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There’s nothing I love more than turning on the television and trying to solve a mystery. Whether it’s an easily-wrapped, hour long case on a show like Bones or a longer, sprawling mystery that slowly unfurls over an entire season, I’m ready and willing to submit my guesses. Hell, I’ll even watch reruns of Columbo where I know the killer ahead of time. Solving crime is my thing, and I love living vicariously through TV’s best detectives.
As such, it only makes sense I’d put together a list of TV’s best crime-solving shows. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best of 2014!
10. Criminal MindsCriminal Minds isn’t the sexiest choice on this list. It’s been around for about a decade, but it still puts up great numbers. More importantly, it still churns out compelling, edge of your seat cases on a weekly basis, all of which are off-putting and creepy. They’re the stuff of nightmares if we’re being honest. And while new addition Jennifer Love Hewitt hasn’t been completely assimilated yet, there’s no reason to think her presence won’t improve the show over the long haul. Expect her to be abducted at some point during a wrap-around season finale and season premiere.
9. ElementaryIf Criminal Minds is the safe network show that’s found its comfortable sandbox and keeps making castles, Elementary is the broadcast alternative that won’t ever let itself get comfortable. Just as Holmes and Watson finally started getting comfortable with each other, the show let Joan sleep and enter into a weird romantic tryst with Sherlock’s brother. Then, once they worked out those demons over many episodes, the show split our heroes up and gave Holmes a new female protégé to work with. It’s an odd choice, but it has actually created some compelling television so far this season. It’s unclear whether new addition Kitty will stick around over the long haul, but whatever happens, I’m sure the show still won’t let itself ever get completely comfortable.
8. GothamMost people probably think of Gotham as a superhero show first, but at its core, it’s a story of two detectives. They just happen to encounter weirder problems on a weekly basis than all the other crime solvers on this list. That’s okay though. Weird is sometimes good, and the world of Gotham really works. It’s dark and mysterious. It’s a lot closer to Christopher Nolan’s vision than to Joel Schumacher’s, but thanks to Donal Logue’s foul-mouthed, lazy and continually annoyed Harvey Bullock, Gotham prevents itself from getting too serious. Besides, in Penguin, it now boasts one of the best villains on television, which is pretty damn impressive for a network show that’s been around for half of one season.
7. SherlockThis is probably lower than most would place Sherlock, but in all honesty, I wasn’t in love with the third season. The acting was as brilliant as ever. The writing was clever, and the flashback sequences during the wedding episode were clever. A lot of it was wonderful. It deserves to be on this list, but I’m not really in love with the overall direction the show has taken. Sherlock is too close to the mysteries he’s solving for my personal taste. I like him as a gun for hire, someone that takes on cases that intrigue him, rather than someone whose family members and friends are threatening him thanks to super villains who are interested in him and his life.
6. Brooklyn Nine-NineDetective shows don’t often run at thirty minutes or focus on comedy. It’s too hard to introduce suspects and solve a serious crime with that timeframe or that tone. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine really works. It manages to give all of the characters something to do. It’s consistently funny, and it demonstrates real police work. It does it through sharp writing and the conscious decision to keep most of the cases very light. Viewers might be uncomfortable watching goofy cops trying to solve a murder, but they’re more than willing to watch them get foiled by some dude nicknamed “The Pontiac Bandit”.
5. The MentalistIf you’re not watching The Mentalist right now, you need to get your DVR in order. The show partially rebooted itself after the long-running Red John plotline was finally resolved, and it’s now better than it’s been since the second or third season. The weirdo, case of the week element is back. The writing is clever, and the plots are a lot more fun than they are serious. Even the new characters are working out perfectly. In fact, a case could be made that this FBI group is the best team in the history of the show. That’s high praise for a program that was once among the most popular on television, and while it probably won’t help it land a renewal, it is nice to see the show go out on a high note.
4. FargoFargo gives the audience a sprawling and complicated environment, rich with characters, different locations and an arsenal of wild schemes. An overwhelming majority of it somehow works too. The personalities are eccentric enough to be interesting but also balanced enough to feel real. The murders are gruesome enough to be memorable but tame enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the show’s many other qualities. In short, it’s a brilliant balancing act of moving parts, and in perhaps the highest compliment of all, it’s a worthwhile spiritual sequel to the Coen Brothers brilliant, Academy Award-winning Fargo.
3. GracepointI’m sick of hearing negativity about Gracepoint. Yeah, it didn’t exactly put an insane number of asses in seats. Yeah, it was pretty close to the original British version. Yeah, there weren’t enough suspects who could have reasonably committed the crime. But despite all of those fair concerns, the show was still really damn good. Why aren’t people focusing on that? Michael Pena was lights out as the deceased boy’s father. The directing was just artsy enough to be interesting without coming off as weird or trying too hard. The new wrinkles to the original outline were mostly big improvements, and the length was just enough time to intrigue viewers without overstaying its welcome.
2. True DetectiveTrue Detective is full-blown weird. The case our two heroes work is among the weirdest in the history of television, and everything out of Rust’s mouth occupies that space between genius and madness. The show lives on the edge, but thankfully, it all works. The action is engrossing. The morality is complicated enough to be interesting without ever devolving into chaos, and the performances from leads Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are nothing short of spectacular. There’s no way to know whether the show will be able to continue its greatness into Season 2 with a completely different cast and case, but the stand-alone first season will always be one of the all-time greats.
1. JustifiedJustified has been one of the best shows on television for years, and this past season was further proof of that. Thanks to the addition of the villainous Crowe Family, viewers were able to watch Boyd play many different sides, and thanks to Ava’s trip to prison, the dynamic between everyone completely shifted on its head. Justified is at its best when it presents a cohesive, winding plot that introduces a handful of new villains and allows them to intermix with and shake up the old characters. That’s the Justified formula, and 5 seasons in, lead adversaries Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens keep getting more and more interesting.