How Do I find a PI Outside of the Country?
December 19, 2017 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Are there any great obscure US or non-US detective shows from the 50s-70s that will scratch this itch?

I'm looking to find some new tv shows for my boyfriend for Christmas. He absolutely loves marathoning a very specific type of show but I think he may have already found all of the shows that fit these very specific requirements:
  • Detective/PI show. Not a "cop" show
  • Preferably from the 1960s (or emulates the 1960s in "look"). Can be from the 1950s or 1970s potentially if other factors are met. Growing up in the late 70s he saw some shows as reruns, but many he's discovered as an adult
  • A strong lead who's smart, has a swagger, and who doesn't like to fight unless he has to and if he does he always wins
  • Has a mystery that is "smart" (i.e. he won't figure out whodunnit in the first 2 minutes)
  • Is not too campy (shows that took from the campiness of Batman are out e.g., Honey West)
  • Is available somewhere online. YouTube would be great, I would like to avoid ordering any expensive discs/set unless I knew he liked it.
  • If it's from a non-English speaking country it will need to have subtitles as he only speaks English
  • Bonus points for anything penned by or involving Harlan Ellison, from Japan or England, or film noir-ish
Shows he loves (and already has) that I can think of off the top of my head:
  • I Spy (Robert Culp is his fav)
  • Rockford Files
  • Misson Impossible
  • Matt Houston
  • Public Eye
  • Ironside
  • Cannon
He loves shows like Sherlock Holmes and Jessica Jones too but they don't fall into this very particular aesthetic I'm looking for. Consider more recent shows from the 80s to present day (Magnum PI, Hunter) out as well.
posted by Bunglegirl to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Columbo seems to be bullseye in his wheelhouse.

Inspector Morse ticks most of his boxes but is set in the mid-80s to early 90s. A prequel series about the same character, Endeavor, is set in the 1960s but is contemporary. Great on period detail though.
posted by Diablevert at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Saint. Also, but more in the Mission Impossible style, Secret Agent (with Patrick McGoohan) and The Avengers.
posted by ubiquity at 8:44 AM on December 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

Hm, I don't see Perry Mason on your list, which is who Raymond Burr played before Ironsides. He is an attorney but the show is very detective-y. CBS has 10 episodes sreaming for free.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:46 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about Mannix? I think that fits all the points listed. Also 77 Sunset Strip.
posted by diode at 8:59 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't stream, so I can't advise on that part, but Johnny Staccato is super cool. It starred John Cassavetes, and it had really good guest stars like Martin Landau, Cloris Leachman, and Dean Stockwell. It's very noirish, but Staccato fits squarely into the beat scene.

I agree about Secret Agent, that was a terrific show, so much smarter than anything they make nowadays. The episode 'The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove' is unforgettable.

Both shows have a Japan episode.
posted by heatvision at 9:12 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

60s? As ubiquity suggests, the ITC / Lew Grade strand tends to be more "secret agent" in style but you still have Man in a Suitcase, Jason King, The Baron and so on.

Rockford Files? Well, Jim Rockford is much more the 70s type, a bit shabby at the seams, working the local beat instead of jet-setting around the world. That means your boyfriend might be interested in Shoestring, which covers similar territory in Britain.
posted by holgate at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer(1957-60, U.S. Syndicated)
The Nightstalker (1974-75, ABC; AKA Kolchak: The Nightstalker)
posted by mikecable at 10:12 AM on December 19, 2017

Burke's Law (TV Series) (written by - 4 episodes)
- Who Killed 1/2 of Glory Lee? (1964) ... (written by)
- Who Killed Andy Zygmunt? (1964) ... (written by)
- Who Killed Purity Mather? (1963) ... (written by)
- Who Killed Alex Debbs? (1963) ... (written by)

The Sixth Sense (TV Series) (story editor - 4 episodes)
- The House That Cried Murder (1972) ... (story editor)
- Lady, Lady, Take My Life (1972) ... (story editor)
- The Heart That Wouldn't Stay Buried (1972) ... (story editor)
- I Do Not Belong to the Human World (1972) ... (story editor)

Harlan Ellison involvement.
posted by mikecable at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2017

Peter Gunn (58-61) (You and your boyfriend probably know the Henry Mancini-composed theme song deep in your bones.)
Hawaiian Eye (59-63)
Bourbon Street Beat (59-60)
Coronado 9 (60-61)
Surfside 6 (60-62), practically a spinoff from Bourbon Street Beat

I haven't seen any of these except for a taste of Peter Gunn, but my bet would be that Bourbon Street and Surfside are campy.

