TopBilled

Best TV crime shows

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Interested to read what others consider some of the best TV crime shows ever made.

Last night I watched a season 1 episode of Barnaby Jones and was impressed by it. 

Here's my Top 10. I didn't include Barnaby Jones since I haven't seen enough episodes.

1. Kojak. I love everything about this show. Telly Savalas is brilliant as the lead, and the guys who play the supporting characters at the station are also quite good. The guest stars are always superb, and I love the New York City atmosphere. I'm very analytical so when I watch episodes of shows I usually try to pick them apart and find out where they don't hold up. But Kojak is so flawless that I seldom find anything wrong with it.

2. The Streets of San Francisco. My favorite Quinn Martin show. The on location filming is a huge plus. The interplay between Karl Malden & young Michael Douglas is so engaging it often overshadows the well-structured plots.

3. Hawaii Five O. The Jack Lord version. I strongly dislike the reboot. James MacArthur is such a great sidekick. The villains are always well written, so we get more than just cardboard bad guys. Routine plots have extra added touches.

4. Cagney & Lacey. Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless are superb. We get a sense of the characters as working professionals who struggle to balance a demanding job with family problems at home. Plus their point of view as women crime solvers just gives the whole thing an edge over most other series in this genre.

5. Hunter. A remarkable depiction of urban decay in Los Angeles during the 80s and early 90s. Some of the stories were quite daring for that time, and still are when viewed today. Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer had a special chemistry. Charles Hallahan was perfect as the gruff but still likable captain. 

6. The Fugitive. It feels a bit dated, but it's stylish. And David Janssen is excellent. I find the episodes hit or miss. Some feel like filler, until Barry Morse turns up again (he's not in every episode). But the ones that are good are very good indeed. It's a show that should not have transitioned to color. It works best in black-and-white.

7. Vera. My favorite British crime show. Brenda Blethyn is a revelation. She gives us a fully realized character. Her Vera Stanhope seems more realistic than most other TV detectives. Some of the plots are predictable, even when the writers are trying to be clever. But I can look past that because of Blethyn.

8. Cannon. William Conrad gives tough guy a whole new meaning. Another Quinn Martin show. Cannon is different than other investigators. There's something charming yet intimidating about him. Conrad also did fine in his later series Jake and the Fatman, though that program didn't always benefit from such good writing, like this show does.

9. The Rockford Files. Propelled by James Garner's iconic turn as Rockford. The writing is consistently good. The dialogue is idiosyncratic even if the situations are sometimes cliched. Garner's work with Noah Beery is unmatched in terms of father-son acts on TV. 

10. Columbo. What would this show be without Peter Falk? A star turn for him. The plots are fairly simple, but it's the whole cat-and-mouse game he plays with the culprits that makes it so entertaining. My only gripe about the show is that the killers are supposed to be so smart yet they all underestimate Columbo. Just once I wish there had been someone who saw through Columbo but let him catch them anyway because of a guilty conscience.

Special mention: The Sherlock Holmes series made in Britain during the 1980s and 1990s with Jeremy Brett as the famed detective. Exquisitely produced and Brett's performances cannot be improved.

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I've seen a lot of the 1970s Columbo episodes and I enjoyed them all.

I like some of the retro-1930s/1940s whodunit series, like Ellery Queen, Poirot, some of the Marple episodes, etc. A few of the early 1970s Father Brown mysteries were extremely well done, too.

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On 3/13/2018 at 12:25 AM, kjrwe said:

I've seen a lot of the 1970s Columbo episodes and I enjoyed them all.

I like some of the retro-1930s/1940s whodunit series, like Ellery Queen, Poirot, some of the Marple episodes, etc. A few of the early 1970s Father Brown mysteries were extremely well done, too.

Yes, I enjoy the Ellery Queen series from the 70s that Universal made with Jim Hutton and David Wayne. Great guest stars.

The Father Brown episodes from the early 70s are on Britbox. If I recall correctly, Kenneth More played the title character. I looked at one of the episodes and found it fairly slow moving. I do like the more recent version starring Mark Williams which began in 2013.

Speaking of British crime solvers, have you ever seen Rosemary & Thyme..?

