So You Think You Can Sleuth: TV’s Best Amateur Detectives

So You Think You Can Sleuth: TV’s Best Amateur Detectives

By KiddoTuesday - June 15th, 2010Categories: Lists, Television

The amateur detective is a strange creature; not a bonafied sleuth, they still often seem to attract mystery wherever they go, solving even the most complex cases that have left real officials stumped. And now, some of television’s greatest unschooled private eyes:

Veronica Mars – Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell)

Creator Rob Thomas, not of Matchbox 20 fame (*audience disappointment*), but of “Rob Thomas who created Veronica Mars fame” conceived of his young perky sleuth as a ball-busting, Generation Y femme who could put a twist on the noir genre and give Nancy Drew a run for her aptly earned pocket money. What Thomas originally intended as the groundwork for a novel or series of novels, he instead chose to adapt into a television series (did I mention that in addition to the detective genre, Rob Thomas also loves money?).

Besides being the launchpad of Kristen Bell’s career, all that I am cognizant of the series is derived from one forced viewing. Here is my vague understanding of the events that unfolded: A friend / acquaintance of Ms. Mars’ is raped. Naturally and with complete reason, 98 pound Veronica decides to go it alone during the middle of the night to investigate the perpetrator’s dorm room rape lair. Something, something, I went to the bathroom, show was over, Veronica’s fate unknown, but fantastic decision on her part, in my humble opinion.

Needless to say, this makes for both captivating television as well as a public service announcement to adolescent girls about the dangers of teenage sleuthing, or, being completely daft. I don’t know much of Veronica’s exploits, but hopefully she carried some kind of whistle or concealed boot knife. What I do know is she qualifies as an amateur sleuth, ergo providing the extra padding this list so desperately needs.

Further proof of an easy-to-lure:

Whiz Kids – The Whiz Kids

Researching for this post, I stumbled across an early ’80s show called Whiz Kids. Not to be confused with Time Magazine’s “Whiz Kids”, this one season wonder followed a group of computer savvy youngsters who developed their own advanced technologies to solve crime.

Looking back now the boxy, obsolete “technology” (*21st century snob face*) is sure to draw snickers –  and makes this blogger wonder what system of strings and pulleys really mechanized those robotics. Main character Richie developed an operating system referred to as RALF from discarded computer parts given to him by his Middle-East based telecommunications consultant father. Apparently neither the Russians or the Arabs had any problem with such sophisticated technology being shipped into the possession of a bunch of American kids…

Wait a tick!

“The cases often involved money-hungry criminals working inside business or government who would assault and murder people to coverup their deeds. There were also a few episodes involving spies of the Soviet Union.”

Oh, pardon me; so the Whiz Kids did have to combat communist infiltration. Just making sure it was the ’80s.

God forbid this fall into the wrong hands:

Snow Leopard’s precursor, “Tundra Lemur”.

The Whiz Kids solved crime using what at the time was a combination of current technology and special effects – basically, what movies set in the future do now, except this was for a television show set in present day.  Or at least this is what I gather. It’s hard to say, given the only available footage of the series is VCR quality shoddily converted and posted to Youtube. But, as basic as posting a video to Youtube seems now, that itself is light-years beyond what the Whiz Kids would have been realistically capable of.

Ghost Writer – Jamal and the gang

Much like the Whiz Kids before it, Ghostwriter was about another group of wholesome, ethnically diverse, intrepid youngsters solving the PG crimes adults can’t. Brought to us in part by Nike  (just like this post!) and the Children’s Television Workshop, the show sought to inspire a love of reading in children. It only now occurs to me how Ghostwriter, a supernatural entity that could only communicate with the children by manipulating words, served as a metaphor: writing and reading being the keys to unlocking mysteries! However it should be noted that now, learning to read and write are like gateway drugs to spending all day on your computer reading articles on and searching for funny Youtube videos.

“He’s a ghost, and he writes to us; Ghostwriter” – Jamal Jenkins. Retardedly profound, even for children detectives.

One mystery would stretch out over three, four episodes. The one that is foremost in my memory is “Who is Max Mouse?”, where the kids investigate a hacker breaking into the school computers and causing trouble.


I'll believe anything that's underlined!

Don’t worry – like I said, it was a prank! – she’s fine:

jk, lol

Diagnosis Murder – Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke)

It’s probably for the best he was distracted solving mysteries because I know I wouldn’t have trusted that blind, old fossil with my health. Ol’ rubber-face Dick Van Dyke captivated my eight year-old heart as Dr. Mark Sloan, Chief of Internal Medicine at L.A.’s Community General. Van Dyke’s natural charm and silliness provided the comedic relief and likely made the difference between the show being “sub-par” status or a slightly better “mediocre”. Hooray!

When he wasn’t healing he was solving, even giving his police detective son a lesson or two about sleuthing! Add into the mix a now grownup Scott Baio, who, despite his brief tenure as a junior physician had me in a state of wonderment that Chachi made it out of his Wisconsin kitchen cot to become big-time L.A. doctor.

Memorable Episode: Dick Van Dyke (as Dr. Sloan) investigates the death  of a wealthy old man survived by his three money-grubbing children. Why so memorable? All three roles including that of the “Miss Havisham” matronly sister were performed by… DICK VAN DYKE (as Dr. Sloan)!!!

Remington Steele – Remington Steele , alias (Pierce Brosnan)

Some might have contention with Remington Steele being included on this list. When private detective Laura Holt finds that clients are unresponsive to a female private eye, she enlists the services of a dashing thief extraordinaire who assumes the alias “Remington Steele” to serve as the face of her operation; he only really qualifies as an amateur sleuth given his lack of experience but involvement in the cases Laura pursues. To you naysayers I say, suck it – Remington Steele was bad-ass and deserves to make this list. And, we should be thankful that the charming, roguish character caught the attention of Hollywood execs thus making Brosnan a choice for Bond and revitalizing that franchise. Also, in a completely unrelated point, let me draw your attention to the discomfiting closeness between the names “Pierce Brosnan” and “Bronson Pinchot”.

Fuck buttons.

Murder She Wrote – Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury)

Angela Lansbury is one of those actors who seemed to just “become old” and then stay that way for the next 30 years, like Steve Martin, or Leslie Nielsen. A sweet and proper Brit, I’ve never been quite convinced that she won’t reach up to the crown of her head, unzip her skin, and unleash the Predator-esque monster concealed beneath.

But I digress.

The head B-I-C of them all, Angie spent twelve years portraying retired teacher turned famed novelist turned amateur detective Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote. I’ve always disliked her croaky voice, full coverage pantsuits, and bourgeois New England attitude, but damn it; that old broad sure solves a hell of a mystery.

Also, this:

Honorable mentions, aka, I was too lazy to write them up:
Inspector Gadget – Niece Penny.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego – You!