The continuing popularity of screen detectives can be baffling when you glance at the tendency to cliché. In terms of storytelling, these dramas tend to fit a very narrow formula with little room for major deviation. The guilty party is usually someone casual viewers least expect, though genre fans will know this from the outset, and much screen time will be wasted on people who seem obviously guilty and therefore are probably not, etc.


Gérard Depardieu as French detective Jules Maigret in the film Maigret. Photo © Pascal Chantier/Ciné-@/F Comme Film.

In my heretical view, the identity of the murderer – or rapist, whoever – is usually the least interesting thing about these stories. Who cares whether it was Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum? Take your story skeleton and dress it up in fascinatingly resonant themes, characters and settings and you might have something worth watching.

The best examples do something so bold that we have to stop and think before realising they’re in fact part of the detective tradition – Blade Runner, which blends the genre with philosophical science fiction, for example, or the first season of David Lynch’s...