Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Sleuth Shows

As a huge fan of mystery stories I have seen my share of detective shows. Some are about cops, some amateurs, but all of them are about the search for truth and justice. Here are the best of the best as far as I am concerned; the guilty pleasures, the honorable mentions (as I haven’t seen enough of the shows to fully weigh in) and the top ten that I have seen so far:

Top 5 Guilty Pleasures: 

Psych (USA 2006-current)

A sillier detective story from the USA Network than “Monk,” a comedy “Mentalist” before that show even existed. It says something that our culture is more willing to accept help from a self-proclaimed psychic than simply a brilliant deductionist.

Bones (FOX 2005-current)
Castle (ABC 2009-current)

Today’s versions of that old chestnut, the romantically attracted detective couple. After a while these shows always become less about the stories and more about the relationship, which would be great in real life but ends up killing the show, as a show is an ongoing story-telling endeavor.

Charlie’s Angels (ABC 1976-1981)
The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries (ABC 1977-1978)

These seventies detective shows are just dripping with “dated-ness.” But they are also fun stories involving more-or-less normal people solving larger-than-life situations. In the later, go with the Nancy Drew stories instead of the Boys’ adventures. Contrary to the book series, here she is better.

Top 6 Honorable Mentions: 

Magnum P.I. (CBS 1980-1988)

This might actually belong in the top ten, I just haven’t seen enough to judge.

Justified (FX 2010-current)
Veronica Mars (CW 2004-2007)
Luther (BBC 2010-current)

Noir is a flavor of sleuth fiction that some do not like. Less about the search for truth and justice, it can be more about revenge in a world where everything is shades of grey. These three are good examples of the subgenre.

The Mentalist (CBS 2008-current)

A show about a brilliant sleuth compelled to right wrongs as he pursues the man who killed his family. I have only seen the first half of this series.

Filmore! (Disney 2002-2003)

A smart little tribute to the police procedural set in a middle school.

Top Ten: 

10. Monk (USA 2002-2009)

This show explores the abnormal compulsions of the sleuth. Nothing new there, but it is done with great skill from Tony Shalhoub. It can get a bit too depressing, though.

9. Agatha Christie’s Poirot (BBC 1989-2010)


A great adaptation of one of the best literary detectives.

8. Twin Peaks(ABC 1990-1991) more

Quirky and creepy, this show is more about an atmosphere than smart story-telling.

7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ITV1 1984-1994)

Another great adaptation, the best pure adaptation of Holmes.

6. (Tie) Remington Steele (NBC 1982-1987)
6. (Tie) Moonlighting (ABC 1985-1989)

The best examples of the detectives-falling-in-love stories. The writing and acting for this type of shows seems to have been done best in the eighties.

5. Life on Mars (BBC 2006-2007) more

This has all the atmosphere and weirdness of Twin Peaks, but with a smart storyline to boot.

4. A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E 2001-2002)

The best adaptation of a literary detective yet produced.

3. Sherlock (BBC 2010-current) more, and more, and even more

A reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Brilliant.

2. The X Files (FOX 1993-2002)

Maybe a bit of a cheat, but this is one of my favorite series of all time, and it is all about finding the truth in very strange circumstances.

1. Columbo (NBC/ABC 1968-2003)

With Columbo we don’t walk alongside a detective trying to solve the mystery, we watch a man catch the crook already known to us (because we’ve seen the crime) and to Columbo (because he is a genius) in his own web of mistakes.

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