TV Sleuth Smackdown
Who is the Greatest TV Sleuth of All Time?
By David Bushman (with Nina Zipkin)
Sherlock Holmes, arguably the greatest sleuth of all time (with the possible exception of Scooby Doo), hits the big screen again, as the title character in Guy Ritchie's new film starring Robert Downey, Jr. The important question, here at the end of the aughts (or the naughts), is: who among all TV crime-fighters is the true heir to Holmes's deerstalker cap?
And the winner is... Gil Grissom!
Gruesome Grissom by a landslide. CSI's socially inept forensic entomologist has left the show, but apparently absence really does make the heart grow fonder, as Grissom bagged an impressive 14% of the vote. Almost as impressive: the next eight nominees -- Dr. House, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, Adrian Monk, Crockett and Tubbs, Brenda Johnson, Thomas Magnum, and Dale Cooper -- all finished within a single point of one another, in that order, although none gathered more than House's 7.9%. We're awed by the diverse bent of our readers, as these top-nine finishers represented three different countries, plus eccentric G-man Cooper, who, like cocreator David Lynch, surely hails from another planet.
A brilliant, if immodest, detective, Holmes possesses extraordinary powers of observation and deduction, and is no slouch when it comes to the physical stuff either, having mastered the martial art of baritsu, in addition to being a skillful pugilist and swordsman. Created by Scotsman Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes appeared first in 1887 in "A Study of Scarlet," a short story published in Beeton's Christmas Annual after many rejections. Doyle went on to write fifty-six short stories and four novels featuring Holmes—aka "the canon"—including "The Final Problem" (1893), in which Holmes and criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty, locked in mortal combat, ostensibly tumble to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. The author had grown weary of his larger-than-life creation and longed to write historical yarns, though eventually he yielded to public pressure and resurrected the great detective.
Illustration by Sidney Paget.
(Don Johnson/Philip Michael Thomas, Miami Vice) MTV cops Crockett and Tubbs shopped for socks at the same outlet as Thomas Magnum (meaning none), but five-o'clock shadows and linen suits aside, these were two tough hombres who not only tangled with vicious, nefarious cocaine cowboys in Miami's drug-infested South Beach, but also had to constantly figure out what soft-spoken Lieutenant Martin Castillo (Edward James Olmos) was trying to tell them.
(Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer) A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, this Georgia peach is a CIA-trained interrogator who can wring a confession from a dishrag (hence, the titular nickname). Brenda, a deputy chief in the major-crimes unit of the LAPD, gives new meaning to the term "flawed hero" (wicked sweet tooth, awful driver, Type A control freak, etc.), but on the other hand, she's unfailingly polite and—like they say down South—"natural po-leece."
(Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks) "Coop" to his friends, this G-man was all intuition, inspired by Tibetan mythology and surreal dreams involving dancing dwarves and antediluvian giants in his quest to solve the murder of depraved high-schooler Laura Palmer. When last seen, he was fractured in half, his good self trapped in the Black Lodge and his doppelganger smacking his head against the bathroom mirror as the evil BOB stared back, laughing maniacally.
Columbo - 6.6%
(Peter Falk, Columbo) The banality of genius: a fumbling, seemingly slow-witted Everyman in a rumpled raincoat—master of the false exit—lulls haughty suspects into a false sense of security, then pounces, trapping them in their own lies. Oh, just one more thing: the part was offered to Bing Crosby and Lee J. Cobb, who turned it down.
Dana Scully/Fox Mulder - 6.3%
(Gillian Anderson/David Duchovny, The X-Files) Trust us on this: these two were a wreck. She's the skeptic, a lapsed Catholic, struggling to reconcile science with faith. He's the believer, tormented by the alien abduction of his little sister on his watch. Those later-in-life his-and-her abductions hardly helped. However, these two special FBI agents took on one of the most insidious conspiracies of all time, involving ETs, government officials, and the cancerous Cigarette Smoking Man—and won! (we think).
(Jack Webb, Dragnet) Was a cop, carried a badge. But old, black-and-white Joe (forget the sixties episodes) wasn't exactly the automaton we are led to believe. Beneath that mug was the sneer of a man who despised crime and was incapable of mustering sympathy for even the most tragic transgressors. While Webb insisted Friday was just a "steady, plodding kind of cop," facts are facts, and Super Joe always got his man.
(Kristin Bell, Veronica Mars) Snar-keeeee! Mistress of the sardonic quip—once, when a passer-by noticed her incapacitated car and asked "Flat?" she replied "Just as God made me." But VM was tenacious without peer, and smart too, and when she made up her mind to solve something—like her best friend's murder or her own drugging/rape—this Goddess of war was an earth-scorcher.
(David Boreanaz, Angel) Your average, everyday vampire with a soul. A real brooder. But boy could he kick butt! The fact that a preponderance of his adversaries were superpowered creatures with names like Voca (Warrior of the Underworld), the Scourge, and The Beast only made his accomplishments that much more impressive. Inside, the guy had heart—his mission was to "help the hopeless"—even if he had been dead over two hundred years and was harboring a vicious demon inside. If he's OK with Buffy, he's OK with us.