I am a girl who loves a good procedural. Perhaps because I grew up obsessively watching Disney animated classic “The Great Mouse Detective,” a film about a mouse named Basil who lives in Sherlock Holmes’s house and is also, coincidentally, a detective, with a nefarious nemesis named Ratigan who captures Basil in a Rube Goldberg-style mousetrap in the climax of the film, I have grown especially fond of a genre I refer to as “murder whimsy.” Murder whimsy is a genre that features ghastly crimes, but nearly no gore, no SVU style coroner reports, and, crucially, the crimes always resolve neatly at the end through the exceptional cleverness of our detective protagonist. They also often take a turn for the mildly eccentric. A good, neat, well-resolved murder story always makes me feel exceptionally safe and warm, as though everything in the world is explicable and resolvable with a bit of cleverness. They are exceptionally soothing and I watch them when I need to feel a sense of security in my life (probably because I have formed my personality on the assumption that were I to be the subject of a TV show, I would certainly be the detective and not a murder victim). The following are my favorite murder whimsy shows to soothe a troubled mind:
1. “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” – Based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, this show revolves around the escapades of 1920s Australian socialite (and part time detective) Phryne Fisher. Phryne returns to Australia after several years abroad and takes up solving murders with the reluctant assistance of the police. (There is no better murder trope than the reluctant police inexplicably agreeing to work with a civilian gumshoe because she’s just so terribly clever.) Phryne is hilarious and fashionable and I cannot get enough of her flapper dresses and her quips and her exceptionally stylish 1920s bob. It is streaming on Netflix RIGHT NOW and it makes exceptional rainy day/sick day fodder.
2. “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” – I think nothing encapsulates the aesthetic of murder whimsy better than the opening scene of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” which takes us on a tour through the murder scene our heroes will spend the whole season noodling out. This murder scene features a smashed piano, shark bites on the ceiling, and a Mysterious Kitten. The show is based on Douglas Adam’s book of the same name, which was (I understand) essentially Douglas Adams writing Doctor Who fanfiction, and it is precisely as zany as you would anticipate. It prominently features a marauding band of chaotic good rockers, time travel, brick-based flirting, and a corgi as a murder clue. It is also streaming RIGHT NOW on Hulu.
3. “Murder She Wrote” – You know I would not go through this list and fail to include the Crème de la Crème of the murder mystery genre, “Murder She Wrote.” “Murder She Wrote” follows my personal hero and fashion icon, Jessica Fletcher, an aging widow who takes up writing murder novels in her spare time which suddenly become VERY POPULAR and take her to all kinds of wild locations. It is on the basis of this fame that she is able to weasel her way into assisting on all kinds of different murder cases around the country, in all kinds of bizarre settings. Most impressively, although she is on the scene of a murder nearly every single week of her life (as far as I can calculate) not once does anyone suspect Jessica herself of committing murder, despite the fact that she writes dozens of books on the subject. This is the benefit of being a wealthy old white woman from Maine with lots of fuzzy cardigans, I think. Deeply unfortunately, this show is not currently available to stream, so you will have to buy the DVDs (unless you are in San Diego, in which case please do come over and we will watch my DVD while I shout at the screen in delight). If you are hesitating before you click purchase, perhaps it will help you decide if I inform you that in season one, a Jack Russell Terrier is accused of murder and has to testify in court. Angela Lansbury cross examining a Jack Russell Terrier is the greatest pinnacle television will likely ever reach, and I feel that we’ve been sliding slowly downhill ever since. You can buy Season One here.
4. “Psych” – I know that many of you are already aware of “Psych,” but nevertheless I feel it bears mentioning. “Psych” follows Shawn Spencer, a man with astonishing (nearly unbelievable) powers of observation. Shawn, being slightly too good at noodling out murders for his own good, claims to be a psychic to explain his remarkable feats of deduction, and sets up a detective agency with his childhood best friend Gus, a pharmaceutical sales rep, and the fussiest person alive. He is occasionally joined by his father, a curmudgeonly ex-cop, and two detectives from the Santa Barbara police force, Juliet O’Hara and Carlton Lasseter. (Carlton Lasseter is played by Timothy Omundson, who you may recognize from both “Galavant” and Disney Channel Original Movie “The Luck of the Irish.” He is hilarious and he is not cast frequently enough. Please cast Timothy Omundson as all of your vulnerable, fussy, misunderstood villains. I implore you.) “Psych” used to be streaming on Netflix but it isn’t anymore, because Netflix doesn’t want me to thrive. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime, so if you have Amazon Prime, go forth and enjoy. The 2017 movie is also available at the USA Network website.
5. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mike Schur’s most underrated show, follows the detectives in Brooklyn’s 99th precinct. Technically, this isn’t exclusively a murder show; the detectives investigate all sorts of crimes and often episodes focus more on internal hijinks than actual crime solving, BUT I include it on this list because it has whimsy for days. The show begins with the 99thprecinct getting a new commander: Captain Ray Holt, played by Andre Braugher, who is arguably more deadpan than even Aubrey Plaza. The cast also includes Andy Samberg, Chelsea Peretti, Terry Crews, Stephanie Beatriz, Joe Lo Truglio, and Melissa Fumero, and it holds the all time record for number of times a show has made me audibly snort-laugh. It is, I would argue, the Platonic Ideal for Mike Schur ensemble comedies (maybe tied with “The Good Place”). Too many of you have been sleeping on it and I will not stand for this injustice anymore. It’s all streaming on Hulu and if you’ve never seen it, you have so much to catch up on.
What is your favorite detective show? Give me your recs in the comments, I want them all.
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