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Are these the best gangster TV shows of all time?

Are these the best gangster TV shows of all time?

As documentary Dublin Narcos looks at how drugs exploded in Ireland, fuelling a rise in organised crime, we look at the best gangster and organised crime TV shows

By Simon Ward, Content Editor

Dublin is a city known for many things. Beckett, Wilde and Joyce. A certain black stout famous around the world. A warm welcome. And a good time. But it hasn’t always been that way. Because it wasn’t until the 1990s that Dublin was transformed from a recession-blighted so-called backwater into one of the wealthiest cities in Europe.


And as its fortunes rapidly changed, so did those of its criminals. As in many cities that experience an influx of money at this time, drugs started to become more commonplace on the streets. Dublin Narcos, starting on Sky Documentaries HD (CH 277) at 9pm on Saturday 4 March, tells the stories of the rise in addiction, violence and organised crime in the city.


Featuring first-hand testimony from the kingpins, police officers and users, this three-part documentary series uncovers the untold story behin Dublin’s rise.

From anti-heroes, complex lawbreakers and likeable rogues to despicable characters that make your blood run cold, stories of gangsters and druglords have long been a feature some of TV’s biggest-ever shows. Whether it’s documentaries or dramas (or even comedies), it’s a subject matter we return to time and time again.


We’ve round up the very best of them, which can you watch right now on your Virgin Media service (depending on your package, premium subscriptions or purchase). Let’s check them out...


The Sopranos

Seasons 1-6 available to buy on the Virgin Media Store

It’s a funny thing, The Sopranos. Because so much of the conversation around the show is about how influential it was. How it broke the mould for the small screen. How it inspired this generation’s great TV hits. And all those things are true. But it wasn’t just the match that lit the flame. It was the fire. The Sopranos was brilliant, astonishing, shocking TV that may never be bettered. The late James Gandolfini gave us a mob boss we actually cared about. The peak of Peak TV.


Liverpool Narcos

Find it in On Demand

With Dublin Narcos exploring drugs on the streets in the Republic of Ireland, Liverpool Narcos takes us across the pond to discover the story of the 1980s drug boom in a city normally best known for football and The Beatles. It’s also the story of how drugs went mainstream in England, and how it turned dealing into a multi-billion-pound business. Like Dublin Narcos, this three-part series features incredible access to some of the biggest criminal players of the time.


Peaky Blinders

Find series 1-6 in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer

One of the biggest hits on British TV in recent years, Peaky Blinders not only birthed the ultimate anti-hero in notorious gang leader Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) but has spawned video games, music festivals, immersive events and a trend for every other man in their early 30s to wear flat caps for a spell. With big-name stars, fierce female leads and more one-liners than Live At The Apollo, it’s well worth your time.



Find it in On Demand

James Norton (Happy Valley) stars as Alex Godman, the English-raised son of an exiled Russian crime family who has spent his life trying to avoid the shadow of his family’s criminal past. But as Godman’s cards start to fall unfavourably, he’s quickly dragged into the underworld of international crime to protect the ones he loves. McMafia was a huge hit for critics and audiences alike, drawing in more than 10 million viewers – even if some of the scenes gave us the McShakes.



Find seasons 1-3 in Apps & Games > Netflix

Narcos refers to people who engage in the illegal trade in narcotic drugs (hence Dublin Narcos). This hugely popular Netflix drama chronicles the rise of the cocaine trade in Colombia and the real-life stories of the drug kingpins in the 1980s. Just as notably, it was current man of the moment Pedro Pascal’s first TV show as a series lead. It was followed by spin-off Narcos: Mexico, bringing back key characters but focusing on the early Mexican drug cartel instead.



Find seasons 1-6 in Box Sets > LIONSGATE+

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, along with writer/producer Courtney A Kemp, created Power – a series so good, it has spawned an entire universe of excellent sequels and spin-offs. The OG series follows James St Patrick (Omari Hardwick, Army of the Dead), a ruthless yet smooth drug dealer and nightclub owner known as “Ghost”. This series features a common gangster trope: the reluctant criminal. St Patrick wants out, but the complexities of his life keep him (and us) coming back for more. Gripping.



Find seasons 1-4 in Apps & Games > Netflix

Starring Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Laura Linney (The Big C), worldwide hit Ozark tells the story of a seemingly ordinary couple who move their family to a remote part of the US known as the Lake of the Ozarks… and become money launderers for a Mexican drug cartel. While there, they become entangled with local criminals and the Kansas City Mafia. There are some terrific supporting performances, but Bateman and Linney are on another level here.


Boardwalk Empire

Seasons 1-5 available to buy on the Virgin Media Store

The Sopranos was a lightning rod for talent. Terence Winter, an executive producer and a writer on many key episodes, went on to create Boardwalk Empire, a drama following the birth and rise of organised crime at the beginning of the US’s Prohibition era. It was another landmark TV show, not least because Marin Scorsese directed the first episode – a man who knows a thing or two about gangsters. Steve Buscemi, another The Sopranos alumnus, stars.


