the show presents viewers with a compelling treatise on social media, capitalism, and class inequality. A daring series unafraid to take chances with bold storylines, and characters that push the envelope of believability, it's a show that on paper, probably shouldn't work, but creator Sam Esmail manages to bring it all together into a crisp, engaging series that quickly became one of the most talked about shows on television when it debuted on USA in 2015.

"Mr. Robot" brought Malek to prominence, revived the career of one-time A-lister Christian Slater, and brought the world of high tech cyber security into the mainstream. Though subsequent seasons could never match the sky-high levels of hype from its first sensational year, "Mr. Robot" continued to be a high class drama, delivering a unique and cinematic experience, and it remained must-see TV until the end of its groundbreaking four-season run. 


Based on the book by former FBI agents John Douglass and Mark Olshanker that chronicled the early days of a controversial new branch of criminology, "Mindhunter" dramatized the true story of the agency's first behavioral profilers. Headlined by Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv, the series follows a team of FBI agents who were based on or inspired directly by the real life investigators that founded the FBI's first Behavioral Science Unit. It's an engrossing series made all the more fascinating when you delve into the deeper story in the history books and discover that a lot of the conversations between the agents and their subjects — real life serial killers Ed Kemper, David Berkowitz, and Richard Speck, plus infamous cult leader Charles Manson — were lifted directly from actual taped interviews.

Created by David Fincher ("Se7en") who also directed the pilot, "Mindhunter" earned heavy praise from critics. It presented a thrilling take on a fascinating part of FBI history, delivering a tense and dramatic series. Fans of "Mindhunter" have their fingers crossed for a third season, and Fincher has teased the possibility of future stories, but there's been no update since.