Procedural shows without cops and murder
September 22, 2020 8:59 PM   Subscribe

We like the process of puzzling through a mystery and getting to a solution through brainwork and teamwork. Problem is most TV shows of this format focus exclusively on murder, which we don’t find good fodder for entertainment. Also the cops tend to be lionized, which we also don’t much care for.

Shows we’ve found that we like are Leverage (crime heists for justice), House (medical mysteries that eventually got too soap opera-y), and Veronica Mars (some murder but not the weekly focus). Most Star Treks are a sort of weekly procedural puzzle plot, but we’re looking for something more mystery-adjacent.

Bonus points if it’s British.
posted by rikschell to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
You might like Numb3rs! It's a cop show, true, but there's a lot of focus on team/family and using math to solve crimes.
posted by Tamanna at 9:01 PM on September 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

White Collar? It's been a while so I can't say for certain there aren't any murder plots, but it's mostly about white collar crime - art heists, etc. It has FBI, but not cops...
posted by cgg at 9:05 PM on September 22, 2020 [11 favorites]

Person of Interest might be good for you. They have an AI that predicts crime, but only gives a social security number of someone who is either the victim or the perpetrator. Mystery is to find them, figure out which they are, and either stop or protect them. They're not cops, but they do end up working with a couple.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:39 PM on September 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

Wallander, about the moody Swedish detective. Original Swedish version is very good, BBC version is equally good, new Young Wallander on Netflix is pretty good.
posted by msittig at 9:44 PM on September 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Father Brown. It’s British, and the titular character is not a cop. Indeed, the police are often quite antagonistic. Over the course of the series, you build an affinity for them, but in any given episode, they come across as incompetent at best. There is a lot of murder, but there are some other crimes, too. And even when there is murder, the religiosity of the setting treats it with more respect than the typical police procedural where :shrugs: people just get killed a lot.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:52 PM on September 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds like a job for Jonathan Creek: he's a stage magician consultant who lives in a windmill and also solves crimes! British bonus points as well! I think it's available on Amazon Prime through BritBox, but there are Other Ways of watching it.
posted by tzikeh at 10:33 PM on September 22, 2020 [7 favorites]

And seconding White Collar, though it's the FBI instead of cops. But it's mostly caper-based, it's FBI agent partnered with formerly-imprisoned art forger/thief partner who FBI agent previously arrested and sent to prison. There's rarely murder, and there's super-fun banter until the Nazis show up and ruin everything, like they always do.
posted by tzikeh at 10:50 PM on September 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

omg bless you for asking this, I was going make a post about the same topic tomorrow because I desperately want a replacement for NCIS
posted by Kitchen Witch at 12:10 AM on September 23, 2020

Hustle is a motley group of London con artists that pull off a series of daring and intricate stings. British show.

Lie to Me is about Cal Lightman, the world's leading deception expert who studies facial expressions and involuntary body language to expose the truth behind the lies. American show with a British lead.
posted by wile e at 1:01 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

How about Fake or Fortune A BBC1 show which investigates pieces of art to see if they are real or forgeries? No murders. True stories. Very comforting.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 1:56 AM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Hustle, a massive storybook of long cons, excitement, and some great camerawork. Plus Robert Vaughn lights up every scene he is in, and I like to think he really is Napoleon Solo in retirement, just enjoying the kicks.
posted by ewan at 2:17 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mmmm, Sherlock? The trope namer for Puzzle of the Week, and murders are fairly uncommon, at least in the 1980s Jeremy Brett version. The modernized Benedict Cumberbatch version is a bit grittier. In neither do the police come out on top. For a comic parody, try Without a Clue (Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine).

On the total opposite end from "crime drama" what about PG Wodehouse? Definitely no murders (though cow creamers and policemen's helmets are safe from no man!), extremely convoluted puzzle plots, lots of brainwork by Jeeves to untangle the plot threads. Very very British.
posted by basalganglia at 4:00 AM on September 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Check out The Pretender, a show that ran on NBC from 96-00.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:40 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Quantum Leap might almost fit this bill? It's not a mystery, but the idea is that this time traveler leaps into someone else's life in each episode and has to fix something. He and his friend with future information have to figure out what needs fixing. Everyone's got different things--sometimes it's interpersonal, sometimes it's historical.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:59 AM on September 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: If you're OK with some fantasy I think you would really enjoy Warehouse 13. The premise is that the Warehouse is where all sorts of fantastical and mystical objects are stored to prevent them wreaking havoc out in the world. Most episodes are built around the team identifying a new object they've detected causing havoc and neutralising it (e.g. Lewis Carroll's looking glass, Edgar Allen Poe's pen). The objects cause psychological and physical effects on people around them and the team don't normally know what the object is but have to deduce this from the effects and other clues. I think murder came up very occasionally but was not a major theme at all.
posted by *becca* at 5:40 AM on September 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Also maybe Farscape as often the episodes centre around what exactly the new batch of weird aliens are doing to the crew and/or how to get themselves out of a new kind of trouble in a way that I think may be closer to what you're looking for than Star Trek typically is.
posted by *becca* at 5:44 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

The OP mentions both House and Leverage - please read the question carefully if you're going to take the time to answer.

