We love mystery!

Re-release: Mysteries on TV

This is a re-release of an episode published on January 17, 2023.


As with books, mystery is one of the most popular television genres. In today’s episode, Brook and Sarah discuss some of their favorite TV shows.

Shows mentioned in this episode:
Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989-2013) BBC
Columbo (1968-1978; 1989-2003) NBC and ABC
Murder She Wrote (1984-1996) USA Network
Midsomer Murders (1997-2023) ITV
Law & Order (1990-2023) NBC
The X-Files (1993-2018) Fox
Doctor Who (1963-2023)
Telecrime (1938-1946) BBC
Quincy (1976-1983) NBC
House (2004-2012) Fox
The Practice (1997-2004) NBC
Magnum PI (1980-1988)
Moonlighting (1985-1989) ABC
Wednesday (2022) Netflix
Veronica Mars (2004-2019) The WB
Da Vinci’s Inquest (1998-2006) CBC
Miss Scarlet and the Duke (2020-2023) PBS
Shetland (2013-2023) BBC
Wallander (2008-2016) BBC
Slow Horses (2022-2023) Apple TV
Inspector Morse (1987-2000) ITV
Lewis (2006-2015) ITV
Endeavour (2012-2023) ITV
Only Murders in the Building (2021-2023) Hulu
Spooks (2002-2011) BBC
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window (2022) Netflix

For more information

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi, Brook
BrookHi Sarah. How are you doing today?
SarahI’m great. Thank you! How are you?
BrookI’m great. It’s always good to talk to you about mysteries.
SarahI can’t wait and today we’re talking about a bit of a departure from what we’ve been talking about in previous episodes. We’re talking about mysteries on TV today.
BrookThat’s right. Yeah, so not only is mystery one of the most popular genres in books, it’s also one of the top picks for television viewers. Some of the longest running TV series ever reside in the category. Some examples are Poirot, Colombo, Murder She Wrote, Midsomer Murders, Law and Order, The X-Files, and Doctor Who. Only soap operas beat mystery in the list of longest running series.   The very first mystery show to hit TV was called Telecrime. It was a British drama series by the BBC and started in 1938 and initially ran for just one year due to the beginning of World War II. But it resumed again in 1946 for a total of 17 episodes. It was one of the first multi-episode drama series ever made and it also is one of the first TV dramas written specifically for television, not adapted from a theater or radio presentation. It was a whodunit crime drama and it honored the notion of fair play that we’ve discussed before because it showed the viewer enough evidence in each episode to solve the crime themselves if they were paying close enough attention. Unfortunately, all 17 episodes have been lost to time because the show aired live and technology to preserve live shows had not been perfected.   The crime dramas we love today are still based on that classic whodunit style detailed in Telecrime and then made world famous in the boom of the 1950s and 60s with popular shows such as Dragnet, Policewoman and I Spy.   Honestly, when we start to think about all the TV mysteries we’ve loved over the years, the list seems endless and ever growing. In fact, the 2020s are proving to be a time of renaissance for mystery TV. A recent article by Crime Reads listed their favorites from 2022 and Sarah and I had to admit that we hadn’t heard of most of them, letting us know that we will never run short of great mystery shows to watch.   Just like the subgenres of mystery books we’ve discussed over multiple episodes of the podcast, the topic of TV mysteries will surely stretch into many conversations. But today we’ll share some of our all-time favorite shows, what we’ve enjoyed watching lately, and talk about what we think makes a great TV mystery series.
SarahWell thanks for that, Brook. I had never heard of Telecrime before and I’m so disappointed that no episodes remain because it sounds like it was pretty neat. Recorded live, written specifically for TV. It was probably… yeah.
BrookI had never heard of it either and was very impressed because I think that obviously my television history is a little skewed because I couldn’t believe that there were television shows being produced in ‘38 and ‘39 so yeah, really fascinating.
SarahAnd as you say, like the list of excellent mystery shows is quite long and I was thinking about this. There’s kind of like when I’m reading, I also do a bit of mood watching, right? So sometimes I’ll watch something that I know is like a little bit over the top a little bit campy but it’s you know, not going to be too heavy and then sometimes I’ll choose to watch something that is, you know, a little grittier and a little heavier. There’s a lot that viewers can choose from and just like when you’re reading books, there’s kind of something for everyone, I think.
BrookDefinitely yeah and hits a lot of the same subgenres that we’ve talked about, right? You know there’s the spies, there’s the police procedurals, there’s the medical mysteries. They’re definitely or like you say more cozy campy mysteries. There’s just really so much variety. And I was thinking that you know with some of the soap operas outliving. Some of the soap operas are fifty or sixty years running but there are a lot of those drama elements in those long-running mystery series as well. So, I think that where those two genres intersect, where you have maybe the overarching story involved with mystery as well, is where you have those series that are just ah, enduring and become favorites for years and years.