I would suggest Danger Man, the Patrick McGoohan series. He's a "security investigator," by title, but he's somewhere between secret agent and general problem solver, much in the way MacGyver was those things-- he was a guy that the government, or private individuals, would bring in as a troubleshooter. (I also know that, FWIW, Harlan Ellison is a big fan of "The Prisoner," the subsequent McGoohan series which, one could plausibly suggest, is about the same character as Danger Man.)

A couple of hail marys:

The Sandbaggers from the late 1970s/early 1980s is a british spy drama. Sorry, no, it's THE BEST SPY DRAMA EVER ON TV. It feels like it's earlier, no doubt because of the cultural asynchrony between the US and Britain, but it's firmly in contemporary times as far as the state of the Cold War. I want to emphasize that this is a drama, not an action show-- I doubt there's more than 10-15% action across the series, and it's substantially investigative, but ultimately it's about the amoral calculus of spies. It's all on Youtube, I've found whenever I've looked, so it's a cheap option to dip your toes into.

"The Long Goodbye" (1973) is a movie, directed by Robert Altman and starring Elliott Gould as Ray Chandler's protagonist Philip Marlowe.

I'd also second The Saint.

I'd mention that Kolchak: The Nightstalker is about an investigative reporter, not a PI, who is poking his nose into supernatural events, so you will get to see him wrestle with werewolves and stuff. It wasn't intentionally cheesy, but it doesn't age with total grace. That said, it was the direct inspiration for Chris Carter to create "The X-Files."
posted by Sunburnt at 11:16 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

The people behind The Republic of Doyle always said their intention was to make a modern day Rockford Files. They didn't really hit that mark, but there are a lot of elements they borrowed from that show. It's way outside your desired time frame (it's actually from this century) but the rest of it hits most of your marks. There are episodes up on YouTube (I just checked) but the DVDs should be available for purchase. It's in English, but there are Newfoundland accents, so be prepared for that.

I'd also be tempted to recommend Adderly even though it's not a P.I. show. It's about a Canadian spy. It's on the campier side, but not too far off from I Spy. It's also newer (1980s) and yes, episodes are watchable on YouTube. It's likely harder to find legitimately.

I've always been a big fan of the Saint, but he's not by strict definition a P.I. He's more in gentleman thief/con man classification ranks, but the Roger Moore T.V. version is a solid recommendation from the folks above.

If you're looking more for that 1960s team-up vibe, there's another Moore vehicle, the Persuaders, which co-stars Tony Curtis.

You mention Matt Houston (which was 1980s), but have you thought about Remington Steel? I think it might fit.
posted by sardonyx at 11:47 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just realized that someone above mentioned "Secret Agent" with Patrick McGoohan-- that's the American title for "Danger Man," but they're the same show.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:53 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was a fun late 60s british show with the twist that one of the 2 detectives was a ghost.
There was a remake in the 2000's but I haven't seen it.

The Persuaders was a fun 70s detective show with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis.

It's outside your time period but in the 90s Robbie Coltrane was in a UK series called "Cracker" that was really good. He's called a profiler rather than a detective, but really it's a detective show. There was an attempt to do a US version but it didn't last long.
posted by w0mbat at 11:58 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember 77 Sunset Strip, but just barely. Also Peter Gunn.

Paul Newman in Harper is a movie, but based on a book from about the right era.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2017

You guys are amazing. I recognize a number of these. I'm sure he has The Saint, and knows of Columbo, Mannix, and Perry Mason but I'll check all of these out. Any more you think of (if it's totally spot on and is a movie I'll take it), especially anything not produced in the US as there's a higher chance it's new to him.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2017

The Man From Uncle; Get Smart!; The Avengers (Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee); Kojak (Telly Savalas); the old Hawaii 5-0.
posted by Enid Lareg at 4:32 PM on December 19, 2017

He might like Strike.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 4:51 PM on December 19, 2017

Youtube has full episodes of Robert Wagner's stylish late '60s show It Takes a Thief.
To try: The single-season, mid-70s show Ellery Queen as well as Banacek were well-plotted for the genre.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:09 PM on December 19, 2017

McMillan and Wife?
Yes, he's a cop, but she's not.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:19 PM on December 19, 2017

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the 70s one) may scratch an itch.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:45 AM on December 20, 2017

Plus one on Columbo and Perry Mason. You also might want to examine "Quincy."
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:57 AM on December 20, 2017

Endeavour, mentioned above, is very good — you might also want to try Inspector George Gently. 1960s, north of England, covers the era reasonably well I think.
posted by aramaic at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2017

Ellery Queen is the show I immediately thought of. Harder to find, I think, but I really enjoyed it.
posted by threeturtles at 4:22 PM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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