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10 Most Thrilling Crime Drama TV Shows For Viewers Who Are Secretly Wannabe Detectives


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Summary

  • Some crime dramas, like Elementary and Castle, bring back the classic detective skills of observation and analytical thinking, providing a refreshing departure from the dominance of forensic investigations.
  • Clever protagonists, such as Joan Watson in Elementary and Rick Castle in Castle, add depth to the mystery dramas with their infectious curiosity, gumption, and pursuit of unsolved mysteries.
  • TV shows like The Closer and Unforgettable focus on capturing the drama, emotion, and tension of interrogations, humanizing both the murderers and the detectives and allowing viewers to pay careful attention to clues and participate in solving the case themselves.

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While forensic-heavy investigations have eclipsed the Crime Drama landscape in recent years, some mystery gems stand apart by reverting to the genre’s roots with good old-fashioned observational skills, analytical thinking, and creativity. Considering CSI’s influence on modern crime fiction, some shows still offer a refreshing departure from the dominance of forensic investigations. By celebrating these classic gumshoe hallmarks, TV shows not only pay homage to the genre’s heritage but also invite viewers to pay careful attention to clues and participate in solving the case themselves.

Of course, it helps when crime dramas are supported by clever protagonists as well. Although great characters are found in every genre, those that form the lifeblood of the often-cerebral mystery drama provide power perspective with their infectious curiosity, extraordinary gumption, and dogged pursuit of the unsolved mystery. Their remarkable talents and complex backstories shine a much-needed light on the tapestry of the genre’s ever-deepening shadows.

10 Elementary

Elementary is streaming on Hulu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Release Date
November 27, 2012

Cast
Lucy Liu , Jon Michael Hill , Aidan Quinn , Jonny Lee Miller

Sherlock Holmes may be the most famous detective in literature, and yet it’s his sidekick, Watson, who often steals the spotlight in the American spin, Elementary. Played by Lucy Liu, former surgeon Joan Watson is introduced as Sherlock’s sober companion, but after demonstrating her potential, he takes her on as his partner-in-training. Fans of Sherlock’s classic deductive prowess need not worry, since the quintessential detective remains a dominant force throughout the show. However, Joan’s complex friendship with her ascorbic mentor along with her journey to becoming his equal are just a couple of reasons why Elementary is one of the best Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

9 Castle

Castle is streaming on Hulu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Castle TV Series Poster

Release Date
March 9, 2009

Cast
Jon Huertas , Tamala Jones , Molly C. Quinn , Stana Katic , Susan Sullivan , Seamus Dever , Nathan Fillion

Castle echoes the classic Murder, She Wrote, as it centers on a mystery author who demonstrates a knack for criminal investigation when research finds him tagging along with law enforcement. It helps that the character is portrayed by the affable Nathan Fillion, who infuses the role with his typical charm. Similar to other classic whodunits, Castle is also notable in how it walks through investigations with clues that viewers can often follow along. As a result, couch sleuths may be able to piece together the puzzle if they care enough to pay attention.

8 The Closer

The Closer is streaming on Hulu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

the cast of The Closer

the closer

Release Date
June 13, 2005

Cast
Kyra Sedgwick

Seasons
7

The Closer follows Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, whose background as a CIA-trained interrogator makes her uniquely skilled at drawing confessions out of murder suspects. The series is supported by a host of compelling characters played by extraordinary actors, but what sets it apart is its focus on capturing the drama, emotion, and tension found in interrogation. Like other crime series, The Closer features its fair share of sociopathic monsters. However, it’s remarkable for humanizing many of its killers thanks to the show’s focus on wheedling out confessions.

7 Unforgettable

Unforgettable is streaming on Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Carrie Wells and Al Burns in Unforgettable promotional art.

Unforgettable centers on detective Carrie Wells, whose hyperthymesia causes her to vividly recall nearly every event in her life. The series often demonstrates Carrie’s extraordinary memory by highlighting events from her past, but her talent pays for itself through investigations whenever she steps into her memories to take a closer look at some of the finer details around her. While Unforgettable undoubtedly sensationalizes Carrie’s talent, it’s especially neat that hyperthymesia (HSAM) is a real condition (even though it’s so rare that only 62 people in the world have been diagnosed with it).