SarahI was reflecting on this a little bit about what I watch versus what I read and there is definitely some overlap but there are some things that I watch more of rather than read. So like the heavier, grittier stuff, I will watch that more than I will read that.   And I think domestic thrillers, I tend to be more comfortable reading rather than watching, although I have watched some and certainly if I’ve read the book then then you know if there’s a series based on it or a movie then I’ll watch that, but I probably watch more of the lighter campier shows than read. Which I think is really interesting.
BrookIt is interesting. I think that I have similar patterns. It’s funny because I can remember as a really young kid, my dad always watched the show Quincy, which was actually aired in Canada first and then it came to the US. And it was kind of like an early House. You know it was a forensic.
SarahIt was medical, right?
BrookYeah, maybe a coroner or a medical examiner. And there were these mysteries that he was solving and the way the person died um, and I don’t know if it’s because I watched those so young with him or if it’s just a matter of taste, but I will really get into like a forensic TV mystery but that’s not something that I would pick up as a book. So I can see some of those preferences in myself as well. I feel like I do probably more TV shows that are um also set in the courtroom like a Law and Order or another show I liked a lot was The Practice more so on TV than I would read in books as well. So. So that’s really interesting the way we kind of have but divide those up.
SarahIt is interesting and you know I smiled when you were talking about you know your dad watching Quincy. So, I remember my dad watched Magnum PI when when that came out so that was I think in the early eighties, right? It’s been a long time but I don’t know if I could watch an episode of that now because of the way that television mystery has evolved. Revisiting some of those older shows, I think we have some nostalgia for, but I’m not sure if they stand the test of time. And I have to say I haven’t watched a Magnum PI episode. So I maybe it does stand the test of time and they did reboot it I think but I didn’t watch any of the of the reboot. I think Magnum PI was probably the first of the television mysteries that I was exposed to.
BrookWell, it’s funny you should say that because you know when all the streaming opportunities came along a series that I was just absolutely in love with, I was probably too young to be watching it. But Moonlighting is the series and it ran from eighty-five to eighty-nine, so that put me in like fifth/sixth grade when it came about. And of course it’s like there’s like a lot of like romantic tension going on. But anyway, I loved it. I loved the banter I loved the mysteries. Um. And so when the streaming opportunities came along in the last few years I’m like “This is awesome I can rewatch Moonlighting. This is going to be great.” And I literally got through like two episodes and I had this thought like “It’s ruining it for me. It’s completely ruining the ah the fond memories.” because. It’s really it. You know like you say it just hasn’t stood the test of time now. Definitely you can still, I think, as a storyteller look at the way they constructed the um the episodes as far as like the story arc in the solution to the crime the way they drop the clues. The witty banter is still somewhat fun. But, it’s kind of hard to go back and watch those 1980 TV shows, I’ll agree.
SarahSo you in the introduction mentioned X-Files, which I had on my list as um, something that I enjoyed watching you know, mystery themed. Um, and that’s another example of something that I don’t read a lot of. Like kind of the paranormal mysteries. But I loved the X-Files. Partly I think because it was filmed in Vancouver. The first few seasons rather were filmed in Vancouver, and I will watch almost anything that’s filmed in Vancouver. But yeah, like that was definitely a series I was in high school I think when that came out and I just absolutely loved it. Um, and then since then there’s you know some other sort of paranormal mysteries that I’ve enjoyed. So um iZombie, which was it was actually based on a comic and also filmed in Vancouver. But it is a bit paranormal right? She’s ah she’s a zombie solving mysteries. But it’s also I think a bit targeted at a younger audience like it’s a bit more YA if you were um, putting it in a book category.
BrookUm, yeah I’m like you I don’t read much um paranormal but will watch it in a series and you know I have to reference the currently popular Wednesday. Like that probably wouldn’t have been a storyline that would have been appealing to me in a book. But um, it was really fun. It was a really fun mystery show that um, that has that sort of paranormal. Well not sort of. A really fun show that has that paranormal ah solution to it. Ah, which again isn’t going to be something that I really love in my fiction reading but it’s fun on TV and part of that has to have a part to play in the visualness of it I think you know when you can. See it on the screen and you have the special effects I mean that just adds to the experience for me.
SarahYeah, so I haven’t I haven’t watched Wednesday but um I think it’s something that um I probably would enjoy. Is it a ah targeted at a younger audience? Because Wednesday obviously is ah a younger character.
