50 Detective TV Shows You Should Watch To Test Your Deduction Skills
In 1938, BBC launched a series named Telecrime. The audience was challenged to solve the crimes before the police. It also introduced the first TV police detective, Inspector Holt. This show achieved two major things. Number one, it became the first televised crime show in the history of TV. Number two, it paved the road for the genre to be further developed. Today, almost a century and a colossal number of crime shows later, a good detective TV show remains a favorite among both viewers and producers.
Besides just being entertaining to watch, detective shows stimulate our brains as we try to figure out the perpetrators. And if a well-structured and intriguing story is coupled with a smart, charming – or slightly arrogant (looking at you, Sherlock!) – protagonist, you’ll be glued to your screen until the final episode.
With time, crime shows developed several genres. Initially, it was mostly police stories, or private detective stories, or private-detectives-consulting-the-police stories (still looking at you, Sherlock!), but today you can also enjoy the investigation process from a different perspective in forensic TV shows (Bones would be a good example) or even conducted by people who have no professional connection with law enforcement (anyone remember Father Brown?).
Whether you prefer the “whodunit” stories or are more of a “howcatchem” fan, in the list below we’ve collected some of the most enthralling detective stories you will want to binge watch until you learn all the answers.
2010 | BBC | Seasons: 4
It’s pretty difficult to do something new with a story that has been adapted for cinema and television over 250 times. Even if you do everything seemingly right, people will still compare you to each and every one of your predecessors, and there is absolutely no guarantee you will come out the winner in this comparison. But if there is one show that could actually pull it off, it’s Sherlock. Clever writing and original mysteries keep you on the edge of your seat even though you are completely sure the great detective will figure it out at the end. Because come on, it’s Sherlock Holmes we’re talking about!
2002 | USA Network | Seasons: 8
Adrian Monk, a San Francisco police detective, loses his wife in a car bombing accident. For several years, he becomes a recluse and loses his job. When he finally manages to leave his house, he decides to become a private detective and also consult the police on complex cases. Since the tragedy, a lot of his issues have become worse, and OCD is not the most complicated one. Adrian is afraid of milk, harmonicas, and asymmetry, just to name a few of the 312 things that terrify him. But his compulsive habits are also what help him solve cases where other professionals are stuck. Monk held the record of the most-watched scripted drama, not only among cop shows but in the entire history of cable TV, until passing this title to The Walking Dead in 2012.
2008 | CBS | Seasons: 7
When you are good at noticing very small details and knowing how to put them together to see the bigger picture, there are two possible career paths in front of you. One, you can pretend to be a psychic and “read” people’s minds. Two, you can consult the California Bureau of Investigation on solving cases. Patrick Jane, the protagonist of The Mentalist, decided to change his career from option one to option two. Behind this decision lies a deep trauma and a very personal motivation to find a serial killer known as Red John. While most critics agreed that the premise was not exactly original, the way Simon Baker handled his role as Patrick Jane made the show stand out.
Agatha Christie's Poirot
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
1989 | ITVMNF | Seasons: 13
One of the recurring characters in Agatha Christie’s works, detective Hercule Poirot, appeared in 33 novels and over 50 short stories. In this adaptation for British television, the creators made sure to include every major work by the writer that featured the famous Belgian mustached detective. The first five seasons were produced consecutively, while the rest came out with gaps between 1995 and 2013. The humor of the earlier episodes gave way to the serious representation of social issues and a gritty tone that wasn't part of the original stories. Despite the show being revived several times over the course of 24 years, David Suchet remained the unchanged Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and even the writer’s grandson considered him to be a great fit for the role.
2006 | USA Network | Seasons: 8
Upon its release in 2006, Psych became the highest-ranking premiere of the year. When Shawn Spencer solved several crimes and tipped off the police where to look for the solution, the police suspected him to be part of the criminal group. To avoid being prosecuted, Shawn confessed that he had psychic powers and got his information from the other realm. Following the successful closure of the case, Shawn opens a psychic detective agency and starts consulting the police. The truth, however, is that—you guessed it—Shawn is not a psychic. He is just good at observing things and remembering every single detail. Yet now he has to keep up appearances to avoid being disclosed as a fraud. Psych is a good example of how not all crime shows need to be solemn and gory, and how a healthy dose of comedy can enhance the story.
1971 | NBC, ABC | Seasons: 10
Columbo has been around for so long, it is rightfully considered a classic among TV murder mystery shows. Peter Falk portrays a seemingly incompetent detective of the LAPD, but behind his inelegant appearance in his trademark beige raincoat hides a sharp mind that finds offenders through clever detective work. Each story is presented in the so-called “inverted detective story” format, where the viewer knows who committed the crime from the very beginning but wants to see how the protagonist will uncover the truth. Since the perpetrators in the series were often influential members of high society, it caused a certain controversy among critics. Nevertheless, Columbo ran for 10 seasons and won numerous awards, including Emmy and Golden Globe Awards.
2013 | ITVMNF | Seasons: 9
After the considerable success of the Inspector Morse series, Endeavour was produced as a prequel, depicting the earlier years of Endeavour Morse and his first steps in detective work. The pilot starts with young Morse wanting to resign from the police. After leaving college before he got his degree and having served first as a police constable and then in the Criminal Investigation Department, he feels disillusioned about his work and even prepares a resignation letter. However, an unexpected case in his native Oxford and support from an older colleague, who later becomes his direct superior, make Morse decide to stay.
The Rockford Files
The Rockford Files
1974 | NBC | Seasons: 6
If the majority of TV detectives wear smart outfits and have a professional or home office, Jim Rockford is very different in this regard. The protagonist of The Rockford Files, an American detective drama, Jim lives in a trailer and prefers low-budget clothes. He never takes open cases police work on, but prefers missing person investigations, cold cases, or insurance scams. Another interesting detail is Rockford’s previous, albeit wrongful, conviction. The producers of the show admitted they wanted to create a detective character that wouldn’t follow the usual tropes common for this genre. This approach was widely accepted by audiences and critics, and The Rockford Files went on to win several Emmy awards.
1989 | ITVMNF | Seasons: 7
Based on the books of Colin Dexter, Inspector Morse tells the story of the Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse and his fight against crime in Oxford. Each episode introduces a new case that is resolved by the end of the runtime, without a connecting arc running through the season, as many detective shows would do. In 2018, the series received the title of the greatest British crime drama, as voted by Radio Times’ readers. It also ranked 42nd on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes in 2000. Following its success, Inspector Morse got a spin-off about the detective’s assistant, Sergeant Lewis, and a prequel, Endeavour, about his younger years.
2012 | CBS | Seasons: 7
Elementary took quite a few liberties with the original story of Sherlock Holmes. In this adaptation, Sherlock, a recovering addict, lives in modern New York and consults the local police. Unlike the original or other more conventional versions, the Dr. Watson of this series is a woman. She is initially assigned to Holmes as his sober companion but later develops an interest in Sherlock’s work and assists him on cases. Dr. Watson also has a dark secret of her own. Even though Elementary was produced soon after BBC’s Sherlock, and comparisons of the two were inevitable, the American series received positive feedback, with special praise for Jonny Miller (Sherlock) and Lucy Liu’s (Joan Watson) onscreen chemistry.