TV Recommendations - An Unlikely Detective
May 6, 2019 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for murder mystery/crime-of-the-week TV shows that aren't focused on traditional police and detectives.

Shows like Psych, Veronica Mars, Murder She Wrote, Rosemary & Thyme, and Medium are good examples. (Yes, some of them work with the police quite frequently, but they aren't cops themselves.)

No period shows please. The show can be older, but it should be set around the same time it was filmed. (I love Miss Marple and Father Brown, but they don't fit on this list)
posted by Garm to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I imagine Monk fits the bill.

House, perhaps, except it's diseases, not murders.
posted by kpmcguire at 11:45 AM on May 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Anything listed under the Cozy Mystery trope page might work.
posted by damayanti at 11:48 AM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Da Vinci’s Inquest: he’s a coroner, and the whole show is delightfully Canadian and millennial Vancouver.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:49 AM on May 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

Jonathan Creek is lots of fun. The main characters are an investigative journalist and a man who designs illusions for magicians.
posted by eirin at 11:56 AM on May 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

In the Heat of the Night, the Dukes of Hazzard, the Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, Charlie's Angels, Columbo, help I'm stuck in the 70s and 80s
posted by Melismata at 12:01 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Magnum PI
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:03 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

“Death in Paradise” is totally in the vein of Monk and Psych in that it’s relative goofy/light given the subject matter.
posted by lovableiago at 12:03 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding Monk.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on May 6, 2019

Lucifer. The Devil works as a civilian consultant for the LAPD
posted by Roger Pittman at 12:05 PM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Shakespeare and Hathaway - it’s on Britbox right now. One of the creators is a writer on Father Brown.
posted by ilovewinter at 12:11 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Annika Bengtzon follows a crime reporter for a newspaper as she pursues investigations.
posted by brookeb at 12:12 PM on May 6, 2019

I haven't actually seen Castle, but it's about a crime writer who teams up with a cop to solve crimes - it would seem to fit the bill perfectly.

More generally, to help your search, check out this list of "cop/not-a-cop" shows, or look around the search term "wunza" (coined by Roger Ebert to refer to movies/shows where "one's a x and one's a opposite-of-x.") These categories won't cover every show of the type you're looking for, but they will cover a lot of them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:15 PM on May 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). It's a pair of detectives, except Hopkirk is a ghost who only Randall can see.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:15 PM on May 6, 2019

Grantchester on Masterpiece Theatre is about an Anglican priest who, with his cop buddy, solves crimes. Season 4 starts this summer, but I'd start at the beginning. It's darker than the shows you reference, and a period piece. Seconding House if you like medical mysteries.

For more lighthearted shows like the ones you suggested, I'm nthing Monk. In fact, this thread is making me miss Monk and Psych all over again. Although I haven't seen it, Bored to Death seems like it would fit your bill. The description from might fit:

After a bad breakup, writer Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) decides to post on Craigslist about moonlighting as a private detective. When people actually hire him, he somehow uses techniques from detective novels to help solve various crimes. Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson also star in the three-season series, and Jenny Slate and Kristen Wiig frequently guest star. With a cast this stacked with comedians, it’s no wonder that the show is one of the best funny mysteries out there.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:26 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Agatha Raisin may work for you! Available via Acorn TV which has literally all of the cozy mysteries, basically.
posted by halation at 12:28 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

You might like the short run show Safe starring concerned dad Michael C Hall and his terrible British accent. Accent aside, I enjoyed the show a lot. It's on Netflix.
posted by phunniemee at 12:39 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pie In The Sky features Richard Griffiths as a semi-retired detective and chef. He's technically a cop, but would very much prefer not to be.
posted by zamboni at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Speaking of Pie, there's Pushing Daisies. It's about a Pie Maker who has the power to touch a dead thing and bring it back to life for up to 60 seconds with no further consequences. A second touch returns the dead thing back to death forever. The Pie Maker befriends a Private Investigator. Only 2 seasons.

Other thing that might match but not yet mentioned; Burn Notice. Ex-CIA, burned spy. Each season has plot arc that's slowly spun out, with each episode has a case of the week. However, while the case of the week might have twist, it's not mystery. Case's are usually friend of a friend of a friend has problems that the police/fbi can't/won't help with. Blackmail, fraud, theft, assault, etc... 7 seasons.
posted by nobeagle at 12:53 PM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Littlest Hobo.
posted by Poldo at 12:55 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Leverage is a lot of fun


2nd'ing Burn Notice
posted by at at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

George Gently
posted by Freedomboy at 1:22 PM on May 6, 2019

Rockford Files!
posted by lownote at 1:23 PM on May 6, 2019

"Mr. & Mrs. Murder" is an Australian show about a couple who run a crime-scene cleaning service and find clues the police missed.

"Person of Interest" is really a long-form story about government surveillance and powerful AI, but it uses a case-of-the-week format (vigilantes protecting people from "ordinary" crimes that the secret national-security computer predicts before they happen, but ignores as "irrelevant" to its anti-terrorist mission) to satisfy the network TV suits, with the ongoing storyline in the background.

