Friday, July 21, 2023

Mysteries, Murders, and Mayhem

I’m not sure when I realized I love murder mystery and crime investigation shows. But I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a while. The murder mystery is a very broad category, from the goofy consultant (Psych) to the breezy sleuthing of a hobby-detective (Murder She Wrote) and the serious and dramatic (Broadchurch). Others mystery and crime shows highlight the science of crime scene forensics (Bones and CSI). Others present a more theoretical or high-tech approach to investigation (Numb3rs, or Person of Interest).

I love them all. When I start listing the ones that I’ve watched, either partially, or from beginning to end, I’m realizing I’ve spent a lot of time in this genre.

The basic template of the murder mystery gives you the set up, or the crime scene, the investigation, and then the killer is caught, case closed. Some more complicated shows follow a single crime for many episodes, or entire seasons. Others visit old crimes, or leave a sense of ambiguity, questioning whether the detectives actually did their job, and whether the killer got the best of them. Not sure why people enjoy endings with a deliberate lack of closure, but I can understand how, at times, a formulaic plot line that relies on absolute certainty as predictable as the sunrise in work as complicated as law enforcement doesn't read as believable or realistic.

There’s a balance in murder mysteries. The investigation process, which presumably should take days or weeks, gets compressed into a few, or even one short episode. There’s also a sense that the suspects or people adjacent to the crime give predictable responses to the cops, or reveal very quickly the sort of information that conveniently leads the detective to a narrow band of two or three suspects with intriguing motives and uniquely shocking back stories.

Anyway, enough general ideas. I’ll tell why I love a few of my very favorite murder mystery shows, and maybe we’ll have some fun talking a bit about the genre along the way.

The Killing

So, the thing about this show is if you enjoy your heart getting ripped out a thousand times, you’re coming to the right place. The suspense and the twists and turns are in perfect harmony with character development and the unfolding of the investigation. 

The Killing takes places in Seattle. A detective becomes involved in a case of a child found dead, on the day the detective is meant to leave her job, and join her fiance in Sonoma. Well, we not only see the case blow up and involve the Polish mob, the election for mayor, the school system, and a nearby casino, but our lead detective’s mental health and history of obsessing with cases to the point of mental breakdown. It sounds melodramatic, but the Killing is acted and written so elegantly, you forget entirely that you’re watching TV.

Disclaimer, I’ve had people recommend seasons 3 and 4, but my review is focused on seasons 1 and 2. The case of Rosie in these first two seasons just gives me goosebumps when I think about how unforgettable the storytelling is. This show is not for you if you prefer lighter TV. A friend once told me they heard a mental health professional say, “If you enjoy watching true crime on TV, you should ask yourself why other people’s trauma comforts you.”

The Killing isn’t true crime, but boy is it traumatic. The answer to why this show comforts me will have to be the subject of another post, and probably a different blog entirely. ;) Suffice it to say, when TV takes tragedy seriously, it gives us the chance to also take healing and resilience seriously as well.


So, I am going to leave out a bunch of context for this show. It is a very carefully crafted portrayal of police work in Oxford, England in the 60s and 70s. I like to describe it as Sherlock Holmes meets British NYPD Blue. Endeavor is a brilliant detective surrounded by corruption and a senior officer who does everything old school, and by the book. However, their relationship does transform over the seasons from hotly contested differences to eventually a thrill as they really start to work together to take down crime.

Every episode is about the length of a film, and the camera work is particularly interesting. Plus, british accents just make everything a little more easy on the ears, so I can’t not enjoy that part.


I first discovered Monk at BYU-I with my roommates. Tuesday night, I believe, we watched Chopped marathons on Food Network. If we weren’t watching college football other days, we might have been watching Monk.

The combination of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and brilliant detective work are simply a match made in heaven. Tony Shalhoub just never gets old as Monk. And if you’re looking for the family friendly pick on this list, Monk is a show the whole family can enjoy (I can’t promise there won’t be an occasional innuendo, or hint of a gruesome crime scene… and then there’s that one episode with the nude beach. Nevermind, if you’re squeamish don’t watch this with your kids unfiltered.)

It’s funny, for a while I had this impression that the series finale was awful. Then I went back and watched it again, and I realized that it was actually as close to perfection as is humanly possible. Monk is definitely up there as one of the funniest and most enjoyable detective shows to watch and re-watch. Nearly every episode just brings the magic of a guy who is literally scared of almost everything in the world, but is also the best detective/csi consultant in all of San Francisco. It also has a very touchingly gentle approach to showing how a person deeply wounded by grief and loss can eventually despite years of struggle.

Man, I really get into the sad descriptions of these shows. Monk is funny, guys. A little sad, but mostly funny. You’ll love it.


My Father-In-Law has enjoyed this show for years, and I got exposed to it after my wife and I got married. I’ll explain in a minute why it has made an impact on my marriage.

The premise of this show is that Alison Dubois, a woman living in Phoenix with her family is in the midst of working for the District attorney, and realizes that messages she receives from the dead are giving her the information they need to solve crimes. Every episode finds a new variation on the ways the dead, or even other psychics, could communicate to Allison, and either help, or hinder her work in catching killers and criminals.

The other thing about this show is that the domestic chemistry between Allison and her husband, Joe, feels so gut-wrenchingly close to the reality of being married. Intimate relationships expose our differences, and how stubbornly our personal style of communication and other cardinal features keep us in the same dance as a couple, including conflicts over traits that just don’t change. Despite loving each other and being very good, supportive people, Allison and Joe always find themselves on opposite sides of an issue. That issue is usually the fact that Allison feels deeply compelled to act on her visions, and Joe persistently reminds her that her visions are not an exact science, and she could just as easily destroy an investigation as she could solve it if she is not carefully considering all the factors associated with the vision. 

Their ability to move past disagreement and recover their common ground shows that successful couples don’t avoid arguments, but they become skilled at communicating their differences while return to the common ground of their love and commitment to each other regardless of their different opinions. This kind of nuanced approach to family dynamics takes this particular show far beyond its basic premise. But seriously,the crimes and mysteries are pretty dang fun in this show too.

Hope you enjoyed this list! If you want to discuss more about murder mysteries, let me know! Which one is your favorite?

1 comment:

  1. Great article, man! Monk is one of my favorite crime shows too. Tony Shalhoub is excellent in that series. I also enjoy "Psych" and "Castle." My favorite of all time has to be "Person of Interest."