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The guest stars on Ellery Queen were extremely well-cast. Someone sure took the time to make sure that they really got the best people for the parts!

Jim Hutton and David Wayne were well-cast, too. I think that David Wayne would have made a great Ellery Queen in the 1950s. If Jim had lived longer, he and his son could have done another Ellery Queen series. Totally a lost opportunity. *sigh*

Yup, Kenneth More was the star of those Father Brown episodes. Some of them were kinda slow, but I do like a few of them...especially The Eye of Apollo, which is probably one of the most brilliant short stories ever written (mystery short stories). I heard that the recent version of it made too many changes to this story.

Nope, haven't seen Rosemary & Thyme.

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These are all newer, but my list would have to include the flagship Law & OrderHill Street BluesHomicide: Life on the Street (which a retired cop friend told me at the time of its premiere was the most realistic depiction of police work that he'd seen on TV), Miami Vice and Crime Story. At its peak, the original CSI was very good, but that peak was short-lived. Naked City was a good classic show.

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4 hours ago, kjrwe said:

The guest stars on Ellery Queen were extremely well-cast. Someone sure took the time to make sure that they really got the best people for the parts!

Jim Hutton and David Wayne were well-cast, too. I think that David Wayne would have made a great Ellery Queen in the 1950s. If Jim had lived longer, he and his son could have done another Ellery Queen series. Totally a lost opportunity. *sigh*

Yup, Kenneth More was the star of those Father Brown episodes. Some of them were kinda slow, but I do like a few of them...especially The Eye of Apollo, which is probably one of the most brilliant short stories ever written (mystery short stories). I heard that the recent version of it made too many changes to this story.

Nope, haven't seen Rosemary & Thyme.

The episode I watched of Kenneth More's Father Brown seemed very stagey. The guest stars were all British theater people, and they seemed to over-enunciate and overact everything (except for More who was much more natural and subtle). Also, the interiors did not match the exteriors. I think it was common practice at the time in the British television industry to do interiors on video and do exteriors with film, so when the action cuts from inside to outside and vice-versa, there is a jarring contrast in the colors and lighting. I've seen this with other British programs from the 70s. The stuff from the 60s is typically filmed in black-and-white so the contrast between interiors and exteriors aren't so noticeable. 

I should add the present version of Father Brown (2013 to the present) is much more politically correct, even when they're reworking Chesterton's original stories. They're really brought the whole concept up to date.

Rosemary & Thyme is a series I didn't think I'd like. It felt rather gimmicky when I watched the first episode. We have two middle-aged women gardeners who solve crimes. Like how many dead bodies could they realistically stumble across while gardening? But despite the contrived premise, the stories are very well crafted; the guest stars are uniformly excellent; the two leads are perfectly in-sync and two episodes each year they travel to gardens in other European locales. I read they had to do a few episodes each season in France or Italy, because the summer gardening season in England is too short.

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3 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

These are all newer, but my list would have to include the flagship Law & OrderHill Street BluesHomicide: Life on the Street (which a retired cop friend told me at the time of its premiere was the most realistic depiction of police work that he'd seen on TV), Miami Vice and Crime Story. At its peak, the original CSI was very good, but that peak was short-lived. Naked City was a good classic show.

Glad you mentioned Naked City. It seemed to work better in the hour-format. The half-hour episodes from the first season don't go as in-depth. So many excellent guest stars, quite a few "before they were famous." 

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I liked COLUMBO.  Peter Falk was excellent and it always had good guest stars.  HOMICIDE was an exceptional crime show - one of the best if not the best.  I believe it begat (or maybe it was the other way around) the truly awesome THE WIRE on HBO.  I still love the original LAW & ORDER - talk about great guest stars and many of them early in their careers.

I've also seen several of DA VINCI'S INQUEST episodes out of Canada.  Good show even if they didn't solve the crime half the time - just keeping it real.  It co-starred the late Donnelly Rhodes, whom Top Billed will surely remember from Y&R.

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I'm a fan of the 50s crime shows like Peter Gunn ,  77 Sunset Strip and Perry Mason.

For color shows I liked Ellery Queen, and Rockford Files.

