Cozy to Cold-Blooded: Mystery Shows 2

by Sara Farmer
published in Community

While taking an evening walk, I asked my husband if he could guess which mystery shows I put on my list last time. He did guess several, but he also mentioned a couple I actually felt ashamed I left off, like Only Murders in the Building and Castle. Genuine favorites of mine! Especially OMITB! I watched the second season 3 times trying to catch all the clues. 

Several others were fun favorites I just didn’t even consider. I think hour-long cozies and dramas spring to mind first when I think of mystery shows. Thankfully, my hubs reminded me of the more fun and funny sides to mystery. Now I can correct the unjust omission of OMITB, Castle, and also Dead to Me. (I did remember that one before, but didn’t have time and space to squeeze it in.) Read on for a more nostalgic and comedic list of my favorites.

Only Murders in the Building

Location: Manhattan, New York City 

Original or Adaptation: Original 

Premise of Show: Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin star as Mabel Mora, Oliver Putnam, and Charles Haden Savage. The unlikely trio bond over their favorite true crime podcast All Is Not Ok In Oklahoma. When neighbor Tim Kono is found shot to death in their own building, the Arconia, their curiosity proves irresistible. They decide to solve the murder and record a podcast called Only Murders in the Building as they go along. As they bond and find clues, they also realize they are all keeping secrets. And some relate to the case. 

Verdict: I can’t believe this was one of the mystery shows I left off the first list. Seriously, I can’t. Only Murders is a delight on every level. The design, the actors, the dialogue, and the plots all merge into a smart, hilarious, addictive show. It can be confusing and plays a bit fast and loose with the “rules” of detective fiction. (I’m not sure it’s actually possible for audience members to figure out the solution before our intrepid trio do.) But it’s so well done you just don’t care. You are desperate to know the answers, you discuss it endlessly, and you keep watching.


Location: Manhattan, New York City

Original or Adaptation: Original (Although books written by “Richard Castle” and inspired by the show now exist.)

Premise of show: Best-selling mystery writer Richard Castle is interviewed by the NYPD about a series of murders that copy ones in his books. While there, Detective Kate Beckett catches his eye and inspires a new series character, Nikki Heat. Through his friend the mayor, Castle gets permission to observe police officers as research. He shadows Det. Beckett and they discover they work well together.

Most of the episodes feel like a romantic caper with the inevitable sexual tension between Castle and Beckett and the lighthearted tone. However, there are several story arcs, including the mystery of Beckett’s mother’s murder, that add drama and depth. There is also a fun recurring Easter egg concerning Castle’s poker buddies, who are all real-life mystery writers – Stephen J. Cannell, Dennis Lehane, James Patterson, and Michael Connelly. 

Verdict: The plots, writing, and acting are great. The supporting cast gives strong performances and all capably handle both comedy and drama. My husband and I actually stayed up until 1 am catching up on it sometimes, even though we had a baby waking us up early the next morning. Once we caught up, Monday nights became all about red wine and Castle after the kiddo went to bed. I miss that. 

Mystery Woman

Location: California, United States

Original or Adaptation: Original

Premise: This is a series of TV movies rather than a TV series, but I watched them every single time they came on Hallmark back when we had cable, so they must go on my favorites list. Kellie Martin plays Samantha Kinsey, proprietor of the Mystery Woman bookstore. She inherited it from her uncle, who called it Mystery Man during his time running it.

Samantha, her old friend Philby (who definitely was never a spy and is played by the late Clarence Williams III of The Mod Squad), and her lawyer best friend Cassie, encounter many mysteries beyond the shelves and ably solve all. But not without some danger along the way. 

Verdict: Do I know these are implausible and cheesy? Yes. Do I care? No. Implausible and cheesy is a legitimate subtype of an amateur detective story. These mystery shows are delightful, re-watchable, and comforting. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’d probably go with either Game Time or Mystery Weekend.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! 

Location: All over the US

Original or Adaptation: Original

Premise of Show: Scooby-Doo is a Great Dane who travels the country in a van called The Mystery Machine with his owner Shaggy and friends Fred, Daphne, and Velma. While there have been many iterations of Scooby since the show premiered in 1969, the basic formula stayed much the same. 

Scooby and the gang travel to a new place, someone tells them about something spooky nearby and the practical ones (Fred, Daphne, and Velma) vow to find a logical explanation and unmask the villain while Scooby and Shaggy shake with fear and eat huge sandwiches. They always solve the case and the criminal always grouses that he/she/they could have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those pesky kids! 

