Friday, August 24, 2012

15 Favorite TV Mysteries and Detective Shows

I like to read various lists, but I seldom do one of my own.  I think this is only the third or fourth one that I've published here in the four years or so that I've been posting here.   This one is inspired by Yvette over at In So Many Words who put up her list a week or so ago.  You should check out her list to get a different view of the subject.  She also has a number of lists posted.

While the list is in no particular order, the ones at the top of the list are the ones I enjoyed the most and will be the first ones I will do a second time around.

1. Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh 
Commander Dalgliesh in the later episodes
London, Scotland Yard, UK
Police procedural

The series is based on the novels written by P: D. James

I'm including only the episodes with Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesch.  Martin Shaw is a fine actor (I enjoyed him in the role of Chief Inspector George Gentley), but he really isn't convincing as Dalgliesh. I'm now watching and enjoying the Marsden episodes for the second time.

2. Inspector Morse
Oxford, UK
Police procedural
Inspector Morse was played by John Thaw, and I doubt that they would ever put someone else in the role, at least for a decade or so.

Some of the episodes were based on the novels by Colin Dexter, but most were based on "characters created by Colin Dexter."

This series is unique in that it has two spinoffs, something which few other shows can boast of.  The first is the Inspector Lewis series.  Inspector Lewis is, of course,  Morse's assistant who's been promoted to Inspector.  Kevin Whately is Lewis in both series.  I have been watching the series and found them enjoyable.  However the most recent episodes have really been superb, and perhaps they have finally  discovered just what it is they are doing.  If the following episodes are as good as the most recent ones, I may include them in an expanded list of 20 shows.

The second spinoff is Endeavour, in which we see Morse as he first joined the Oxford Police.  It originally was to be a one-time only production, but I have recently read that there will be another four shows in the coming year.  I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment on it.  That the powers-that-be have decided to go for another four shows, though, suggests that the show did well in the ratings.

This show is also on my "must re-watch" list.

3. Foyle's War 
Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle
SE Coast UK
Police procedural
Michael Kitchen played the role of  Inspector Foyle who regularly applies for a military appointment  but is always rejected on the grounds he is needed where he is.

This superb series is set during WWII and has the events of the war as background.  The show followed the chronology of the war and featured the effects of the war on the home population both as background and frequently as a cause of the crimes Foyle is faced with.   The last episodes occurred shortly after the war ended and dealt with post-war problems at that time.  I fear those were the last shows.

I have already watched the shows twice and will watch it again.  It really is that good.

4. Miss Marple Mysteries
Talented amateur
Based on the novels by Agatha Christie
Joan Hickson episodes only

I have seen several of the episodes featuring other actresses and also some of the early films made prior to the series with Joan Hickson and feel none can come close to Hickson's portrayal.  I have also read all of the novels and many of the short stories, and nobody else even comes close to Hickson's portrayal of  Christie's Miss Marple.  Agatha Christie, at one time, saw Joan Hickson in another production and told her that she hoped to see Hickson play Miss Marple some time.

I have viewed the series twice and will watch them again, some time in the future.

5. Sherlock Holmes
Paid professional
Best Sherlock Holmes--Jeremy Brett
Best Dr. Watson--Michael Hardwicke

Basil Rathbone also made an excellent Sherlock Holmes,  but Nigel Bruce's interpretation of Dr. Watson as a bumbling idiot weakened the overall effect of the films.

As far as I could tell, most of the episodes with Brett were based on stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

This series is also scheduled for a revisit in the near future.

6. Lord Peter Wimsey
Talented amateur
The TV episodes with Ian Carmichael as Wimsey and Derek Newark as Bunter.
Based on the novels by Dorothy Sayers

Later episodes had Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey, and while he may have been physically closer to Sayers' Wimsey, my prejudices had been set by Carmichael's portrayals, perhaps simply because he came first.  In addition,  I liked Derek Neward's Bunter more than Richard Morant's portrayal.

This series is also due for a second viewing  (actually a third for some episodes).

7. The Avengers
Patrick Macnee as John Steed: Professional
Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel:  Amateur

As far as I can tell, I've seen the complete series, including the episodes prior to Diana Rigg (with Steed's first four partners)  and those that came after she left.  Those with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg are far superior to the others.