Person of Interest is really violent and full of murders. I like it, but it's not a break from violence.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 6:47 AM on September 23, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Got some good leads here. Don't know why they don't make more detective shows that aren't Murder-of-the-Week. Or more A-Team/MacGuyver problem-solving planning type shows. Quantum Leap is the exact sort of thing that fits the bill, but there are a bunch here I will check out.
posted by rikschell at 6:56 AM on September 23, 2020

The Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel has several original series along these lines.
posted by Clustercuss at 7:03 AM on September 23, 2020

Also seconding Person of Interest, which is great, and to the extent is has cops does not spend any time putting much of a shine on them (one of the series repeating “bad guys” is a corrupt group of cops, who seem to significantly outnumber the good/neutral ones).
posted by tiamat at 7:20 AM on September 23, 2020

I am going to describe this show in length only because for the life of me I cannot remember the name. (And I am cringing because I'm afraid that the description is going to make this sound hokey as all heck.) The inclusion of Quantum Leap reminded me of this, as it was a similar "there's some kind of something to figure out each week" with an element of the scifi-fantasy.

It is something I saw on PBS in the aughts; I want to say it was produced in Canada, and it was targeted to school-age kids. The main characters were a teenage brother and sister whose father was an archeologist; he'd invented some kind of high-tech sci-fi whatsit, kind of like the replicator on Star Trek, that could replicate different artifacts. But something went screwy and he got sucked into the replicator and no one knew where he was.

The kids discovered that he'd already had the files for a number of different artifacts in the whatsit, but when they called one up, if they reached out and touched it, it sucked them into a different world myth. Like, one of the things they called up might be a sword - if they touched the sword, suddenly they'd be sucked into Camelot. The only way they could get back home is if they touched that same item in that realm.

There was only one season I recall; they would be visiting a different myth via a different artifact every episode, mainly in an effort to locate their father (although on occasion they would Learn A Life Lesson as a secondary plot point, like when the sister - who was a wheelchair user - had an experience that encouraged her when she was feeling a little discouraged). I think in the last episode they found their father, but then lost him again to some villain that had been lurking about, and it ended with them preparing to go back on the hunt for him with a bit more focus now (but still explore other myths on the way).

I kind of dug the deep dive into world myth and the "whoa, suddenly everyone is treating me like the Oracle at Delphi, what am I supposed to do now" problem solving.

And I hope to GOD I have described that clearly enough for someone else to see this and say "Oh, that show was called {blah}". Because for THE LIFE OF ME I cannot remember the name.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on September 23, 2020

Manimal was a one-off show in the early 80s that featured a crime solver who had the ability to shape-shift into animals. He used his abilities to help police solve crimes.
posted by grateful at 7:47 AM on September 23, 2020


The name of the show I was trying to think of up above is MYTHQUEST!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Tied into the same universe as Warehouse 13 is Eureka. It's got a small-town cop front and centre but from what little I've seen it's more in the vein of an Andy Griffith type sheriff that a lionized shoot-first-ask-questions-later hero type. The action is set in a hidden town full of scientific geniuses. Actually, it's not the show I came here to suggest, but I thought I'd mention it.

The one I want to offer up is Burn Notice. The main character "used to be a spy" until he got "burned" (cover blown, left out to dry) by his agency. He spends his time trying to figure out what happened and trying to get his old job back, but as a side gig, he ends up helping people with their problems (black mail, fraud, small business owners getting extorted for protection money by gangs, etc.). For a show with lots of explosions and gun fights, the body count is surprisingly low. The charm of the show is the supporting cast--the main character's mother, his ex-girlfriend, his former friend who used to inform on him to the FBI, etc. It's got a strong guest star/reoccurring character/villain game with some really good character actors showing up. I swear, it's a show my mother enjoyed binge watching, and she's definitely the opposite of a cops/murder procedural fan.
posted by sardonyx at 8:23 AM on September 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Royal Pains - concierge doc moves to the Hamptons and solves medical mysteries across the class divide
(USA had a run on light hearted procedurals around 2005-2016, including this and the aforementioned Burn Notice and White Collar. If you end up liking those, you might also try Covert Affairs which is CIA mission-of-the-week with a long running conspiracy arc. I lump Monk and Psych into this bucket as well, but they're probably too murdery for you (though I didn't watch them, so I can't swear to that))

Teenage Bounty Hunters on Netflix - I recently described it to a friend as "subject matter of Veronica Mars, tone of Buffy/Gilmore Girls." Teenage twin sisters in evangelical Christian high society Atlanta fall into bounty hunting.