BrookI would I would classify it as a YA mystery. All the characters are predominantly high school aged kids. Um I am going to go out on a limb I so I’ll wait and see what you think after you watch it because to me it’s a reboot of Veronica Mars. It’s the goth girl Veronica Mars so um, and of course Veronica Mars did not have um, any paranormal elements. But when you put the goth in the Adams family in then that’s where that comes together. But we’ve got the outcast girl, the snarky remarks, obviously very intelligent. Even the first episode where Veronica saves the boy from the bullies we have Wednesday saving her brother Pugsley from a bunch of bullies. I mean there’s a lot of similarities to me. So after you get a chance to watch it. We’ll have to do a comparison conversation, Sarah.
SarahOkay, definitely because I loved Veronica Mars um and I have rewatched some of some of that because I just yeah I thought it was so so excellent.
BrookDid you end up watching in 2019 they did a reboot and Kristen Bell was in it apparently but I have not watched it have you watched the new season.
SarahUm, yes, yeah, it was. It was good so it set um about a decade after the third of the original seasons or maybe it’s a decade after the movie I can’t remember um, but yeah I did I I did watch that and. I looked up because I wasn’t sure if Veronica Mars was based originally on books or um, if it was you know written for TV and I think it was written for TV, but there were a couple of books that were written by the show creator. He considers them canon. Um, as as part of the show. So I I haven’t read those books but I might um I might go back and maybe start Veronica Mars again and then read the books kind of where he where he thinks they belong?
SarahDefinitely Veronica Mars is 1 of my one of my favorite of the mystery TV shows.
BrookYeah, and I feel like it much like I feel like we’re in a little bit of a mystery renaissance right now with film and TV I feel like that was also a kickoff of another one. Um, you know it brought a lot of kids ah into the genre because it was. It. It was in my opinion. Probably 1 of the first YA mystery shows I don’t remember anything before where the sleuth was a teenager um on television. Um I mean I guess we have Scooby-Doo, which I reference probably too often. but ah but I think that it really brought a whole new generation into the idea of of amateur sleuths and solving crime so it was a great, great series.
SarahUm, yeah I think yeah I think you’re probably right. And you know Veronica Mars is a bit of a um evolution from Nancy Drew.
BrookYes, very true.
SarahI know there was a Nancy Drew TV show ah a couple of years ago, but and but it might not have been the first I’m sure there was other Nancy Drew TV episodes. But I’m not sure. I only watched actually 1 or 2 of the um, the more recent version and I can’t remember why that was. I think there’s also a Hardy boys show but I haven’t seen that um but I did want to talk about a show.   And I think we should do at some point a whole episode on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.   One show that I wanted to mention was a show called Da Vinci’s Inquest. So it’s a coroner investigating deaths and it’s actually based on an actual coroner. So again, it’s set in Vancouver, it’s filmed in Vancouver. And the series was um, was done by CBC, which is our national broadcaster. And I I don’t know I actually didn’t get a chance to look up to see if it’s available on streaming and it may be streaming outside of Canada because I think there’s you know often some different options depending on where you’re living.   But I really enjoyed that. So it was in the I’m going to say the late 90s early 2000s that it was on. So in real life, this coroner ran for mayor and became the mayor of Vancouver. And in the show, they had a parallel thing happen where the um ah the coroner ran for mayor and became the mayor and so then they did ah a whole other… I think it was only 1 or 2 seasons but it was called Da Vinci’s City Hall and it was more about um, him being mayor. And I don’t remember if I I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of those but I really so I don’t know if those have a mystery element as well. But certainly the um Da Vinci’s Inquest definitely had it had a mystery element and I I really enjoyed that.
BrookThat is just fascinating. I don’t know that I can think of any other examples where um, you know a fictional TV show is that intertwined with real life so that is great I would love to know what his opinion of the show was.
SarahYeah, you know what? I don’t I don’t know what his opinion was.
BrookI feel like the brits do a really great job on mystery television shows and one that is very contemporary and current that I’ll just reference is the Ms. Scarlett series that I believe started in 2020 and it’s it’s just so well done. So um, exactly what you’d expect from an amazing ah PBS series and so um, if you haven’t checked out Miss Scarlet. It’s a great mystery series that I think that you would love.
SarahI haven’t seen that I don’t think I’ve even heard of it. Um, which kind of goes back to what you were saying at the beginning that like there’s just so much and in that crime reads article you know there were a bunch that um I hadn’t encountered Um, but I agree I think there’s some really great shows that come out of out of the UK. And you know there’s several that are based on books so Shetland or Wallander. This is a spy series that is on Apple TV called Slow Horses. Um, and so that was actually something that we watched over the Christmas break um was the second season of that and up I think it’s excellent.   Ah, and then just even Midsomer Murders, which I think is you know it’s pretty light but that you know English Village people dropping around ah drop people dropping dead around you and there’s a lot of episodes of that.   As well as ah Morse and the spinoff of that Lewis and then the spinoff of that Endeavor, which are all based well Morse is based on a series of books. And you know I think those are those are pretty great to watch as well.
