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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Next Great TV Detective...?

For classic mystery fans, the TV landscape is looking particularly barren nowadays.
 
What do I mean by that?
 
Well, in my view, with the end of the series Monk, television is suddenly without any classic, clue-based mystery character. What I'm talking about is the kind of signature protagonist, long a cherished staple in mystery fiction, who approaches crime-solving with a unique personal style, and who eschews forensics and fisticuffs in favor of utilizing what Poirot called his "little gray cells."
 
You know the kinds of character I'm talking about. The legendary writers Levinson and Link created two of them: Columbo and Jessica Fletcher, the heroine of Murder, She Wrote.
 
In the late 1950's, all the way through the 70's and 80's, the most unique crime-solvers on TV were private detectives: from Richard Diamond and Honey West to Harry Orwell and Charlie's Angels; from Peter Gunn and Mike Hammer to Thomas Magnum and Jim Rockford.
 
And of course, thanks to PBS (and its importation of British series), we've been graced with such print-to-TV characters as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and the above-mentioned Hercule Poirot, as well as Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, and Inspector Barnaby of Midsummer Murders.
 
As these last two series demonstrate, even those who work in an official capacity (as police detectives) can possess the unique characteristics we associate with the best amateur or private sleuths. Think of Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.
Or Michael Gambon as Inspector Maigret. Or Raymond Burr as Ironside.
 
But now, as we bid good-by to Adrian Monk, is there any detective, pro or amateur, to replace him? Maybe we should consider Thomas Jane, The Mentalist, or Brenda Johnson of The Closer. Possibly. But I'm on the fence.
 
In fact, the only character I can think of who meets the criteria we've been discussing isn't a detective at all: Dr. Gregory House. Though he does indeed solve medical mysteries, and his creator, David Shore, has tweaked the audience throughout the series with his misanthropic character's uncanny resemblance to Sherlock Holmes.
Where Holmes had Watson, House has Wilson. House's apartment address is 221 B
(same as Holmes' address on Baker Street). And on one episode, Wilson plays a prank on the hospital's young doctors by explaining that House once had his heart broken by a singular woman...named Irene Adler.
 
Regardless, are we witnessing the end of the era of TV detectives? Maybe not. HBO has a new series called Bored to Death, in which a struggling writer works part-time as a private detective. And David Shore is apparently developing a re-make of The Rockford Files (though it's hard to imagine anyone other than James Garner in the role.)
 
So. Do we need another new, 21st Century TV detective? And who should it be? Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch? Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta? Or someone
created specifically for the small screen?
 
What do you think? 
 
  

9 comments:

writingpi said...

Moe Prager is one of my favorite fictional PIs (by author Reed Farrel Coleman). Also like Ray Dudgeon (by Sean Chercover). Would love to see either of those characters on the small--or big--screen.

Really enjoying your blog, Dennis!

Susan Amerikaner said...

Surely Monk's final episodes exhibited some of the best writing to be seen and felt on the screen in a long time. I am not on the fence about Patrick Jane; I adore him. But I do admit that I fit into his core "over 50 female audience," and it may not be the writing but simply the sexy Simon Baker that I find so alluring. As a fan of NCIS I love the quirky and adorable Abby, resident forensic scientist. She is fascinating and one of the few females on TV who presents a role model for young girls that does not involve plunging necklines and obvious breast enhancement. I would like to see Abby in her own show--or a similar young, hip, supersmart female character like this is a starring role.

jeff said...

bored to death is pretty amusing, but it kinda spoofs the genre, and he doesn't exactly solve real cases.

i'd like to see crais' elvis cole....

NewsstandGreg said...

From someone who was nearly mistaken for Monk because I reminded a woman of his eccentricities...here's my suggestion.

How about the most 21st century character of all: Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski. It wasn't until quite sometime after I saw "The Big Lebowski," that I realized it was really a detective movie after all. The Dude is this nihilist generation's bigger than life, sloppy gumshoe.

But he solved the case. --Greg

Peter Anthony Holder said...

About the only show that I enjoy these days that has a mystery element to it is "Castle" on ABC, which deals with a mystery writer who is working with the police department.

I think it's well cast and well written with the right amount of mystery and witty banter between the characters.

I too am concerned with not only the reboot of "Rockford Files" on NBC, but the reboot of "Hawaii Five-0" on CBS.

Surely television can come up with news shows without repeating itself.

I think there are many books out there that have not been tapped yet that could easily be turned into TV series without television cannibalizing itself.

At the risk of sounding like I'm sucking up here, I think the characters in "From Crime To Crime" by Dennis Palumbo would make a great television series!

Mari L. said...

I vote for Author Stephen White. He has a psychologist Alan Gregory and a Detective Sam Purdy that together and separately remind me of Jessica Fletcher. I agree James Garner = Rockford Files. Hollywood get some new material, please

Rixx said...

Great food for thought -- Brain Chowder?

One of my very favourites is Jimmy McGovern'sCRACKER, A complicated police profiler played by Robbie Coltrain in the UK series. They tried to do a US adaptation of it but it didn't work at all.

Dave Congalton said...

I think Dennis makes some excellent observations about the status of the detective. Hopefully Monk will not be the end of the era, but God, please, can we say goodbye to all these Law & Order/CSI shows? Please? Can we have some fun again in our TV crime programs?

Nobody, but nobody, can be Jim Rockford other than James Garner. His was one of the great iconic TV characters EVER. Now they have Delmot McWhathisname playing Rockford. Very sad.

Hopefully, Dennis' new book will spawn a TV companion!

Mark said...

I felt like I was there, in the group. You make me a sharper thinker. Thanks for that.