9 Character-Driven Whodunnits to Watch After Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies took a genre that we have seen before and did something different with it. Here are nine other TV shows that did the same.
HBO’s female-centric, character-driven whodunnit Big Little Lieshas, sadly, come to an end. And, if you’re anything like us, than you’re looking for another artfully-directed, plot-neglecting drama to fill the void. We have nine suggestions. If you liked Big Little Lies, why not try out these TV dramas…
London Spy is the only entry on this list that doesn’t have a female character or relationship at its center. It does, however, take a usually plot-driven genre — in this case, the spy drama — and prioritizes character and tone above the whodunnit, just like Big Little Lies. Also like the HBO drama, London Spydoes it all with a evolved visual language and performances that set it apart from TV shows that might sound similar on paper. If you’re looking for a visually-hypnotic, non-traditional whodunnit — this time set in London rather than the Californian coast — than London Spyis your show.
What is London Spy exactly? The five-part series is an unconventional spy drama about a normal British guy who falls in love, finds his lover dead, and is pulled into a world of espionage and secrets as he tries to discover what happened to him. Starring the always-great Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent, London Spydoesn’t have as satisfying conclusion as Big Little Lies, but it’s still worth the watch. It also only has five episodes, so if you’re looking for another quick viewing experience, this could be it.
Currently in its third season, like Big Little Lies, Broadchurchhas the Scenic Ocean View aesthetic on lock. Set in a coastal English town, the murder mystery follows the investigations of DIs David Tennant and Olivia Colman (fine, they actually have character names… but it’s David Tennant and Olivia Colman, so…) as they try to find the killer of a local boy. Like Big Little Lies, Broadchurch is often times more interested in examining the psychology of the town and its people than it is solving the whodunnit. In the end, the reveal is less interesting than much of what has come before.
As much as I love David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor is my NuWho Doctor), Oliva Colman’s DI Miller is the best part of this show. Her empathy and compassion in trying to suss out the killer, as well as maintain relationships with her neighbors as she interrogates them about a grisly murder, makes this show more interesting than the sum of its parts. I would argue that Broadchurchbecomes less good after its more strictly-structured first season, but if you’re looking for another seaside murder show, Broadchurchis your best bet.
If you found the way Big Little Lies’worked explorations of class context and sexual assault into the fabric of its narrativeand haven’t seen Veronica Mars, then you need to watch it immediately. Not only is Veronica Mars an all-around great show about a teen girl detective and her complex web of interpersonal relationships, but it was one of the first shows of the modern TV era to broach a lot of painful, complicated subjects in meaningful ways.
Veronica herself is a sexual assault survivor and her search for who raped her is one of the main narrative arcs of the first season. There’s much more to this show, however, including the exploration of the income inequality in the California seaside town of Neptune and various other privileges that crop up in this claustrophobic community. Come for the Big Little Liesparallels, stay for everything about this TV classic.
Were you the Big Little Liesviewer who was especially into the elementary school drama? Then The Slapis the show for you — not the lackluster American remake, mind you. The original Australian version. By taking such a relatively small event and following the complex ripples that come out of it, The Slapis able to thoroughly explore the characters of this world and the middle-class suburban social setting they’re a part of. Given that Big Little Liesis adapted from an Australian novel, extra points for this show being Australian!
Also written by David E. Kelley, Revengeis basically the broadcast version of Big Little Lies. Which means it lasts much longer than it probably should have (four seasons) and has much more utilitarian production values. That being said, Revengeis great — especially in its first few seasons.
Starring Emily Van Camp as Emily Thorne, a young woman who moves to the Hamptons to get revenge on the people responsible for putting her father in jail when she was a child. A loose adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Revenge‘s choice to place the classic tale in the modern-day Hamptons and make it female-centric were both strokes of narrative genius. In many ways, Revengeflips the traditional “whodunnit” on its head, by making Emily the culprit of many of the vengeful crimes that are being perpetrated in this elite Hampton society, it forces the viewer to ask: At what point does the protagonist become as bad as the people she is trying to take down?
Added bonus: James Tupper stars in both — as David Clarke in Revengeand Nathan Carlson inBig Little Lies.
Another TV show that treats violence against woman as a byproduct of our misgynist culture, The Fallis more psychological crime drama than it is murder mystery. However, like Big Little Lies, The Fallchooses women-centric storytelling as its default and that sets it apart from so many of the other murder-centric shows on TV. It doesn’t hurt that, like Big Little Lies,The Fall has impressive pedigree both in front of and behind the camera. Gillian Anderson stars as DI Stella Gibson, the shrewd, sexually-liberated detective tasked with coming to Belfast to catch a serial killer played by Jamie Dornan. Jakob Verbruggen, who also directed London Spy, is behind the camera for the first season (there are currently three).
Unlike Big Little Lies,The Falltells you — more than that, it shows you — whodunnit in its very first episode. By immediately answering the question “who is the murderer?”, it allows the show to explore what are arguably more complicated questions: Why does he do it? What do these murders — and, more specifically, how people react to them — tell us about our society? And how are the male murderer and the female investigator respectively treated in a misogynistic world? Like Big Little Lies, it doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics or questions.
The Honorable Woman
The Honorable Womanis another example of a female-centric genre piece that chooses to do more than simply follow the genre guidelines laid out before it. It digs deeper, into the female characters and relationships at its heart. Ostensibly a high-stakes spy drama about one Anglo-Israeli woman’s struggle to turn her late father’s arms dealing company into a force for good in the Middle East peace process, it is also about the very personal relationships that inform those geopolitical struggles. The personal is political, and vice versa.
With stellar performances from all involved, most especially Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lubna Azabal, The Honorable Womanleaves no stone unturned when exploring complicated issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sexual assault, familial relationships, and international corruption.
I wouldn’t call The Honorable Womanstrictly character-driven — the plot moves so quickly in this densely-packed, eight-episode miniseries — but the plot never runs away without the character or theme, making The Honorable Woman a can’t miss series for any Big Little Liesfan looking to dive back into the emotionally-taut intrigue of a female-centric narrative.
Pretty Little Liars
How could you not think of Pretty Little Liarswhen watching Big Little Lies? They practically have the same title. More than that, however, they both have female relationships, murder, and violence/terror against girls and women at their heart.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Pretty Little Liarsis on par with Big Little Lieswhen it comes to complexity of plot, performance, or direction. I will say, however, that Pretty Little Liarsis also a show about how female friendships and relationships are the most endurable property in most women’s lives, even in the midst of some pretty scary, violent threats.
While Pretty Little Liarsmay get a bit more hyperbolic and stylistic with its threats, that doesn’t make what “A” stands for any less realistic. “A” is the violence, hate, and vitriol society spews against woman as seen through the lens of a teen detective horror. Throw in some Hitchcock references, some of the best one-liners on television, and more teen romance than you can probably keep track of, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great show.
Top of the Lake
At its most basic, the New Zealand-set Top of the Lakeis a crime drama about the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl and the inexperienced detective, played by Elisabeth Moss, who is driven to solve the case. However, Jane Campion’s slowly-rendered, visually-mesmerizing foray into trauma and healing is so much more than that. The mystery of this first season is as much about the past of protagonist Robin and how this community operates as it is about discovering what happened to the missing Tui — though, in such a deftly-drawn narrative, these things are all connected.
Top of the Lake will be continuing into a second season, with Big Little Liesstandout Nicole Kidman joining the cast in an Australia-set story. Sounds like something to look forward to, and a perfect way to end this list.