BrookYeah, and those would be new to me I think one thing that is really expanding that is all the different platforms like you referenced Apple TV and they know you might have Netflix productions and Hulu’s making shows and you know the list goes on and on. So that really opens up writers and producers to make all these different series. So the smorgasbord is there for the taking. It’s no wonder that we haven’t heard of some of these because there’s it’s just it’s growing by leaps and bounds.
SarahOh totally. It’s hard as a viewer to keep up with it. I mean I only have so much time that I can sit down and and watch something Anyway, Um, but and another example of that is. Only Murders in the Building.
BrookYes, which I finally get to partake in because I have officially got my Hulu subscription so that is something that I actually thought I was going to start over Christmas break. But um, it’s it’s still coming and I cannot wait I’ve seen the first episode. And um, it’s going to just be fantastic. I can tell that and you know so many things come down to characters for me and the three of them as an ensemble cast just it just seems great.
SarahYeah I think I think you’ll love it and I look forward to talking about it with you because that I think if I had to pick would probably be 1 of my favorite of the kind of more recent um series. That’s that’s been released I think. Yeah, it’s um, it’s excellent and I I hope that there there’s going to be another season because um, as you say the the three of them. They just they do so well together.
BrookAnd I love the idea of bringing back some of these um you know, classic actors people who um, maybe haven’t been you know Martin Short and Steve Martin maybe haven’t been doing TV for for many many years and then um. And bringing them back in something like this and having it be such a success It’s just kind of heartwarming.
SarahYeah I agree I agree.
SarahI have one other recommendation, and this is you know in the in the spy genre and also comes out of the UK um and that is Spooks. Ah, so and I can’t remember I think in the UK it may have aired as um MI5 but um, over here it was available to stream as Spooks I think um and so it is ah um, as the name suggests about spies and so it’s that you know international spy thriller and spy craft and and it’s largely set domestically but there’s you know obviously um, some international characters who are involved and I I really enjoyed that.
BrookAnd yeah, that sounds great. You are our ah spy mystery expert on the show because you you really know a lot about that genre and also international mysteries. So that’s that sounds really good.   And I thought I would just cap off by bringing up The Woman in the Window Across the Street from the Girl in the Window so we have this spoof on the genre which I ah and we also have Kristen Bell coming back from her Veronica Mars days I thought it was a really really fun show. I loved the way that it poked fun at the genre at some of the um tropes that really are pretty worn out and so that was a lot of fun but I have to admit. And I won’t make any spoilers here but I have to admit that I hated the ending. I don’t know what else to say because I don’t want to spoil it.
SarahYeah I’m trying to remember. So I reluctantly watched this because I love the mystery genre so much, I I don’t want to watch something that is making fun of it. So it was it was with some reservation that I watched it, but I actually loved it. I thought it was just the right amount of poking fun at the genre and there was a mystery element and and so it was really, really well done. And I’m trying to remember what the um conclusion was ah so maybe I’ll have to rewatch it so that I can um so that we can have that conversation.   Because that’s that is one of my problems is that I so rarely retain what the solution to whatever I’ve watched or whatever I’ve read is. I remember enjoying the experience of watching or reading but I don’t always remember. What the solution was, which means that I can go back and rewatch things that I really enjoyed and enjoy them again.
BrookThat’s what I was going to say I don’t think it’s a drawback because we’re able to rewatch or reread because we we’ve lost that somewhere along the line I’ll usually think oh I kind of think we watched a movie last weekend and I said I think I’ve seen this before. And so my husband offered well we can turn it off and I’m like no no, it’s okay, I’m still I’ll be able to still enjoy it and I did and it still surprised me I think it is a fallout from I think it’s a fallout from consuming a lot.
SarahYeah, yeah, yeah, no I have the same experience.
BrookI think it’s a fallout from consuming a lot. You know if I only watched one movie a month or whatever or read one book a month or it may but we consume a lot of mysteries, Sarah so um I think that that is is a is a side effect of that.
SarahI Agree. Thank you so much for this great conversation. It was so much fun to talk about um TV mysteries that we’ve enjoyed.
BrookYeah, and I think that this will be the first in many conversations. Maybe we’ll pick a genre or pick a time era and do a little deeper dive into TV sometime, Sarah.
SarahThat sounds great.
BrookSo thank you everyone for joining us today on another episode of clued in mystery I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.