The equal and opposite of the Cop Show
and Police Procedural
, Crime Time TV focuses on people who are on the wrong
side of the law. Generally they are split into four types, each focusing on a different type of criminal:
Con Men and Gentlemen Thieves
are the most popular, since it's easy to make them sympathetic to the audience by making their victims
rich and greedy. They are also usually charismatic and attractive. Their shows are usually light in tone and there will almost certainly be one episode where they actually help the police to take down a violent (and therefore "bad") criminal. There may be a recurring police officer who tries (and fails) to capture the protagonists, or who coerces them into helping him out with his investigations.
are the next rung down on the popularity ladder. Generally petty crooks, fencers, forgers, dealers of soft drugs and other people who are on the wrong side of the law but not sufficiently nasty to put off the viewing audience. Expect the really nasty criminals to pop up more regularly, usually as a plot device if the protagonists owe them money/drugs/something else. The outsiders are usually cowardly or otherwise non-violent. These guys typically star in dark comedies.
are the least popular protagonists for Crime Time TV, largely because they have to be shown to be despicable people in order to come across as being remotely realistic. It's also difficult to play down the crimes that they commit: murder, extortion, dealing in highly dangerous drugs, etc. As a result, such series tend to be very adult in tone and morally complex, and therefore not attractive to advertisers. Where there is humour, it tends to be pitch black.
do not fit comfortably into the popularity ladder. This is because, since they have been taken off the street and are - in theory - paying for their crimes, they don't necessarily have to be shown committing criminal acts. Or, when they do commit such acts, they are usually against fellow inmates - which can be seen as justified to some viewers. As a result, series set in prison
can have wildly different tones, from harrowing to comedic.
Anime, Light Novels, and Manga
- Lupin III is an action/comedy Franchise about a Gentleman Thief and his accomplices.
- Black Lagoon encompasses just about all four types of "people outside the law" and even introduces characters that seem to fit in a criminal archetype all their own.
- Hard Time was a short-lived but critically acclaimed DC Comics series that combined convicts in prison with more fantastic elements. (It did not take place in The DCU.)
- Secret Six straddled the line, focusing on a team of villains who were initially bootstrapped together by a mysterious backer, but banded together while taking "gray jobs" to make money.
- To Catch a Thief had Cary Grant as a suave jewel thief who supposedly had retired, until thefts in his style started happening again...
- Catch That Kid. A movie about a girl and her friends who team up to rob the bank her mother works for to pay for her father's surgery.
- The Hot Rock: Robert Redford as Gentleman Thief Dortmunder. See Literature below.
- The Sting: Robert Redford and Paul Newman team up to scam a racketeer. The inspiration for and referenced by many others on this list.
- The Sting II
- Sneakers: Robert Redford as the leader of a team of shady (but mostly licit) "security experts".
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Robert Re... look, let's just say that Robert Redford really likes the Gentleman Thief type and capers.
- Quentin Tarantino likes this genre as well. Reservoir Dogs follows a cadre of bank robbers (and one undercover cop) on a heist that goes pretty far awry.
- Also from Tarantino is Pulp Fiction, whose main characters are two contract killers, their imposing boss, a boxer who's killed a man in the ring by way of ripping the boss off, and two sweetheart stickup artists whose victims include the contract killers, although "victim" isn't really the right word.
- The Hot Rock and all of Donald E. Westlake's "Dortmunder" books involve cons, capers, criminals, and gentlemen thieves.
- Also from Westlake (under his Richard Stark psuedonym), the Parker novels. In contrast to the Dortmunder books, the Parker books are dark, violent, and star an utterly amoral Villain Protagonist.
- The Sopranos is probably the best known example: a high-profile, critically acclaimed show following the exploits of Tony Soprano, mafia boss, and the various members of his two families.
- Hustle is a British TV series about a group of con artists, heavily inspired by the remake of the movie Ocean's Eleven.
- The Wire tends to be evenly split between the lives of the criminals and the lives of the cops that are stalking them. Later seasons broadened this to politicians, journalists, and children who are getting into a life of crime.
- Leverage: A formulaic but truly fun show where a band of True Companions conmen/thieves/hitters/hackers/etc. take down the rich and greedy.
- Lock Stock, a spin-off from the movie Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, featured a gang of Outsiders who invariably ended up on the wrong side of much nastier London gangsters.
- Weeds is a comedy/drama about a bereaved housewife who starts selling marijuana to pay the bills.
- Ideal is a sitcom about a small-time drug dealer.
- Porridge is a Brit Com set in a small prison.
- Oz is an infamously violent show set in a US prison with a multitude of rapes, castrations, murders and more rapes.
- The Saint was a Gentleman Thief with Robin Hood tendencies, although the TV version downplayed this, portraying him more as an Amateur Sleuth whom a police detective had an inexplicable grudge against.
- It Takes a Thief (1968) with Robert Wagner was probably the first television program to do this.
- Intelligence (2006) is partly about an organized crime group engaged in the marijuana trade.
- The Straits is about the deadly smuggling trade between northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. It focuses on infighting in the Montebello crime family, but also how a drug trade between a developed nation (Australia) and a developing nation (PNG) impacts the people on all sides who get caught up in it.
- Breaking Bad about a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook turned drug kingpin. Features an excellent progression for a Villain Protagonist, it transitions from petty/hanger-on to hardcore organized crime over about a season (at the beginning of Season 3, he hasn't even told his wife about his side business; at the end, he has already ordered a hit and his wife is laundering his money).
- Sons of Anarchy is about an outlaw motorcycle club operating a variety of criminal activities ranging from petty to extreme. Shades of grey abound, but even some of the most murderous characters are oddly lovable.
- Boardwalk Empire explores the organized crime ventures and opportunities opened in the wake of the Volstead Act in New Jersey, New York and Chicago.
- Peaky Blinders based on a Real Life street gang in early 20th century Birmingham (the English one), and their attempts to gain prominence in the underworld against more powerful and influential gangsters. Also features some very bent coppers as well as appearances from the IRA, communists, anarchists and a pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
- Orange Is The New Black is Based on a True Story about a woman who was sent to prison for helping her girlfriend transport drug money. The series also focuses on other prisoners and uses flashbacks to detail their crimes.
- Last Res0rt centers around a Reality Show featuring several prisoners and convicts, all trying to earn their way out.