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9 of the Best Shows About Gangsters & Criminals

Gotta love a good series. New and old, I binge watch so many that I would drown if they were made of water. Here's a bunch I love.

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I love to binge-watch TV shows featuring gangsters and criminals. Breaking Bad is my all-time favorite series. You just can't beat Walter White's story and the way the show evolved over its five seasons. So, I've highlighted my three favorite shows in this genre, plus six more shows featuring gangs, mafias, crime bosses and criminals so you can enjoy your own binge session.

1. Claws

# of Episodes: 40
# of Seasons: 4
Genre: Neo-Gangster Dramedy

Claws is a fresh and unique show I saw on Stan (Australia) in 2017. The show is set in a nail salon. That’s right, the unusual would-be criminal masterminds are nail technicians working a salon called Nail Artisans. These are women from very different backgrounds working in Manatee County, Florida—but mostly filmed in New Orleans—and they become tangled up in the mafia.

The first episode dives into the middle of their money laundering ways and slowly goes back to whence it all came. The characters include:

  • Desna, the strong African-American beauty who owns Nail Artisans
  • Polly, a skinny white ex-con
  • Jennifer, Desna’s buxom blonde bestie
  • Dominican Anne, the lesbian
  • Virginia, who in the show relates to the Asian salon owners and was a prostitute prior to joining Desna’s crew.

When we first lay eyes on this group, they are fairly happy but firmly entrenched in a world that is run through fear of Uncle Daddy, who owns a local strip club as well as a lot of other businesses that he uses to run his money while selling pharmaceuticals through an emotionally dysfunctional Dr. Ken. Uncle Daddy has two sons, Roller and Bryce, and together they intertwine in a messy and often funny way with the Nail Artisans crew.

Claws: Rating and Review

I binge-watched this whole season over a week. I couldn’t stop watching it. When the first scene opens, I almost turned it off, because the five key characters were dancing, and I thought, “Oh no, this isn’t for me.” Luckily, I kept with it because I think people will fall in love with this show when they finally pick up on it.

The story is generally funny due to its setting, but then it has this gritty, dirty, undertone of violence, sex, and drugs all squashed together in a suspenseful messy way and with a strong woman in the protagonist role.

Each season features bigger and better baddies sidled up with humor, secrets, betrayal and love trysts.

There are some plot lines that are completely ridiculous, such as crazy artist lady Gladys (Jane Adams) who makes gigantic artwork pieces containing pubic hair and Dr. Ken stalking his ex-wife's wedding. Having scenes like this combined with the dark and furious undertone is like having some lemon water to cut through the sugar-soaked storytelling and reel it back to an enjoyable place.

It is really a great show that's extremely easy to watch.

I give Claws 4.5 gold tooth grills out of 5.

"Ozark" is one of the best series to ever hit Netflix. Not to be missed.

"Ozark" is one of the best series to ever hit Netflix. Not to be missed.

2. Ozark

# of Episodes: 44
# of Seasons: 4
Genre: Crime-Infused Thriller

Ozark was released on Netflix as an original series. The main protagonist is Marty, played by a stoic Jason Bateman, who works as a financial adviser. I don’t want to give too much of the game away because many of the finite details are not revealed until late in the season and there are heaps of secrets to unfold. I will, however, say that Marty is involved with a drug cartel kingpin called Del. When Marty’s friends and colleagues make a massive mistake, Marty is forced to relocate his family to the Ozark Mountains.

Once there, Marty discovers that making it in a remote location will not be as easy as he planned. His daughter Charlotte is trying to fit in and his son Jonah picks up some new talents coping with the fact that their parents aren't who they thought they were.

Ozark: Rating and Review

When I first watched it, I thought it was a little slow simply because I am impatient and nothing much happens in the first few scenes. Characters were talking about the finance and looking at a new building to relocate the offices. I realized quickly though that under the skin of a boring show about a guy who works in finance was a bubbling current of fear for all the characters involved in the story that slowly creeps up on you like a hunter.

A persistent thing that makes a show successful is the general likability of the characters. Although I didn’t automatically appreciate Jason Bateman’s completely inexpressive portrayal of Marty. By season end, I realized that he is extremely clever and because of this personality trait he never gives the game away. He has the ability to think on his feet under extreme duress which helps creates a lot of excitement even when people are just talking.

With gangster stuff, you have shooting or fighting as the catalyst for people to 'work things out' but in this case, you get a bit of shooting, a smidgen of fighting and some very street smart people all running into each other in a small town for a bit of a chat. There isn’t too much violence in this one (sure we get some cool death scenes here and there) but there is always a sense of dread and with new acquaintances - unmasks new threats for Marty and his family.

I really loved Julia Garner in this (she plays Ruth). Halfway through the first season the story just comes alive. We get to know the type of people we have in the story and who they may evolve into.

I give Ozark 4 dead animals in the front yard out of 5.

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3. Breaking Bad

# of Episodes: 62
# of Seasons: 5
Genre: Neo-Gangster Drama & Thriller

Vince Gilligan cast Bryan Cranston as Walter White, having worked with him on The X-Files where Cranston played a terminally ill guy who takes Mulder hostage. The producers wanted John Cusack or Matthew Broderick.

