7 Greatest TV Detectives Of All Time

Wednesday, August 1 by
I can't stay mad at you! 

In honor of the staid literary character Jesse Stone making the leap to DVD on August 7th in Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt, we at Screen Junkies thought we’d examine exactly what makes a great TV detective. Well, solving cases is a good start, but beyond that, you’ve gotta have the character to back up the results. Otherwise, it makes for really boring television. So let’s examine 7 gumshoes who get the job done in style.

Sherlock Holmes

Granted, he was a literary character about a hundred years before he was on TV, but Benedict Cumberbatch and the writers of Sherlock have managed to make him a dynamic enough character, free of entanglements from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works that he gets the first spot on the list.

He’s got an uncanny sense of perception, but unlike many other great detectives on this list, his great detective abilities come at a cost. His humanity. Sherlock comes across as almost autistic or robotic, sometimes to comedic, sometimes to tragic effect.

However, his prowess in working a case can’t be doubted. The guy’s a pro, as we see in the pilot when he is able to land the backstory of his new roommate based only on visual clues.

Dr. House

Speaking of people whose genius comes at a steep price, here’s Dr. Gregory House, the doctor who plays by his own rules, but, dammit, he gets results. Dr. House’s expertise generally lies in the field of medicine as opposed to crime, but good detectin’ is good detectin’. The curmudgeon is a pain in the ass to deal with, but even the higher-ups at Princeton-Plainsboro have to put up with him because he’s just that good.

Fun fact: Dr. House is 96% more likely to diagnose a case while bouncing a ball against a wall or after one of his subordinates says something seemingly unrelated to the case in question.

Det. Goren

While the plot devices of Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU had become old hat during the twilight of their runs, Law & Order: Criminal Intent saw that the cops were the star of the show, rather than the story, which was the case in the two former examples.

Det. Goran was incredibly soft-spoken, and like so many other great detectives on this list, a tortured genius. He would lead the suspects with a seemingly innocuous line of questioning or anecdote, all the while examining and dismantling their alibis. He was played with such gusto by Vincent D’Onofrio that his tics and mannerisms became as big a part of the show as any plot device.

Thomas Magnum

I honestly have no idea if Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. was a good detective or not. But here’s what I do know: He had a luscious mustache, he drove a Ferrari, he lived in Hawaii, he wore short shorts, and he liked the Detroit Tigers.

I’m going to make a ruling right here based on that information: AMAZING DETECTIVE.

Even if he was one of those lame detectives that solved crimes without violence (LOSER!), he had a vaguely British handler named Higgins who was exasperated by nearly everything Magnum did.

You can’t argue with these facts. Legendary detective.

Adrian Monk

Ok. Monk might be your grandmother’s favorite detective, but she’s entitled to her opinion, too. Monk follows the standard “detective has uncanny abilities, but is socially retarded due to “X” with “X” in this case being a proclivity for cleanliness meshed with moderate-to-severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He’s also a total pussy, but that’s okay, because I was getting kind of sick of awesome detectives.

Jesse Stone

Tom Selleck is back, reprising his role as detective Jesse Stone in the recurring CBS movie series of the same name.

Unlike most of the other, wimpier, guys on this list, Stone actually carries a gun, which means that with Stone comes the promise of seeing bad guys getting shot. If you’re down for a detective that’s got a little more grit than many of the smooth talkers on this list, Jesse Stone is your dude.

Jimmy McNulty

In the interest of not just flooding this piece with characters from The Wire, let’s just say McNulty is a delegate for the entire Baltimore Police Department. Granted, they were underfunded, frustrated, and rarely gave a shit, but they got some pretty damn good results. He was a drunk, a whore, and shitty husband and father, but he played the system to get funding to keep the wire up on Marlo.

While he wasn’t some sort of savant like the other entrants on this list, he was a realistic portrayal of a flawed guy doing his best in a crappy system.

And putting those ribbons on the homeless people was a stroke of effing genius.