We’re excited to feature some of our favorite investigators in April’s INVESTIGATE theme – and hopefully, some of yours, too! But there are more classic sleuths, particularly on the small screen, that we love…
In the spirit of celebrating more of the mighty mystery-unravelers that we’ve loved over the years, today’s Friday Five includes international spies, short-lived cult classics, and small-town amateur P.I.’s. Bring back any memories?:
(Pictured above); No, clearly not that Avengers. This team up is a British series, which (fun fact!) is the reason why, to avoid confusion, Marvel’s first Avengers film is called Avengers Assemble in the UK. The Avengers ran for eight years in the 1960’s and charted the crime-solving espionage adventures of dapper English gentleman John Steed (Patrick Macnee). Over the show’s run Steed was partnered with a few tough female partners, but the greatest and most beloved was Mrs. Emma Peel, played by the beautiful and badass Dame Diana Rigg. (Better known to today’s audiences as Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones – yep, still a total badass.) If you like Bond-style adventure with a little surrealism thrown in, you’ll love it. The second season with Mrs. Peel (and the first shot in color) is arguably the best.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Kolchak is one of those shows that didn’t last long in its original run, but its legacy informed so much genre TV for decades. Airing for one season in the mid-70’s on ABC, Darren McGavin (later to gain more fan favorite love as The Old Man in A Christmas Story) played a Chicago newspaper reporter whose beat just happened to be investigating police cold cases that would frequently turn out to be supernatural. It had it all – werewolves, witches, aliens, even a killer headless motorcycle rider inspired by “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Many scifi and fantasy showrunners would later cite Kolchak as a major influence, particularly The X-Files‘ Chris Carter; in the recent revival, Carter threw in a visual nod to Kolchak when guest-star Rhys Darby donned a seersucker suit and straw hat.
And here you thought the lantern-jawed “digital” chatterbox Max Headroom was just a Coca-Cola spokesman in the 80’s, right kids? Actually, the faux-virtual Max made his debut in Britain as the host of a music video show, but in 1987 a remake of the UK film that told the story of Max’s genesis came to US screens. It ran for just 12 episodes (two more never aired but later were released on DVD), but Max Headroom was the first cyberpunk series on TV, throwing around words like “hacking” and “firewall” before we even had an internet. Best of all, Max’s real-life alter ego Edison Carter (played by Canadian national treasure Matt Frewer) was an investigative journalist – meaning that in between Max’s stuttery quips, there were some great mysteries (often with lots of social commentary) to be unraveled each week.
It’s rare to see a cult series land on its feet running, perform well for two seasons… and then get the axe, seemingly out of nowhere. Such is the case with TNT’s Witchblade, based on the Top Cow comic about a New York detective who is destined to wield an ancient weapon. Yancy Butler cut a commanding presence as Detective Sara Pezzini, and though the show’s Highlander meets Homicide tone wasn’t super popular with comics die-hards, it drew its own following fast. The combo of twisty mysteries and occult action pulled pretty terrific ratings – Witchblade was number seven in the Top 10 basic cable shows of 2002 – and yet, after Season Two, it was all over. (It was later revealed that, sadly, Butler’s stint in alcohol rehab was part of the reason production stopped.)
Ah, Veronica Mars… truly, a show with one of the most passionate fanbases of the past 20 years, and it’s a show without a bit of paranormal to go around. But the mysteries! The suspense! The characters! And at the center of it, Kristen Bell’s eponymous heroine, a high schooler and amateur sleuth whose brilliant instincts are mentored into a full-fledged P.I., guided by her detective dad (the great Enrico Colantoni). With firm footing both in the teen melodrama and film noir fields (boy, a LOT of people get offed in Neptune, CA), the show was one of a kind, and sealed its place in fandom history with the wildly successful 2013 Kickstarter project that saw creator Rob Thomas fulfill his promise of a feature film to give Veronica a proper send-off.
These are just five of our favorite genre gumshoes growing up; there were plenty more who didn’t make today’s Five! Wonder if those are yours too? Tell us on social media with the hashtag #LootSleuths!