Speaking of Buffy, both Buffy and Angel had procedural elements to them, and lots of teamwork.
If the Buffy/Angel mix of monster-of-the-week and long running story arc works for you, also check out Lost Girl -- succubus outsider to the urban fairy world takes works as a PI/fixer/body guard for fairy-folk. One of her love interests is a cop/werewolf, but his function is to keep the fairy world hidden from the human cops, so there's not a lot of copping happening.

Pushing Daisies is VERY murdery, but the show is so light hearted and fantastical that it might still work for you. Ned is a pie maker who can bring the dead back to life at a touch, and a PI recruits him to help solve murders. Watch the first episode, because this is a very hard show to describe accurately.
posted by natabat at 9:06 AM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In the vein of Quantum Leap (which I haven’t seen), there’s a show called Early Edition, where a guy (magically?) gets the next day’s newspaper and has to prevent something awful in it. Also in a similar vein but different is a show called Sliders, which involves wormholes to a slightly different reality each week and a group of friends just trying to get home.
posted by Night_owl at 9:09 AM on September 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh, seconding Early Edition! I did see a few episodes and thought it was sweet. There's also a comedic element in the form of a kooky best friend who thinks the guy getting the future newspapers should use it to win the lottery and stuff like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on September 23, 2020

You might also try Canadian? I have liked Murdoch Mysteries which are detective procedurals but not usually about murders and they're not gross in the way American television can be. There's a female coroner, a lot of side plots about turns-of-last-century facts and a lot of weird/nifty inventions. The cops aren't lionized but it's not quite an ACAB look at them but might be worth trying. They grapple with social issues in ways that seem humanizing, and it's a period piece so there's a lot of neat stuff to look at.
posted by jessamyn at 9:48 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, we do watch Murdoch, and even though it's so dumb and anachronistic it found its sense of humor eventually (it IS always murder, though, there's not a single episode where Murdoch doesn't get to make his trademark sign of the cross). But I feel bad enjoying murder shows, and cop shows even when (kind of especially when) the murder is treated lightly and the cops aren't necessarily heroic. That's why I asked for shows without those things (it's in the title of the post!).

I was also kind of scarred by Catholicism, so shows about priests solving crimes (again, usually murder) or nuns generally doesn't appeal to me, though something like Cadfael is far enough back to be potentially interesting (I think that's always murder, though).

We did love the Jeeves & Wooster show. Of course I'd watch Fry & Laurie read the phone book. And we've watched and rewatched Buffy but there are similar shows I just can't get into (like Supernatural, or any of the DC Universe shows).
posted by rikschell at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Spanish-from-Spain show Ministerio del Tiempo, or its US analogue Timeless, might fit the bill. Premise: a group of lovable misfits engages in (rule-limited; they don't have a TARDIS exactly) time travel aimed at preventing/forestalling disruptions to the timeline. This of course means figuring out what the disruption is, who's responsible, and how to stop them, which is the mystery-like angle.

MdT is an absolute delight. Gosh, I love that show. Has quite a Leverage vibe, taking cultural differences into account.
posted by humbug at 12:36 PM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So re: Quantum Leap, just so you are fully prepared, 15 or 20 years ago I probably would have recced this show without qualm, as I loved it when it aired. But Quantum Leap has not aged well. It's a biiiiiiiig old Christian White Male Savior fantasy: Sam "leaps into" an elderly black man at a whites-only lunch counter and SOLVES RACISM, "leaps into" a single mother and INVENTS FEMINISM... it's really, really bad and bash-you-over-the-head unpleasant. it's nice when Scott Bakula gets to sing, of course, and there are a few absolute gems of episodes (the intensely personal ones for both Sam and Al are terrific), but... yeah.

And I don't know if this is available anywhere, but the 2000 Invisible Man is exactly, precisely what you're looking for. Con-artist given a ticket out of prison if he agrees to surgery to implant an experimental "invisibility" gland. He is then partnered with a federal agent (BOBBYHOBBES!) who is super-competent, but is working for an agency that has no budget. The two leading men are just dynamite. It ran for two years, and it should have run for much longer, but you are not left on any kind of cliffhanger.

