‘Making a Murderer’ fever is going nowhere any time soon. The murder mystery documentary is all anyone can talk about, and everyone’s saying good things. That’s great news for those of us who haven’t started it yet, but what about the poor people who have already finished?
Earlier this week, we brought you a list of documentary movies, series and podcasts you could turn to to get your true crime fix now that you’ve finished Making a Murderer.
But true crime isn’t for everyone, and sometimes a nice, controlled, semi-predictable TV detective show is just what the doctor ordered.
To satisfy your cravings, we’ve therefore gathered a list of some of the greatest, most iconic murder mysteries ever shown on TV.
There’s no room here for middle-of-the-road (but eminently watchable) fare like Bones, Castle, The Mentalist or CSI, just the truly standout shows that have captured the zeitgeist in a big way.
So hunker down with your magnifying glass and deerstalker. These murders are about to get mysterious.
Of course, one can’t write about detective shows without talking about the granddaddy of them all – Sherlock.
By no means the first detective show ever – it’s not even the first small-screen iteration of the iconic Arthur Conan Doyle character – and certainly not the best, Sherlock is, nevertheless, the most adored by modern audiences.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the London sleuth has secured Sherlock a place in the holy Tumblr triumvirate of Superwholockians (it’s better not to ask), and the show has inspired a fervour among viewers that’s hard to match.
Bringing the Victorian-era detective into the modern world has created a whole new range of possible crimes to solve, and star turns from Cumberbatch and his Watson (Martin Freeman) elevate the show.
It also doesn’t hurt that the BBC tends to curtail series like this to three-episode seasons. Always leave them wanting more, eh?
True Detective, when it first aired, blew everyone away. Stunning stark vistas, stellar acting, an otherworldliness that seeped out of every scene, and a sense of mythos that was palpable from moment to moment, turned this show into an instant icon.
Under the direction of Cary Fukunaga, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey – McConaughey in particular – shone. Before True Detective, neither actor was known for his seriousness. This show changed everything.
In spite of a lacklustre and rushed conclusion, True Detective’s first season remains a standout in the ranks of detective shows.
One caveat though: stick to Season 1. We hate to say this, especially as Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughan were total scene-stealers in it, but Season 2 never rose to the heights of its predecessor. The last two episodes are fantastic, but the rest of the dross is not worth schlepping through. Just don’t bother.
Luther did for the British murder mystery what Christopher Nolan did for Batman, upping the grit, making the hero a little more damaged, and introducing a lot more grey to the usual black and white. In short, bringing the British-detective-solves-crimes trope into this century.
Starring bonafide movie star Idris Elba in the title role, Luther brings serial killers, perverts and lunatics to the fore, doing so in an at times genuinely unsettling way.
The dramatic and surprising way in which the first season unfolds sets the tone for later episodes, and ensures that darkness is never far from our lead detective.
Luther’s fourth season aired over Christmas, and the first three are available on Netflix.
How to Get Away with Murder
How to Get Away with Murder is, to all intents and purposes, an absolute smash hit of a show.
From the production studio of one Shonda Rhimes – the powerhouse behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal – it was always going to be a success, but its popularity is off the charts.
The show follows a law professor (Viola Davis) at a prestigious Philadelphia university who, along with five of her students, becomes entangled in a murder plot. It’s won a host of awards and consistently tops lists of must-watch TV.
Now in the middle of its second season, How to Get Away with Murder clearly has staying power, and the drama and intrigue to back that up.
Broadchurch was a critical smash when it first aired on ITV. Following the gradually unfolding story of a small, seaside town rocked by tragedy when a young boy plummets from the cliffs in the middle of the night, the first season is given over to the investigation (led by David Tennant and Olivia Colman) into his death.
Full of typical murder mystery misdirects, red herrings and finger pointing, Broadchurch’s adherence to the cliché is tempered by the sterling work of the cast, carrying off varying degrees of grief, shock and ambivalence to aplomb. Simply put, it’s an incredibly well-told story.
While the second season left a little something to be desired – it lacked the must-watch feel of the first, for a variety of reasons – it’s certainly worth a look, though could safely be missed.
With stories drawn from the writings of murder mystery goddess Agatha Christie, Poirot is a perennial TV classic. The series follows Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as he visits affluent friends, luxurious residences and exotic locations, working his “little grey cells” to solve improbably convoluted drawing room murders.
It’s like a game of Cluedo, but IRL, but not really.
Everyone has their favourite Poirot, but for my money you can’t go wrong with David Suchet, who embodies the human lie-detector with a palpable gravitas and ingenuity, and a twinkle in the eye that suggests he’s always two, or three, or four, steps ahead of the rest of us.
Murder, She Wrote
Ah, Jessica Fletcher. The original Jinx. The most wildly successful serial killer of all time, whose lovable-grandma vibe shields her from the suspicions of law enforcement as countless poor souls mysteriously drop dead around her.
In all seriousness, though, Murder, She Wrote is a fantastic – and, at times, fantastically ridiculous – murder mystery show.
Watch Jessica solve crimes in exotic locales – like Lismore, Co Waterford – and marvel at the fact that the entire US law enforcement industry would have crumbled into ash, with criminals running rampant through the streets, were it not for Mrs Fletcher’s helping hand.
Largely at the lighter end of the televised murder mystery spectrum, Veronica Mars is, nonetheless, iconic in its own way, and dark as hell sometimes, too.
The California-based show, which follows the titular teen private eye as she attempts to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder – while dealing with school, unpopularity, boys, a series of other cases, and being a total badass – achieved a cult following, whose love for the show was only matched by that of creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell.
The show had a strange noir feel, at odds with the sunny, So-Cal surroundings. While aspects of the story sound frivolous (abovementioned boy troubles, for instance), they never come across that way in the show, with even the most teen-angsty moments imbued with a level of drama and seriousness you’d be hard pressed to find in more ‘grown-up’ offerings.
While later seasons lost their way a little, the show always remained endearing and, long after the show was (unjustly) cancelled, a record-breaking Kickstarter brought us a stellar movie and a sense of closure.
Check it out, Marshmallows. You’ll thank us later.
Given Dick Van Dyke’s amazingly long career, different age groups have different go-to reference points for what best symbolises the great man. For many it may be the Dick Van Dyke Show. For others, Mary Poppins. But, for us it’s definitely him playing Dr Mark Sloan in Diagnosis: Murder.
Meddling in police affairs – much like his ‘oh they so should have paired up’ contemporary Jessica Fletcher – Sloane has the ear of the police department, largely thanks to his detective son, Steve (played by Van Dyke’s real son, Barry).
So, whenever a murder that loosely relates to the good doctor’s Community General Hospital occurs, he’s the go-to guy, often bending the rules and putting his life in danger for no real apparent reason.
The highlight of this show was an episode where Dick played every character. Versatile.
Often referred to as the world’s greatest detective, Batman certainly pulled his weight in crime investigation, and never more so than in this 1960s Adam West-Burt Ward classic.
The show achieved guaranteed longevity as a result of its camp vibe, its comical storytelling, its increasingly ridiculous tool-belt items – shout out to the movie’s Shark Repellent Bat-Spray – and its host of stellar recurrent and guest stars, including Eartha Kitt, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith.
Iconic for its off-kilter shots of villains, its splash screens during fights and Robin’s over-zealous oaths, Batman is perfect detective fodder for the whole family to enjoy.
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