The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man

Find it in On Demand

Shows like The Sopranos showed how gangsters can hide behind mild-mannered public personas. Tony Soprano was a waste management consultant, after all. Richard Kuklinski, similarly, passed as a “businessman” and a devoted husband and father. He was also one of the Mafia’s most deadly assassins. In this chilling no-holds-barred interview, Kuklinski gives a first-hand account of what that job entailed. Be warned, this is a tough watch.


Top Boy

Find series 1-4 in Apps & Games > Netflix

Beginning life on Channel 4, Top Boy graduated to Netflix, with a final series (its third on Netflix) coming soon. Ashley Walters (Get Rich or Die Tryin’) and Kane Robinson (Tower Block) star as two drug dealers plying their trade on an east London housing estate. It’s a different show from many on this list: it has all the elements you’d expect from a tense gangster thriller, but it combines them with social realism, humour and even tenderness.



Find seasons 1-6 in Apps & Games > Prime Video

Described by TV fans as “Australia’s best-ever crime drama”, this critically acclaimed anthology series focuses on different time periods throughout the history of criminality in Australia – all of which are based on real stories. From the roaring 1920s, when organised crime began its rise in the country, to the arrival of drugs in the 1980s to modern-day gangsters, each series brings larger-than-life characters and accounts you can hardly believe are based in reality.


El Chapo

Find seasons 1-3 in Apps & Games > Netflix

When you think of real-life gangsters, your brain probably either goes to the era of Al Capone and Prohibition or possibly to smoky London nightclubs and the infamy of the Krays. But Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán became possibly the most infamous gangster and drug lord the world has ever seen. This drama chronicles his rise, capture and escape, all set against the biggest drugs war Mexico had ever seen.


Animal Kingdom

Find seasons 1-6 in Apps & Games > Netflix

Not to be confused with a nature documentary or a Disney theme park, this series follows 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (Finn Cole, Peaky Blinders) who gets pulled into his family’s criminal activities following the death of his mother. After he moves in with his estranged family, he soon becomes part of a life of excess far removed from his normal upbringing. But the accompanying danger and excitement will push him into a world he might not be ready to handle.



Find seasons 1-2 in Box Sets > LIONSGATE+

BMF stands for the Black Mafia Family, and this series is inspired by the true story of two brothers who built one of the most influential crime syndicates in the history of America. Like many gangster stories on this list, the unwavering belief in family loyalty plays a central role in this drama, both in how it binds them together and – eventually – rips them apart. Demetrius Flenory Jr, the actor son of real-life BMF gangster “Big Meech” Flenory, and Russell Hornsby star.


The BMF Documentary: Blowing Money Fast

Find it in Box Sets > LIONSGATE+

If you enjoyed BMF, check out the documentary series about the real people behind the drama, telling the story of brothers Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, who went from corner boys to drug kingpins to hip-hop tastemakers, with an influence that reached far beyond their home city. Directors Chris Frierson and Shan Nicholson have created a fascinating eight-part series about crime in modern America.



Find seasons 1-3 in Apps & Games > Netflix

If you’ve watched a lot of Scandi Noir, you’d think Norway would be the last place you’d move to in search of the quiet life (unless your happy place involves knitwear and homicides). But that’s the premise for this gangster comedy. After testifying against the Mafia, wiseguy Frank Tagliano (Steven van Zandt, another The Sopranos alumnus) enters witness protection and asks to be sent to Norway. Lilyhammer ran for three seasons and there’s a lot of fun to be had here among the classic gangster tropes.


Trafficked With Mariana Van Zeller

Find seasons 1-3 in On Demand

While crime drama often shows gangsters as conflicted anti-heroes, this documentary series from Mariana van Zeller lays bare the heartless reality. Here, she delves into the complex and dangerous inner workings of global underworld smuggling networks. She lures out the key players from the shadow economy to ask the hard-hitting questions about everything from outlaw motorcycle clubs and meth to romance scams and stolen cars.



Find it in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer

The story of a corrupt police officer (Leila Farzad, I Hate Suzie) and her road to redemption after years of an alliance with a Leeds gangster (Andrew Buchan, Broadchurch), Better has perhaps been overlooked because it dropped straight after Happy Valley finished. The two were unfairly compared; Yorkshire accents and a main character who works for the police are where the similarities begin and end. But this isn’t a police drama (and neither is Happy Valley if we’re honest). It’s a cat-and-mouse game between two people you ought to hate.


Dublin Narcos release date

Dublin Narcos starts on Sky Documentaries HD (CH 277) at 9pm on Saturday 4 March.

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