The crime/mystery genre has a mighty fine—and very long—history on the small screen, the genre and its myriad forms a solid, even primary, fixture of television schedules. Indeed, it’s not hard to reel off a list of famous series that are not just good crime shows, but which shine as some of the greatest examples of the dramatic form. Form. The ongoing popularity of crime/mystery shows is, I think, a testament to the storytelling strength of the genre—while some say it is science fiction that best enables us to reflect on our ourselves, our societies, and cultures, I would argue that crime, mysteries and thrillers are just as valuable for exploring what it is that makes us, as humans, tick.
A classic character combo in mystery stories is the crime-fighting duo, and this is a list of my five favourite pairings.
Batman and Robin (Batman: The Animated Series; Fox, 1992—1995)
I’m serious. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, remember? After all, he first appeared in a periodical called Detective Comics. Okay, he’s a bit… unorthodox, shall we say, but perhaps dressing up in a bat costume to terrify criminals before he beats them up is a perfectly logical endpoint for someone whose life was shattered when his parents were murdered in front of him in (wait for it) Crime Alley.
I love this stuff. I’m a superhero nut, and Batman: The Animated Series stands as the ultimate portrayal of the Caped Crusader. The winner of no fewer than four Emmy Awards, the animated series not only gave us superheroic action adventure, but re-introduced a new generation to Batman’s crime-fighting roots. With a nebulous, pseudo-period setting, Kevin Conroy’s definitive Batman searched for clues, chased criminals, and foiled robberies, kidnappings and terrorist attacks, using every tool at his disposal—whether it was a Batplane that could turn into, well, a Batsubmarine, or good old fashioned detective work, with some state-of-the-art forensic crime scene investigation to boot. Robin appeared sporadically in the first season (where was he when he wasn’t punching bad guys, exactly?), but after the show was retooled a little it became The Adventures of Batman & Robin from Season 2. The show is particularly noteworthy for helping rehabilitate the Boy Wonder, giving him a new costume and a more serious personality, making him a more suitable partner for his brooding boss.
John Steed and Emma Peel (The Avengers; ABC [UK], 1961—1969; with Emma Peel, 1965—1968)
Not those Avengers. Maybe this is another leftfield choice, but John Steed—played with such charm by the great Patrick Macnee, was a crime-fighter of sorts, a secret government agent employed to defeat masterminds of the most diabolical kind. His partner for three out of the nine seasons the show ran for was the remarkable Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), a “talented amateur” expert in a dozen martial arts, espionage, and infiltration, not to mention astromony, chemistry, and physics. With some of the best on-screen chemistry you’ll likely find, Steed and Mrs. Peel’s adventures in high-concept spycraft are a bone fide television classic.
Honey West and Sam Bolt (Honey West; ABC, 1965—1966)
An interesting curio, based loosely on a series of novels, only 30 half-hour episodes of Honey West were made. Largely forgotten—but surely worthy of a modern reboot!—this show combines kooky, low-rent James Bond storylines with two stellar leads. Anne Francis—more famous for her portrayal of Alta in the classic 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet—is the no-nonsense, resourceful private eye, aided by her partner Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson. Honey West was one of the first female private detectives to appear on television, and make no mistake—she is most certainly the boss. The fun stories are peppered with crazy gadgets—lipstick radios, radioactive tracers, tear gas earrings—and feature a healthy dose of action (Honey is black belt in judo, while Sam is a former marine). And a pet ocelot called Bruce, which seems about ready to tear off someone’s face in every scene he appears in. While the show earned Francis a Golden Globe Award for best actress, as well as an Emmy Award nomination for the same, it was cancelled after one season as the network discovered it was cheaper to import The Avengers from the UK and show it in the same time slot than their own show. And that’s a big shame, because Honey West could really have been something. Criminally underrated, this show is ripe for a comeback. ABC, I’m waiting for your call!
Emerson Cod and Ned the pie maker (Pushing Daisies; ABC, 2007—2009)
Has it really been six years since Pushing Daisies met its premature demise? Oh boy. Hit by the 2007—2008 Writers Guild of America strike, only 22 episodes of this so-called forensic fairy tale were made, and the while the story arc was tied up—albeit it in a rather rushed and abbreviated way—in the final episode, the whole wonderful, crazy show just screams unfinished potential. The premise is simple: Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) is a private detective with a penchant for knitwear. Ned (Lee Pace) is a pie maker who can bring corpses back to life for one minute. The two make a deal—Emerson can solve murders easily, getting Ned to bring the victims back to like and tell the dynamic duo who killed them, and then the profits of a mystery solved can be split between them. Shot in saturated technicolour and with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, Pushing Daisies developed into an over-the-top comedy-drama reminiscent of the crazier side of The Avengers. The series was short but, like Ned’s pies, very, very sweet.
Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson (Elementary; CBS, 2012—present)
The most famous detective of them all has been adapted, reinterpreted, reimagined and rebooted countless times. Most recently, two TV versions of a modern-day Holmes have caught the public’s imagination—the BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, and CBS’s Elementary, with Jonny Lee Miller as the detective and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. While Sherlock sticks fairly closely to the canon of Conan-Doyle’s original stories, Elementary has, for me anyway, been the far more interesting prospect, unafraid of branching out in its own direction. This has resulted less in a modern-day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, more a smart, original, slightly weird detective show. Oddly, this seems to work, helped by the pitch-perfect casting of Miller and Liu. Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict, Watson his former sober companion. Miller’s great detective is eccentric, unpredictable, and often hilariously odd, the perfect foil to Liu’s calm, measured, frequently frustrated Watson. As a fan of the original stories, Elementary is a breath of fresh air, from the gender-flipping of Watson to the audacious way they handled the characters of Irene Adler and Moriarty (you’ll get no spoilers from me!).
This sweepstakes has ended. Thanks for entering, and good luck!
Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Elementary: Ghost Line by Adam Christopher, from which you can read an exclusive excerpt! To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below. TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In! Elementary: Ghost Line Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2015/02/dynamic-duos-tvs-best-crime-fighting-partnerships-elementary-the-ghost-line-adam-christopher beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) February 12, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET February 19, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Adam Christopher is a novelist and comic writer. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow’s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in Great Britain since 2006.