Monday, November 7, 2011


In DOUBLETAKE, Hank Hammond is inspired to become a private investigator in part because he grew up envying Paul Drake on Perry Mason, and in part because he didn’t think much of Thomas Magnum’s skills on Magnum P.I., believing that he--Hank--could do much better.   Later in the book, Hank and his security consultant friend Arturo Garcia discuss some of the old television detectives including Jim Rockford, Barnaby Jones, and Frank Cannon.  It got me to thinking:  Who are the greatest television series detectives?

I actually had a great deal more trouble coming up with the list than I had expected.  Originally I wanted to only include private detectives because that’s what Hank and Arturo were discussing.  But there are just too many great police detectives on TV to exclude them from my list.

After a great deal of consideration, here are my TOP TEN TELEVISION DETECTIVES:

10        Paul Drake (William Hopper in Perry Mason).  Paul may not have been the swiftest at figuring out “who done it” (that was left for Perry to do), but he certainly was the model of a dashing PI in his sport coats and convertibles. 
9          Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars).  It might be tempting to dismiss this detective and her show as a bit of fluff, and I’m actually quite surprised that I’ve ranked her right up there alongside Miss Marple.   Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, I’d like to point out that the character was quite inventive and the plotting with small story arcs set within a larger mystery arc was well done.

8          Jane Marple (Joan Hickson in Miss Marple).  It’s nearly impossible to take such a classic character from a popular series of novels and do it justice, but Joan Hickson did an exemplary job of with this engaging amateur sleuth.
7          Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife).   I almost didn’t include this character because she doesn’t play a lead role, but Kalinda is so competent, resourceful, devious, and mysterious that I simply couldn’t resist.

6          Endeavour Morse (John Thaw in Inspector Morse).  With a name like Endeavour is it any wonder that he was grumpy all the time? 
5          Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub in Monk). Okay, Monk is a downright silly show, but the character is interesting, amusing, clever, and sad all at the same time. Plus, like Poirot he solves crimes by using keen observation.
4          Hercule Poirot (David Suchet in Hercule Poirot).  There are plenty of “little gray cells” at play in this detective role.

3          Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect).   Detective Chief Inspector Tennison thrives in a male-dominated profession by being smarter and more tenacious than the guys.  As written and acted, she is a very real person with a multitude of strengths and flaws.  I’d say that the role is pretty well flawless.
2          Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach in Law & Order).  With his world weary expression and his pithy seen-it-all comments, Lenny is the only detective in the entire L&O franchise to really and truly stand out.  I absolutely love this guy.

1          Jim Rockford (James Garner in The Rockford Files).  I know that I’ll take some flack on this one, but I think that this character--and the show--are terrific.  Jim is wonderful as the PI who doesn’t really want to be the tough guy, but will be one when necessary; the guy who needs every dollar he can scrounge up, but will take a case when his heart strings are tugged; and is the loyal friend of good guys like cop Dennis Becker and the despicably self interested ex con Angel Martin.   James Rockford was great in the role and I never thought that anyone could ever be cast in a remake, but here’s a suggestion:  how about Bruce Campbell, the actor who currently plays Sam Axe on Burn Notice?

Okay, those are my top ten TELEVISION DETECTIVES.  What do you think?