Verdict: This is one of the first mystery shows I ever loved. I still enjoy it. I remember watching it with my brother on my grandparents’ old TV, that was built into a console with sliding doors. From the goofy theme song to the triumph of the “pesky kids” we were always riveted. We weren’t alone. 

New Scooby movies continue to be made and several new incarnations of the show appeared after the original ended. (Including the Saturday morning prequel A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which my brother and I also enjoyed.) There have been two live-action movies and pop culture references galore, one of the most famous being the dubbing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her friends as the Scooby gang or Scoobies. Scooby just makes you smile. I wish I could rub his belly and give him a Scooby snack. (By the way, they make a version of those for people and they are so good.)

Dead to Me

Location: Laguna Beach, California, USA

Original or Adaptation: Original

Premise of Show: Jen Harding just lost her husband and is struggling to process her loss and raise her two sons as they grieve. She befriends Judy Hale at a group for people who have lost their partners. They become best friends very quickly. Jen even invites Judy to live in her guest house. But they both have secrets, which put their friendship and their lives in danger. 

Verdict: This is one of the mystery shows that hooked me and my husband immediately. We struggled to watch just one episode and our resolve crumbled most of the time. We even tried orange wine because of this show. (It’s pretty good.) Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini are a dynamite acting duo and the supporting cast is superb, including James Marsden, Diana Maria-Riva, Suzy Nakamura, Natalie Morales, and the late Ed Asner.

Search Party 

Location: New York City, parts of New England, a few episodes in Quebec 

Premise of Show: This is one of those mystery shows that resists encapsulation, but I’ll give it my best shot. It starts as an amateur detective dark comedy/thriller. Dory Sief sees a notice that college friend Chantal is missing. She tells her group of friends: boyfriend Drew and friends Portia and Elliott. They feign concern and then go back to their brunch discussion. Dory can’t stop thinking about it. She begins to investigate, running into and teaming up with a PI. Her friends try to tell her she’s out of control, but they get sucked in, too, leading to a big mess rather than resolution at the end of the first season. 

Verdict: Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) mesmerizes as Dory. Her character arc is huge, but she handles it masterfully, inhabiting every emotion and mental state completely. The rest of the cast were unknown to me before, but proved excellent. Meredith Hagner as Portia stands out. She is funny and clueless, at times even heartbreaking. 

The subsequent seasons, particularly three, four, and the fifth and final one, seem like completely different show genres. This mystery show starts as a thrilling mystery comedy and eventually morphs into a thrilling apocalyptic comedy. That may sound like an impossible leap, but the show makes it a completely natural progression for these characters in this world.

Brooklyn 9-9

Location: Brooklyn, New York City

Original or Adaptation: Original

Premise of Show: Now for something a little different. Brooklyn 9-9 was a half hour comedy on Fox and later on NBC. Many might not first think of it as a mystery show, but as an excellent sitcom starring Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti, Joe Lo Truglio, Melissa Fumero, and Stephanie Beatriz. However, it’s set in the (fictional) 99th precinct of the NYPD in Brooklyn. 

Each episode shows them solving crimes while negotiating friendships and romantic relationships both in and out of the precinct. Being detectives, the job becomes time-consuming and absorbing at times, overshadowing and even jeopardizing their romantic relationships. 

Verdict: It is hilarious. The officers and criminals often act like goofballs, but there are moments of danger. These funny cops take their cases seriously and are good at the job they love. There are some recurring criminals like the Pontiac Bandit (I can’t tell you who plays him, because spoilers, but he is one of my favorites and so funny.), but most mysteries are wrapped up in one episode. The characters and the job itself are what you take with you from this show. 

I don’t usually do this, but I have two honorable mentions — After Party and Queens of Mystery. I didn’t have space to include them, and they aren’t enough for another column, but they are great. 

After Party involves a murder of a famous alumnus at a party he throws after his high school reunion. Queens of Mystery is about a detective who returns to the small town she was raised in by her three aunts after her mother died. Her aunts all write mystery novels and can’t help poking their noses into her cases. Of course, there is a mysterious backstory concerning her mother’s death.

If you love mystery shows like I do, it’s pure paradise on TV these days, so go forth and enjoy! Let me know what you watch!

Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at and on Twitter @avonlea79.

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