TV’s Most Underrated Detectives


Even in the near-perfect realm of television, not every cop can be an Olivia Benson, and not every Good Samaritan can be a Lassie. TV is as full of cruddy detectives as our real world is. But it’s also inundated with great ones, not all of whose talents are acknowledged in their respective worlds. We think it’s time they get their due recognition. Below the jump, browse through our favorite TV detectives who seem to be nobody else’s, and tell us which other crime solvers you think have been robbed of a much-deserved pat on the back.

Henry Mills from Once Upon a Time

Not quite a traditional detective show, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, now in its first season, revolves around the town of Storybrooke, Maine, whose characters — once fairytale protagonists — are caught in the supernatural mystery of an evil curse that took them out of their fairytale world and landed them, memories wiped, in a purgatory the show posits is our real world today. The only one perceptive enough to pick up on the clues around him is Henry, the astute adopted son of the evil queen herself — or just a nutty ten-year-old; we’re not yet sure. Even when he produces trace after trace to back up his theory, Henry is dismissed as “imaginative” or, in other words, psychotic, but we have a feeling the boy’s big moment of recognition is coming.

Shawn Spencer from Psych

Clearly, Shawn Spencer is good at what he does — that is, faking “psychic” episodes to solve criminal mysteries by actually using his photographic memory and unusual retention of infinitesimal details. But, put off by his self-ascribed otherworldly powers, the detectives working for the police department don’t see it that way. They hear “psychic”; they think “bottom feeder.” Why every member of the cast doesn’t give up the charade and induct Shawn as a bona fide detective is beyond us.

In fact, Shawn seems to be the only able detective in the department. Police detectives Lassiter, Juliet, and Chief Karen Vick are equally inept, though the latter two are undeservingly victimized and glorified. And Gus, Shawn’s business partner and best friend, is nothing more than our hero’s roadside entertainment while he single-handedly soves crimes.

Velma from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

The world of Scooby and the Mystery, Inc. gang is teeming with neighborhood villains in ghost costumes who would get away with spooking and robbing their entire townships if it weren’t for Scooby and the gang’s reliable meddling, landing them at the scene of a crime just in time to rip off a disguise and put an end to a red-herring crime. But “Scooby and the gang” is a pretty unfair title to bestow upon a team that owes so much to Velma Dinkley. While Velma computes calculations that help the gang close cases, Daphne is busy hitting on Fred, Fred is busy constructing Rube Goldberg traps that don’t work, and Scooby and Shaggy are busy eating. Check out this amazing pie chart by Graph Jam, whose calculations confirm that the Mystery Gang is pretty much a one-woman operation.

Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds

Criminal Minds’ reliable computer technician may be annoying and tasteless, but she’s also the genius behind the Behavioral Analysis Unit. She and Morgan, the unit’s most prized special agent, are involved in a romantic flirtation that seems to occur almost entirely via phone. When they’re chatting casually, it’s all “sugar cakes” and “sweetie,” but when it comes to a high-stress case, Garcia gets to be on the receiving end of Morgan’s bad attitude, while Morgan and his BAU get all the glory associated with cracking a case. But how hard is it to crack a case when all you have to do is mention a criminal’s nail color or coffee preference, and your handy technician spits out three readily available leads, addresses and phone numbers included?

Rufus from Kim Possible

The Kim Possible crime-fighting team is often remembered as a duo, namely of Kim and her best friend and later boyfriend Ron Stoppable. Ron’s status within the Kim gang, however, comes more from robbing others of due credit and cozying up to the boss than from any authentic contribution. And the character who continually gets the shaft while Ron rises to hall-of-fame immortality is Rufus, his pet naked mole rat, an indispensable and agile member of the team who often volunteers for the most dangerous tasks and constantly swoops in to save Ron from his own clumsy detective work.

Also worthy of honorable mention is Wade Load, who, despite his hermetic life in a darkened bedroom, adds more to Kim’s missions than Ron does. Wade sits at his computer, providing the active members of the group with up-to-date research, locations on their enemies, and weapons and protective gear that the high school- and college-educated ten-year-old genius builds himself.

Randy Disher from Monk

Lieutenant Randy Disher is something of an SFPD dunce, his theories far-fetched, his disposition over-excited. But he actually does some pretty decent detective work when given the chance. Subject to Captain Leland Stottlemayer’s simultaneous coddling and undermining, Disher seems inept, but when Stottlemayer’s not around, Disher has the chance to prove himself and generally comes through with insight and competence.

Penny and Brian from Inspector Gadget

Inspector Gadget’s magnanimous niece Penny and her dog Brian spend their days trailing her useless uncle — who, even with a bionic body packed full of gadgets and contraptions, can’t solve a mystery case — stealthily intervening to correct Gadget’s work. Not only is the adolescent girl probably too busy bailing out her uncle to earn a GED, but no one except for her partner Brian, a canine, appreciates her precociousness and street smarts.

Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily from Pretty Little Liars

The four girls being stalked by a mysterious impersonator of their dead friend Alison haven’t quite pieced together the information necessary to incarcerate, or even identify “A,” but they’re unraveling the intricate puzzle too quickly for the criminal’s taste and managing to keep the whole operation under the radar. While everyone around them dismisses the girls’ investigations as child’s play or, worse, dismisses them as crazy, the four teenagers handle, and slowly begin to solve, the case of the most dangerous mastermind Rosewood, PA has ever seen with remarkable elegance and discretion.