 

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35 minutes ago, ChristineHoard said:

I liked COLUMBO.  Peter Falk was excellent and it always had good guest stars.  HOMICIDE was an exceptional crime show - one of the best if not the best.  I believe it begat (or maybe it was the other way around) the truly awesome THE WIRE on HBO.  I still love the original LAW & ORDER - talk about great guest stars and many of them early in their careers.

I've also seen several of DA VINCI'S INQUEST episodes out of Canada.  Good show even if they didn't solve the crime half the time - just keeping it real.  It co-starred the late Donnelly Rhodes, whom Top Billed will surely remember from Y&R.

Yes, and he also appeared on Soap.

18 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

I'm a fan of the 50s crime shows like Peter Gunn ,  77 Sunset Strip and Perry Mason.

For color shows I liked Ellery Queen, and Rockford Files.

Thanks for mentioning Peter Gunn. So well made. 

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On 3/4/2018 at 8:24 PM, TopBilled said:

Special mention: The Sherlock Holmes series made in Britain during the 1980s and 1990s with Jeremy Brett as the famed detective. Exquisitely produced and Brett's performances cannot be improved.

I consider this the best Sherlock Holmes series ever, movies or television. Jeremy Brett was terrific and I also like Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson (not "buffony" like Nigel Bruce).

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36 minutes ago, Thenryb said:

I consider this the best Sherlock Holmes series ever, movies or television. Jeremy Brett was terrific and I also like Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson (not "buffony" like Nigel Bruce).

Jeremy Brett is without peer as Holmes. I read that he had done considerable research. He had a notebook he kept with him on the set at all times to make sure his portrayal was true in every possible way to Doyle's writing.

Screen shot 2018-03-17 at 12.35.33 PM.png

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59 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Jeremy Brett is without peer as Holmes. I read that he had done considerable research. He had a notebook he kept with him on the set at all times to make sure his portrayal was true in every possible way to Doyle's writing.

Screen shot 2018-03-17 at 12.35.33 PM.png

I have read that as well. I cannot say that I am an expert on the writings of Conan Doyle, but from what I could tell, the screen writing was very true to the novels as well. None of that "elementary, my dear Watson" stuff, and I do not recall him ever smoking a calabash pipe.

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I like the first season of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. That series did go downhill after that. (I think Jeremy Brett was very hot, too.) I'm glad that they were faithful to the stories.

Basil Rathbone was good as Holmes, but I prefer him as a bad boy. Besides, why were those adaptations set in the forties? They had nothing to do with the literature, either.

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7 hours ago, kjrwe said:

I like the first season of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. That series did go downhill after that. (I think Jeremy Brett was very hot, too.) I'm glad that they were faithful to the stories.

Basil Rathbone was good as Holmes, but I prefer him as a bad boy. Besides, why were those adaptations set in the forties? They had nothing to do with the literature, either.

Yes, there were some anachronisms going on in the Universal films. The first two, made at Fox, seem more authentic and truer to the source material.

The British series with Jeremy Brett had a gap in production between the second season and the third season. They changed directors and replaced the first guy who played Watson. But I think the later episodes are just as sharply written, acted and produced as the earlier ones. Probably the "worst" one is the penultimate episode where Brett had become ill and was unable to work. So he just has a voice-over at the beginning and a brief cameo at the end, and the sleuthing is turned over to Holmes' brother. Brett is back full-time for the very last episode. But production for a fifth season was canceled because his health had declined and he died a short time later.

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Columbo is my favorite cop show, one of the handful of TV shows that I tried not to miss. Peter Falk is  outstanding as the determined lieutenant, and I love how he slowly, clue by clue, unraveled the reverse mystery.

As TopBilled wrote, the killers were smart, and Columbo always found a way to outsmart them.

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THE WIRE has to be on there.  Definitely a more authentic version of David Simon's journalistic insights than HOMICIDE.

No one has mentioned SOPRANOS!?

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On 3/16/2018 at 8:45 PM, ChristineHoard said:

HOMICIDE was an exceptional crime show - one of the best if not the best.  I believe it begat (or maybe it was the other way around) the truly awesome THE WIRE on HBO. 