Since I have just finished watching the entire series, it will be a while before I watch them again, and then most likely I will only watch the Steed and Peel episodes.
Ignore warning

8. The Defenders
Legal/judicial Detectives:
Father and son law firm, whose cases involved such controversial issues as abortion, euthanasia, "un-American" activities, movie censorship.

Lawrence Preston, the father, played by E. G. Marshall
Kenneth Preston, the son, played by Robert Reed

Unfortunately the series is not available on DVD, but I keep hoping.

Trivia:  the series is a spinoff from an earlier Studio One episode.
Walter Preston (father, name was changed to Lawrence in the series), played by Ralph Bellemy
Kenneth Preston (son) played by William Shatner

9.  Midsomer Murders
Midsomer County UK
Police procedural
Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles
Some episodes are based on the novels of Carolyn Graham, but most are "inspired" (as the blurb has it) by the characters created by Carolyn Graham.

The program is changing at this time.  John Nettles is leaving the show.  He has played  Tom Barnaby since the first episode, The Killings at Badgers Drift, which was shown on March 22, 1997, fifteen years ago.  Not wanting to drop the show and not wanting to put someone else in as Tom Barnaby, the powers-that-be came up with a novel and intelligent solution.  DCI Tom Barnaby will be replaced by his cousin, DCI John Barnaby.  Tom, in a recent episode, went to Brighton where he worked on a case with his cousin John, thus introducing his replacement to the viewers.  So, it will be a different actor and a different detective, but the Barnaby link will still be there.  And, "John" does sound a bit like "Tom", no?

Since the show is still alive and propagating, I will wait a while before going a second time around.

10.  Peter Gunn
Paid Professional
Peter Gunn was played by Craig Stevens.

Gunn was one of the first of the cool, sophisticated, urbane detectives when he appeared in 1958.  He was followed by John Steed of the Avengers in 1961 and 007 James Bond in 1962 (the first Bond novel appeared in 1953).  There may be others at that time, but those are the three that I remember.

One of the strengths of the series was the music for the series composed  by Henry Mancini.  The Peter Gunn Theme won a Emmy and two Grammys for Mancini and, if I'm not mistaken, was high on the Top 40 Pop Charts for a while.

I just watched it recently, so it will be a while before I watch it again.

11.  Kavanagh, QC
Legal detective
While making the Inspector Morse series, John Thaw, during breaks, took on the role of James Kavanagh, QC, a working class barrister.  Like Morse, Kavanagh is one who never backs down and is frequently in trouble with the upper echelon of the UK legal system, many of whom would be happy if he just went away. Some of the episodes featured a subplot in which they tried to bring him down.

I read that there was some consideration by the producers to elevate Kavanagh to the bench in later episodes, but it was not to be. The last episode of  Kavanagh, QC was televised in 2001 and Thaw died the following year.  .I would have loved to see him up there, hammering away verbally as well as with a gavel.  He'd probably break one every episode.  

I'm still working my way through the series for the first time, so it will be some time before I watch them again


12.  A Touch of Frost
Police Procedural
DI  William Edward "Jack" Frost is played by David Janson, who was primarily known for comic roles before taking on the role of Jack Frost.

The series was initially based on the novels of R. D. Wingfield, but later episodes are "inspired" by Wingfield's characters.

At present, only a few shows are available on DVD in the US.  I'm hoping more will eventually appear.  My major problem with the series is my inability to understand the dialogue.  Fortunately subtitles are available but even this sometimes doesn't help.  Several times, instead of providing the dialogue, the subtitle for the dialogue read "Comment unintelligible."   Even those doing the subtitles have difficulty at times.. 

I will watch the series again, some time in the future.

13    Campion
Talented amateur
Albert Campion is played by Peter Davison.  Campion's background is a mystery.  Albert Campion is an alias.  His real name supposedly is Rudolph K with perhaps some connection to royalty.   Davison appeared in many episodes of  All Creatures Great and Small and also was the fifth Dr. Who.  He also had joined the cast of Law and Order: UK, a series which I just found out about and plan to view them sometime in the near future.

Campion is based on the novels of Margery Allingham and he supposedly was  first created as a parody of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.

At the present, only a few of the episodes are available on DVD.