This heart-thumping five-season series was created by Vince Gilligan, who also wrote The X-Files and the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul. In the Southern United States, breaking bad is a term that means raising hell. And oh, does Walter White raise all kinds of hell in this show.

This fantastic series has it all in terms of dark and light moments peppered with intense violence. We get gritty scenes depicting the underbelly of the drug trade combined with Walter White's ability (or lack thereof) to maintain a traditional family lifestyle.

This show is ultimately about White who begins the first season as a science teacher living with his pregnant wife Skyler and their son Walter Jr., who has cerebral palsy. White is diagnosed with lung cancer and the family is struggling financially.

Walter’s brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) is a drug enforcement officer who takes Walt on a ride-along where he has a light-bulb moment when he sees one of his former students—Jesse (Aaron Paul)—who he sees fleeing from a meth lab. So begins Walter’s metamorphosis into one of TV's best good guys turned bad that we have ever seen.

Breaking Bad: Rating and Review

The roller-coaster ride that this show will take you on is by far the best ride I have ever been on. Walter White is simply one of the most interesting and complex characters I think I will ever come across and I could spend forever and a day talking about how at the beginning of the series he is a smart man in a crappy situation who sees a way out for himself.

If this series wasn’t so dark and his decisions and consequences so diverse, you might say he was some kind of eternal optimist that just so happens to forget that for “every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” given that he is a science teacher by trade, it’s a pretty big detail to miss. Did his circumstances make him what he became or did Walter always have it in him? This series needs to be watched to understand it’s pure brilliance.

This show spawned a couple of other TV moments— so intriguing were a lot of the characters, it was obvious there was a hole to fill when the show finally finished

I give Breaking Bad 5 special blue bags of meth out of 5.

Breaking Bad Spinoffs

Here are some you may have missed:

  • Breaking Bad Minisodes: These bite-sized chunks of Breaking Bad interludes commenced in 2009 after Sseason 1 and went on for three seasons. You can see them all on YouTube. There are 17 episodes that show snippets and stories about particular characters that serve as an explanation behind a few of the cast.
  • Better Call Saul: This is the backstory of Saul aka James McGill, criminal lawyer, in Breaking Bad. This series began in February 2015 and will end in August 2022 at the conclusion of its sixth season. It’s a prequel to Breaking Bad and I was delighted to find that there are many references, flash-forwards, and cameos from the Breaking Bad series.
  • Metastasis: Spanish version of Breaking Bad which ran for over two seasons with the first season having 33 episodes and the second suspended after 13.

6 More Series Featuring Gangsters vs Cops

  • The Sopranos: 1999–2007 (6 seasons)

The series that set the bar for gangster-themed TV shows. The Sopranos is as good as it gets. Mobster Tony has issues with his mother and his wife, so sees a therapist to discuss it all. His home life is fairly normal for a notorious gangster, but living a life of crime is never complication-free. If you need a show to start your obsession with this genre, this is a good place to start.

  • The Shield: 2002–2008 (7 seasons)

This show has it all, except from law enforcement's perspective. We watch officers trying to keep up with their lives outside of work as at work is filled with corruption, gangs, gang warfare, political agendas, and all the rest. It's a tightrope between being straight and being crooked.

  • Oz: 1997–2003 (6 seasons)

A jail uses an experimental unit to control measures used to rehabilitate its prisoners by separating them into groups. The drug trade is rife within the prison and the groups struggle between being involved in the day to day wars and staying alive. The story is told via the narration of Augustus Hill who is a wheelchair-bound inmate. This show made many of its cast go onto bigger things, spring-boarding from its success.

  • Weeds: 2005–2012 (8 seasons)

Single mom Nancy has two kids and is widowed by unusual circumstances. This show is a little like Breaking Bad, only with a female lead and not as good in my opinion. Nancy starts selling weed to provide for her family and of course, encounters the seedy side of people in drug cartels.

  • Boardwalk Empire: 2010–2014 (5 seasons)

Set in 1920–1930, a politician who controls Atlantic City becomes entangled in all walks of life to get and stay where he is. He mixes with other government officials as well as having mob connections to maintain his rise to prominence which of course leads to some messy situations between the two worlds that he must live in.

  • Lilyhammer: 2012–2014 (3 seasons)

A bad guy turns into a good guy and then back into bad guy. Frank, an American mafia kingpin, needs to go into witness protection after a hit is placed on his life. He is sent to Lillehammer, Norway, under the guise of being an unemployed American-Norwegian immigrant. His previous experience precedes his new cover story and he makes friends and connections easily. The series tells the story of his slow and often humorous rise back into activities that are second nature to a guy like Frank.

Which Gangster TV Series is Your Favorite?

© 2017 Movie Whisperer

Comments

Movie Whisperer (author) from Moreton Bay, Queensland on September 10, 2017:

Thanks Film Critic. The trailer absolutely does not do it justice. Watch two episodes, I swear you'll be hooked.

film critic on September 10, 2017:

Thanks! I heard of most of these, but never heard of Claw. Trailer looks good!