There are occasional forays into Very Serious Things, but man that show is a freaking blast and everyone in the world should check it out. The pilot episode is one of the very few I've ever seen that moves seamlessly over Pilot-itis. It's gorgeous and the banter is off the charts.

(If you can't find it streaming, there are Other Ways of watching it.)
posted by tzikeh at 12:41 PM on September 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Oh and YES YES YES to the person who recommended Pushing Daisies above. Try the pilot - either you will love it to pieces or you'll abhor it and that will decide it for you. It has a very particular style and people absolutely either vibe with it or are turned off. It's on Amazon Prime for $2 an episode (SD).
posted by tzikeh at 12:53 PM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Lovejoy sounds right up this alley. Ian McShane plays a shady antiques dealer who gets into an "antique-of-the-week" adventure, usually involving either him conning someone else or someone else conning him, or one of his friends.
posted by five toed sloth at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Oh! How about The Greatest American Hero? It's an early 80s show about a painfully ordinary dude (I think he's like a substitute teacher) who's given a superhero suit by some aliens one night, who tell him the suit will give him superpowers and that he can now go fight crime. Except he almost immediately loses the owner's manual, and so every episode is about him not only trying to fight crime but also trying to figure out "how the hell do I work this thing". Imagine, like, if Ross from FRIENDS somehow got Tony Stark's IRON MAN suit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:57 PM on September 23, 2020

tzikeh is so right. I-Man is a wonderful recommendation! It is definitely worth your time if you can find it.
posted by sardonyx at 1:10 PM on September 23, 2020

Most of my recs do have murder, but usually not gory, as I'm squeamish. I like shows that have some humour and personality about them, and honesty - ie, no cheating spouses or lying slime-ball lawyers, etc.
Elementary, a modern Sherlock in New York, has great personality.
Old dogs, New Tricks - ult Brit, every accent under the sun
Bones, if you don't mind a bit of gore - good humour, good relationships
Pych because it's pretty goofy
On Acorn, Queens of Mystery starring the wonderful Julie Graham
Shetland is fantastic!
Death in Paradise is a lot of fun
posted by Enid Lareg at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2020

Seconding Lovejoy in a big way!
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2020

Best answer: I'm perpetually out here recommending The Good Wife, but it's a great legal procedural. Occasionally the story is about a criminal case, but it's just as likely to be about labor law, technology, NSA surveillance or political drama. Cops and the state prosecutors are frequent antagonists.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

This may or may not work for you. There is a TV show called Killjoys, which is basically "if Leverage and Firefly had a baby." Our heroes apprehend fugitives from justice. They're not cops and don't get along so well with the cops. Of course, things get more complicated as time goes on!
posted by rednikki at 9:20 PM on September 23, 2020

Shetland is fantastic!
Death in Paradise is a lot of fun

I like both of these shows too, but they are definitely cops solving murder(s) of the week. So is Bones.

If you haven't tried it, the newer Doctor Who series' might fit the bill.
posted by JenMarie at 10:59 PM on September 23, 2020

Mmmm, Sherlock? The trope namer for Puzzle of the Week, and murders are fairly uncommon, at least in the 1980s Jeremy Brett version.

I second this! I was very disappointed with the updated BBC Sherlock, which started promising and then decided it cared more about Sherlock the character (and moriarty, and....) than any kind of mystery he might solve.

BUT the original Sherlock Holmes, with Brett, is a delight. Often people don't die at all! Sometimes it's quite gentle! THIS Sherlock doesn't treat everyone around him like absolute shite! They solve mysteries and explain how they did it. There are cops, but they are old timey cops and generally stay out of the way. And it's been recaptured at resolution, so if you manage to find the blu-ray version it visually holds up just fine.
posted by robot-hugs at 1:30 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Time Team - where the gang try to solve an archeology mystery each week. Often they fail. And so very British.

I've been hiding from 2020 in Time Team.
posted by andreap at 12:00 PM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is kind of a strange suggestion in response to your question, but I've found that Call the Midwife scratches a lot of these itches. It's a British show about midwives (as the title suggests) and each week they work with several people/families who are having babies and have to solve a few issues every episode (be it health related or something to do with the family situation). This show is kind of the antidote to cop shows!

My mom watches a lot of this type of thing and she recommends Frankie Drake Mysteries about an all-female detective service in 1920s Toronto. And if I'm recommending Canadian shows, Republic of Doyle might be of interest - not British but Newfoundlanders have very fun and distinctive accents.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:14 PM on October 21, 2020

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