Also, seconding "Lucifer" which is surprisingly good given the premise. "Castle" and "Leverage" are also good (although I didn't finish either of them to the end). "House" is also good, but a) medicine not crime, and b) the "toxic asshole who still knows better than everyone else" shtick hasn't exactly aged well... (Lucifer has this issue at times too, but the way exposure to humanity affects him and realigns his attitudes is a key part of the story, whereas House is largely an unrepentant jerk.)
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 1:30 PM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Scarecrow and Mrs. King fits your description.
posted by cleverevans at 1:32 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Campion is a really fun series. In it "Albert Campion" is the pseudonym of a clearly well-off, possibly aristocratic man, equally comfortable among the upper and lower classes of early 20th century Britain, who proves to be an extremely resourceful and funny detective. (He's played by Peter Davison, one of the 80s Doctors Who.) [Sorry, didn't see the "filmed when it was set" requirement until after I hit send.]

It's been years since I had Netflix, but it was on there at the time. (I agree with everyone recommending Monk, also.)
posted by Polycarp at 1:38 PM on May 6, 2019

I haven't seen Harrow mentioned yet. It might be a little too conventional for what you're looking for, but it's good. The protagonist is a medical examiner. Produced and set in Australia. Lots of twists. One season. It is NOT in the CSI realm; it's more like Forever, Ioan Gruffudd's OTHER medical examiner show. The shtick with that one is the protagonist can't die (he gets reanimated naked in the Hudson each time) which he uses to solve crimes. It's only okay, but I enjoyed it. It *is* notable for one of the greatest related actors-playing-different-ages pairings of all time: David Krumholtz and Judd Hirsch.
posted by emkelley at 1:45 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on Netflix.

On edit, sorry this is definitely a period piece. Sorry.
posted by archimago at 1:46 PM on May 6, 2019

Thirding Monk. (So sweet, chill and relaxing)
Strange Luck (good luck finding it)
Pushing Daisies
Burn Notice
Sherlock (UK)
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (this is amazing)
Lie To Me
Remington Steele
Simon & Simon
Limitless (I haven't seen the series, liked the movie)
Life (good luck finding this as well)
posted by jkaczor at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2019

Father Dowling Mysteries, starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson. Father Dowling (Bosley) and his associate Sister Steve (Nelson) worked independently, solving mysteries in late 80s Chicago. They had a smooth relationship with the police, but worked independently.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Moonlighting. Bruce Willis and Cyblll Shepard and the Blue Moon Detective Agency. Mmmm, David and Maddie...
posted by Fukiyama at 1:55 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Since you list Veronica Mars as an example, you've probably tried iZombie, but it's so on target I figured it's worth mentioning anyhow.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:56 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

- Dicte: Crime Reporter is good.
- Borgen isn't a police drama as such but is one of the most addictive thrillers I've watched in recent years and I think you'd like it.
posted by humph at 2:08 PM on May 6, 2019

CW is airing a show now called "In The Dark" about a blind girl who's trying to investigate the disappearance of a teenaged friend of hers. Now that's pretty different...
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2019

NUMB3RS - A mathematician works with the FBI to solve crimes.

Blue Collar - A (mostly) reformed art thief works with the FBI (and sometimes behind their back) to solve crimes.
posted by tracer at 2:20 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

White Collar--a ... not exactly reformed... con artist works with the government (and sometimes behind their back) to solve crimes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:25 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Death in Paradise, Mr and Mrs Murder, and recommending ITV's Midsomer Murders.

We're currently on The Brokenwood Mysteries but that's a little less humorous then the others, but still very cozy.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2019

This link also lists more 'cozy mysteries' than the trope page above.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:36 PM on May 6, 2019

I like Limitless, but in the series, the main dude, Finch, is an unwilling consultant for the FBI, because they're his only source for the cognition-enhancing drug AZT, while he's the only person they know who can tolerate long-term use of AZT (for reasons we the audience know, but the FBI does not). So it's arguable whether this is a fit.

I guess it's about as much a fit as White Collar, in which a con-man serves in a similar capacity for the FBI.

2009's Reaper is about a 21-year-old goof-off who learns the hard way that his parents sold his soul to the devil (played by Ray Wise-- perfect), so he has to work as a bounty hunter, rounding up souls on earth who had escaped from hell. Does that sound strangely familiar? Because 1998's Brimstone had the same premise, more or less, though the bounty hunter was a recently dead NYPD cop (Peter Horton and John Glover as the cop and the devil, respectively). So he knows cop stuff, but he's definitely off the force.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:31 PM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hinterland is awesome, it is on Netflix.
posted by chocolatetiara at 5:07 PM on May 6, 2019

This may be a stretch, but Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Definitely seconding Lucifer, and I like the idea to include Supernatural (and might add Buffy too if solving crimes == figuring out what monster ate/killed/is plotting to sacrifice someone).
posted by snaw at 5:28 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since it haven't seen it listed yet, I may be off my grokkin', but Night stalker was sort of journalistic/investigative, proto x files, non traditional.
Note: I too am stuck in the 70's
posted by Redhush at 5:36 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Limitless was SO GREAT. Seriously, I wish that had caught on, it was brilliant and so much better than the movie.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:59 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Some great suggestions, thank you so much! I'm marking the ones I haven't seen yet and fit the brief as best answers, but thank you to everyone who answered, I'm going to have a lot of TV to watch.
posted by Garm at 7:04 AM on May 7, 2019

Private Eyes!

It's on Ion TV, and Canadian TV. It has a whiff of Remington Steele, with a PI teaming up with a former hockey star. Some episodes are a bit corny, but what really floats my boat is the utter charm and chemistry between all the characters. Police action is extremely minimal. Definitely a dramedy, with Moonlighting undertones and a bouquet of Castle. There have been two (too short) seasons thus far; Ion is repeating the second season right now. It shows in Canada first, I'm not sure about the status of season 3.
posted by lhauser at 7:42 PM on May 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

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