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Clued In: The Best Television Detectives
Where Have All the Detectives Gone?
Recently, I happened to be watching a marathon of the classic television series Mannix and realized that there are no more great television detectives. It was also mentioned in former television detective, James Garner's autobiography. After his groundbreaking show, The Rockford Files, the television detective as essentially become extinct.
Why is this? Where have all the detectives gone? And why isn't there a pull to get them back on the air? I think it has alot to do with our post 9/11 culture. As we all know, things have changed since 9/11. For better or for worse we live under the constant threat of attack from enemies foreign and domestic. So with this as common knowledge, television has strayed away from using detectives in series since they represent a rebellion against structure.
No don't get me wrong, I think detectives make some of the most dynamic and profound characters across the big and small screen but now our television culture is more about the team dynamic than a single character focus. The shows we follow now are mostly ensemble shows or shows with a main character whose livelihood depends on the supporting characters.
For instance, many of the crime shows that could work in detective format such as The Closer are based within the safety net of a team. Brenda Leigh Johnson has the classic characteristics of a detective. She's disorganized, hates the establishment rules, has her own logic for solving cases and her personal life always affects her work.
Now while this is not typical of all detectives or detective-like characters, there is something to be said for making someone who obviously likes law but not so much order a true independent.
Whether or not the detective show will make a comeback remains a mystery but given Hollywood's history with remakes, redoes and adaptations, it is definitely not out of the question.
However, this hub will celebrate the swagger, bravado, and insight of our favorite mystery solvers outside the precinct walls.
In this hub I will consider each of these detectives trenchcoat swag. It means how much does the character(s)/show bear the common characteristics of a real trenchcoat-wearing, old-school gumshoe?
Granted, these shows were made post-1940s film noir trenchcoat era but nonetheless the trenchcoat is to the detective as shades are to rock stars.
Trenchcoat swag essentially is a combination of things: reliability, case closing rate, dedication to the work at hand, minimal distractions, and most important insight to the task at hand. And of course, general theme song awesomeness.
Mannix: The James Bond of Television
Detective: Joe Mannix
Actor: Mike "Touch" Connors
Synopsis: Joe Mannix is a rebel detective who broke free from the big box detective agency he was a part of in the first season and ends up flying solo with a police widow, Peggy Fair, as his personal secretary. Mannix occasionally works with the precinct on some cases, while others he does alone. A known ladykiller, he makes a woman fall for him in the span of less than one episode.
Show Tenure: 1967-1975
Impact: Mannix could probably be the older cousin of one Magnum, P.I. His instincts were unmatched and he knew how to fight without a gun. Considered one of the more violent programs of its time, he set the standard for shows like 24 which took violence to a whole new level in recent years.
Trenchcoat Swag: 4 out of 5 Trenchcoats
Jim Rockford:The Gunless Gumshoe
Detective: James "Jim" Rockford
Actor: James Garner
Synopsis: Jim Rockford is a bumbling detective who happened to be a reformed criminal. Wrongly convicted, he is well aware of the inadequacies of the justice system and is determined to solve the case. His methods are quite unconventional and dangerous, usually rubbing the police department the wrong way. He works alone but often consults his dad for assistance when the going gets too tough.
Show Tenure: 1974-1980
Impact: A reflection of the times, Rockford only used a gun in dire circumstances. This was also at the request of James Garner, who did not believe in promoting violence to viewers. This is a practice that unfortunately did not catch on in future shows but it was innovative nonetheless. The jazzy theme also set the standard for iconic television themes as it was a charting Billboard hit.
Trenchcoat Swag: 5 out of 5 Trenchcoats
Simon and Simon: Brothers at Arms
Detectives: Rick and AJ Parker
Actors: Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker
Backstory: Book smart AJ and street smart Rick, decidedly go into the PI business together, despite their opposing views and approaches to life and investigating crimes. Their mother tries to help mediate the friction between them but ultimately their opposing methods come together to get the job done. With the help of their friend, Downtown Brown, no case is unsolved with them in charge.
Show Tenure: 1981-1989
Impact: The opposites attract and sometimes revolt troupe has been used quite frequently across television. However, due to the lack of detective shows, it has not moved across the genre. Simon & Simon is considered a great show but does not have the same cultural impact as other shows have managed to achieve.
Trenchcoat Swag: 3 out of 5 Trenchcoats
Magnum PI: Mustachioed and Dangerous
Detective: Thomas Magnum
Actor: Tom Selleck
Backstory: Former Vietnam Veteran, Thomas Magnum retires to Hawaii to set up his own PI business on the property of author Robin Masters. Magnum provides security for the estate in return for free room and board. With the help of his buddies, T.C. and Rick, Magnum solves cases, shoots guns, and chases women across the Aloha state.
Show Tenure: 1980-1988
Impact: Easily one of the most iconic shows of the 80s, this was the first of creator Donald Bellisario's shows to combine military life with the lure of crime television. He went on to create such classics as JAG and NCIS. The show also helped turn actor Tom Selleck into a pop culture icon with his Hawaiian shirts and mustachioed good looks.
Trenchcoat Swag: 5 out of 5 Trenchcoats
Mysteries of the Future
While researching this hub, I saw that NBC wanted to remake The Rockford Files. Thankfully, it fell through but it's only a matter of time before they decidedly try to remake the classic shows of this hub and others for a current audience.
Can it work? I think so. Obviously, there will not be a secretary or a dad involved so much as a PDA or an iPad but people do not always trust the 5-0 for their crime solving needs.
In this era of come and go television, the character who could potentially reinvigorate the genre would have to be somewhat of a rebel but also be adept to the system around him. It has to be someone lovable but flawed, passionate but detached.
While many of these detectives mentioned had a bad history with the police, they also needed them for validation and insider information. So the dynamics of the private sector versus the public marketplace will still be very much important.
I am curious for input and memories of these shows as well as what you think for a possible revival of the detective genre.