Yes, HOMICIDE came first and then THE WIRE.  David Simon was a reporter in Baltimore and spent a year with the homicide department which later became the book HOMICIDE: A YEAR ON THE KILLING STREETS, which was sold as a TV show.  Simon also wrote THE CORNER, the book that came from his year spent embedded in Baltimore's drug neighbourhoods during the crack epidemic.  He combined both of those books to develop his own TV show -  THE WIRE - truly a masterpiece of reporting and character creation.  The last few pages of the Homicide book became the opening scene of THE WIRE "... cuz it's America, man."

Both the books are great reads.

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On 3/25/2018 at 11:54 AM, HollywoodNorth said:

Yes, HOMICIDE came first and then THE WIRE.  David Simon was a reporter in Baltimore and spent a year with the homicide department which later became the book HOMICIDE: A YEAR ON THE KILLING STREETS, which was sold as a TV show.  Simon also wrote THE CORNER, the book that came from his year spent embedded in Baltimore's drug neighbourhoods during the crack epidemic.  He combined both of those books to develop his own TV show -  THE WIRE - truly a masterpiece of reporting and character creation.  The last few pages of the Homicide book became the opening scene of THE WIRE "... cuz it's America, man."

Both the books are great reads.

I've only watched one episode of The Wire but I did like what I saw.

Lately I've been viewing more episodes of Barnaby Jones and Cannon. I love these Quinn Martin productions. Though I will admit they're quite "dated." The cars are huge. But of course not as huge as William Conrad, which I say good-naturedly.

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I'll just cut the chase and just say Columbo is the best. Of course it must be the early classic episodes ending with the 7th season. Not even all of those are classics, but most are. I have the complete set and I've watched them all countless times and never tire of them. Superior acting by all and the writing was so good. Falk was simply born to do that role. A lot of thought was put into them too to be very believable. After you watch these, most others pale in comparison in my opinion. 

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Mine would be Rockford, Law and Order, Hill Street Blues, Perry Mason, Cagney and Lacey, In Plain Sight.  Watch an episode of Rockford on DVD weekly and at least two Perry Mason's weekly.  Watched the episodes of 77 sunset Strip on TV this past year.  Most are fairly entertaining, but not one of the better detective shows.

Watched Honey West and Decoy on OTA HD stations a couple of years ago.  Pretty entertaining.

While Rockford, L&O and PM are on TV, they are beat to death with commercials now.

Never liked Columbo.  Too silly and Mr. Monk and Miami Vice fall into the same category for me.  Never liked any Sherlock Holmes movies or TV shows.

A really good recent Canadian series is Motive.  Sometimes shows up on USA network or one of others.  Recently got into watching Midsomer Murders on PBS and they are quite good.

Original Silk Stalkings was a pretty good one.  Unfortunately it is no longer available on DVD, except for season one.  It was an early offering by USA Network.

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18 minutes ago, TheCid said:

Mine would be Rockford, Law and Order, Hill Street Blues, Perry Mason, Cagney and Lacey, In Plain Sight.  Watch an episode of Rockford on DVD weekly and at least two Perry Mason's weekly.  Watched the episodes of 77 sunset Strip on TV this past year.  Most are fairly entertaining, but not one of the better detective shows.

Watched Honey West and Decoy on OTA HD stations a couple of years ago.  Pretty entertaining.

While Rockford, L&O and PM are on TV, they are beat to death with commercials now.

Never liked Columbo.  Too silly and Mr. Monk and Miami Vice fall into the same category for me.  Never liked any Sherlock Holmes movies or TV shows.

A really good recent Canadian series is Motive.  Sometimes shows up on USA network or one of others.  Recently got into watching Midsomer Murders on PBS and they are quite good.

Original Silk Stalkings was a pretty good one.  Unfortunately it is no longer available on DVD, except for season one.  It was an early offering by USA Network.

Midsomer Murders (all 19 seasons) have been added to Britbox. Britbox also now has several seasons of Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet, with the much-touted final episodes from 2013.

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23 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Midsomer Murders (all 19 seasons) have been added to Britbox. Britbox also now has several seasons of Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet, with the much-touted final episodes from 2013.

What's Britbox?

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Just now, TheCid said:

What's Britbox?

A streaming service like Hulu that offers classic and modern British television across a variety of genres. 

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