14   Inspector George Gently
Police procedural
Inspector George Gently is played by Martin Shaw, whom I think was miscast as  P. D. James' Adam Dalgliesh.  However, he does an excellent job in this role, which is based on the novels of  Alan Hunter.
I have just recently discovered the series, so I'm still working my way through them.  In addition, more episodes are planned for the future, so it will be some time before it's time for a another visit.

15. Taggart
Police procedural
Homicide unit, which has had various members over the years.  The series is one of the longest running police shows in the UK.

When I first watched the show, I was confused because none of the characters was named  Taggart.    A bit of research revealed that the show had been on for so long (the 100th episode was aired on Christmas Eve in 2009) that the original cast had left the show long ago (the actor playing Taggart had died in the middle of an episode).  As it turned out,  Taggart, therefore,  was only the first of several DCIs who ran the unit.  In fact, the episodes I'm watching now have DCI Burke as the head of the unit, and some commentaries on the series suggests that he has already been replaced by one of his subordinates.  There are still many episodes on DVD that I haven't seen, and since  new episodes are being made, I won't be doing a revisit for some time.

No doubt I've missed a number of your favorites.  Please list some.  I may not have heard of them and I'm always interested in finding new ones


  1. I loved Taggart! For me, Mark McManus made the show. I had a great deal of difficulty understanding his thick Scots accent in the beginning, but gradually got used to it. I only watched a few episodes after his death. I still liked the characters of Jardine and Reid, but it just wasn't the same. I was also quite fond of Taggart's wheelchair bound wife. She was one strong lady.

  2. Madame V,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I just recently discovered Taggart, and I'm really starting to enjoy it. I gather that Reid is the only one left from the starting cast, and something I read while doing some research on the show leads me to think that she becomes the head of the unit after Burke leaves. Burke is head now, or rather in the episodes that I'm currently watching.

    I think I may expand the list (already?) by adding Inspector Alleyn (Ngaio Marsh is the author) and Homicide: Life on the Street.

  3. Even Reid isn't in the starting cast. Blythe Duff didn't show up until "Death Comes Softly" in 1990. Jardine wasn't in the first few either, but he came a long time before Reid.

    Excited to think that Reid might get to be head honcho! I'm going to watch for them now just to see that, lol.

  4. Morse/Lewis suffered the same fate as Taggart with me. I watched a few Lewis episodes and I do like the character, but ultimately stopped watching.

    I saw Endeavour and it was quite good. Any fan of Morse should enjoy it if only to see Morse in his first days on the force.

    I notice your list is quite Brit-heavy. They definitely produce some good programmes.

  5. Madame V,

    I'm looking forward to see what she does as head of the unit. She doesn't like Burke's way of doing things--too abrupt and harsh, for her. However, she also gets that way at times also, so I wouldn't be surprised if she's more like Burke than she imagines.

    I think I should start viewing the episodes in chronological order soon. Right now, I'm watching the ones available in the library and those appear to be the ones with Burke in charge. Shortly, I will see all the ones in the library, so it's off to netflix I ago.

  6. Madame V,

    I started watching the Inspector Lewis episodes out of curiosity and wasn't really that enthusiastic about it, although I found his Sgt Hathaway (Lawrence Fox) to be interesting. However, the last couple of episodes were very good, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next shows to see if they keep it at the same level.

    As I mentioned in the post, I haven't seen _Endeavour_ yet, but it will be available soon, so I can see for myself just how good it is.

  7. Madame V,

    Yes, it is very definitely slanted towards the UK productions, as well as toward police procedurals. I think it may be that the UK productions have more interesting characters than their US counterparts.

    Two shows I didn't list were _Homicide_ and _Jesse Stone_. I stopped watching Homicide after a couple of seasons for reasons which I'm not clear about. I'm going to pay them another visit soon, though. I thought the show's strong points were the characters, who were all a bit quirky--perhaps a bit British?

    I didn't list _Jesse Stone_ because I think it's more of a mini-series than a regular series. It's a favorite of mine, though, primarily because Tom Selleck does such an excellent portrayal of Stone.

  8. I watched a couple of the Jesse Stone shows because of Tom Selleck. I also began watching Blue Bloods but never really got into it. My favorite part seemed to be the dinner table. I also like Amy Carlson who I recognize from Third Watch.

    Not sure if Third Watch could be classed in this group since it's both police and paramedics. I love that show and if pressed to pick a favorite, this would be it. So many good characters in this ensemble cast.