6 Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is streaming on Hulu, Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Veronica Mars Poster-1

Release Date
September 22, 2004

Cast
Kristen Bell , Jason Dohring , Enrico Colantoni , Percy Daggs III , Francis Capra , Ryan Hansen , Teddy Dunn , Sydney Tamiia Poitier , Tessa Thompson , Kyle Gallner , Christopher Lowell , Tina Majorino

Veronica Mars is a noir mystery gem, following the escapades of its titular main character as she navigates a uniquely toxic high school ecosystem while doggedly investigating her best friend’s murder. Empowered by her skills as a teenage private investigator, Veronica episodically outfoxes criminals, bad cops, and a host of privileged bullies with nothing but her wit, resourcefulness, and nerves of steel. Veronica sums up her character’s ethos well after defending an unpopular classmate against bullies:

“You want people to leave you alone, Mandy, or better yet treat you with respect? Demand it. Make them.”

5 Only Murders in the Building

Only Murders in the Building is streaming on Hulu

Charles, Oliver, and Mabel looking at the scarf in Only Murders in the Building season 3 finale

Release Date
August 31, 2021

Seasons
2

Only Murders in the Building revolves around three true-crime podcast lovers who team up to investigate a series of mysterious murders in their apartment building. The show stands out for its waggish take on crime fiction, blending infectious comedy with artful gumshoe suspense. The trio consists of a charming blend of wisdom, humor, and tech-savviness, producing a witty crime-fighting team that’s as effective as they are addictive to watch. Only Murders in the Building continues to garner critical acclaim and record-breaking viewership for injecting humor into a typically serious genre.

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4 Lie To Me

Lie to Me is streaming on Hulu, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Lie to Me cast in promo art.

lie to me

Release Date
January 21, 2009

Cast
Tim Roth , Kelli Williams , Hayley McFarland , Brendan Hines , Monica Raymund , Mekhi Phifer , Jennifer Beals , Tim Guinee , Sean Patrick Thomas , Melissa George

Seasons
3

Lie to Me centers on a team of deception experts who are contracted by both government and private agencies to untangle crimes that often have far-reaching political consequences. Led by Cal Lightman, the team depends on psychology, micro-expressions, and body language to gauge a suspect’s emotional state while under observation. The resident psychologist on the team, Dr. Gillian Foster, says it like this:

“The question is never simply if someone is lying; it’s why.”

Despite its focus on deception detection, one of the show’s compelling underlying themes revolves around whether people have good reasons to lie–and the answers provided are consistently provocative for every case.

3 The Mentalist

The Mentalist is streaming on Hulu, Max, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

the main character of The Mentalist looking offscreen

the mentalist

The Mentalist centers on a con artist who begins consulting law enforcement on tricky investigations after demonstrating his singular talent for manipulating the people around him. Portrayed by Simon Baker, Patrick Jane is one part Sherlock Holmes and one part charlatan, forming the crux of the series with its alarmingly charismatic antihero. Despite his wily exterior, however, Jane conveys surprising emotional depth after revealing his mission to catch the serial killer responsible for slaying his wife and daughter. The Mentalist’s clever storytelling, sleight-of-hand wit, and compelling main character make it a must-watch crime drama.

2 Psych

Psych is streaming on Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Shawn and Gus at a crime scene in Psych

Psych Show Poster

Release Date
July 7, 2006

Cast
Dule Hill , Kirsten Nelson , Corbin Bernsen , James Roday , Maggie Lawson , Anne Dudek , Timothy Omundson

Seasons
8

Psych‘s brilliance stems from its ingenious premise and execution, following Shawn Spencer, a consultant for the Santa Barbara Police Department who uses his keen observational skills to feign psychic abilities to aid in solving crimes. Although he learns his investigative skills from his ex-cop father, he grows to hate playing by the rules. With a chance to use his talents independently due to clumsy police work, he teams up with his childhood friend, Gus, to start their own consulting agency. The series’ refreshing deviation from traditional crime dramas contributes to why Psych is one of the best dramedies to date.

1 White Collar

White Collar is streaming on Hulu, Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video

Matt Bomer wearing a suit in White Collar

white collar

White Collar

Release Date
October 23, 2009

Cast
Matt Bomer

Seasons
6

White Collar follows a brilliant con artist turned FBI consultant aiding the bureau in capturing white-collar criminals just like him. What makes the show remarkable is its unconventional premise, where a former criminal offers a fresh perspective on crime-solving by helping his partner understand why so many white-collar crimes go unnoticed. The series doubles down on its uncanny premise with its unique blend of clever plotting, charismatic cast chemistry, and snappy banter. White Collar’s consistently high critical acclaim, accolades, and potential revival underpin its enduring appeal in the Crime Drama genre.

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