I wish that I knew someone who worked as a detective in a police department to ask them a simple question: “Did you ever hire an outside consultant to help you solve a crime?” I would be willing to bet large sums of money that the answer is a resounding “No”. Yet if we were to take TV shows at their word, we would presume that it was an everyday occurrence. We used to have lots of private detective shows like Magnum, P.I. (which is being rebooted this fall by the way) or Mannix and of course classic movies and mystery novels are full of PIs such as Sam Spadeor Mike Hammer. But we seem to be flooded with police consultants these days. The most ridiculous of these just premiered on WGN America in the form of a procedural called “Carter“
Of course the most famous outside please consultant from literature is Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887. He has been adapted and re-adapted many times on film and TV. The most recent Sherlock incarnation is Johnny Lee Miller in “Elementary” which will air its seventh season this fall. This reimagines the character in a modern-day setting with a further twist that his companion Dr. Watson is female. Even before that, Edgar Allen Pro perhaps invented the murder mystery genre with his character C. Auguste Dupin who first appeared in 1841 in Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue“. In the case of these classic characters they are such geniuses that we can believe that the police might consult them on a case. On a much lighter note we had “Monk” who was a neurotic super detective played by Tony Shalaoub for eight seasons. He was a Sherlock Holmes style super detective character but at least he had the credentials of being a former police detective.
Slightly less credible as the non-police super sleuth we had Patrick Jane played by Simon Baker on “The Mentalist” for seven seasons. He was a fake psychic showman who was adapt at reading people’s tells and understood the psychology of how to manipulate them into confessing or revealing themselves as the guilty party. The FBI was aware he was not really psychic but just observant. The show also featured the romantic tension between him and his FBI partner Teresa Lisbon played by Robin Tunney. Taking a much more comic approach to the same fake psychic routine was “Psych” in which a super detective actually convinced the local PD that he had psychic powers that he could contribute to police cases when in fact he was just a gifted observer. “Psych” is played strictly for laughs and the show didn’t hesitate to “jump the shark” many times including an all musical episode in its final season. Despite its ridiculous premise, it ran for eight seasons and there have been follow-up TV movies. It’s great for a laugh but extremely far-fetched as a serious detective show.
Unfortunately the trend these days is for people from less credible professions who cross over to take up the role of police consultant. The most successful of these cop consultant shows was “Castle” in which mystery writer Rick Castle played by Nathan Filion who consulted with NYPD to help them solve crimes because he knew so much about criminals from writing novels about them. The premise is ridiculous but the stories were fun and the chemistry between Castle and the detective Kate Beckett whom he later married in the show was genuine. The show was a hit for eight seasons.
In the past year we’ve had several more entries into the genre. First we have “Deception” in which a disgraced stage illusionist teams up with the FBI to use his skills as an allusions to trick criminals into revealing themselves. He also is able to uncover when the criminals are using the art of illusion to throw the police off of their crimes. Again there was a hint of romantic link between the consultant and a female detective that given enough seasons probably would’ve gone down the road of Castle. I liked the show but it only lasted one season.
This year also brought us “Instinct” in which the outside consultant is a former CIA agent, turned author, turned college professor. He gets pulled into a case by the NYPD when a serial killer uses his best-selling book on abnormal psychology to leave clues to his next victims. This character portrayed by Alan Cumming was also paired with a hot young single female police contacted but they avoid the romantic connection because he is gay. His background in psychology and abnormal behavior as well as his CIA background lends some credibility to the story. The show was successful enough to get picked up for a second season. I’ve enjoyed it enough to keep watching.
Finally we come to the most ridiculous cop consultant stories of the bunch. The first is ABC’s new series “Take Two” in which a washed up actress who played a detective in a TV show teams up with a private detective supposedly to prepare for an upcoming film role where she will play a PI. Rachel Bilson plays the actress turned PI and Eddie Cibrian is her PI buddy. The idea that she knows a lot about police work or has some sort of special insights just because she played a TV detective stretches credibility to the breaking point. There is even a ridiculous scene where the bad guy has her gunpoint, forces her to put down her gun and she ends up kicking the gun in the air and hitting him in the face with it thus re-creating a scene from one of her TV episodes. I’ve only seen one episode out of the nine that have aired. There will be a total of 13 this season and it’s too soon to tell if it would get renewed for another one.
As if this genre wasn’t already overloaded to the breaking point, this week WGN America premiered a new series called “Carter” in which Jerry O’Connell plays an actor from a popular cop TV show. As in “Take Two” the actor has suffered a public meltdown although it hasn’t yet ruined his career. He is on hiatus between seasons so he goes home to Canada to get away from the limelight. While on hiatus he teams up with a childhood friend who is a police detective. She is played by Sidney Tamila Poitier. She is the daughter of famous actor Sidney Poitier. This one is played a little bit more for laughs in that they at times poke fun at the TV cop genre. They are still taking the ridiculous approach that being a TV detective somehow trained you to do the real thing. This is mitigated only by the back story that he has been a semi-famous boy detective in his childhood apparently having to do with the case of his mother who went missing. We will have to see where that story goes in future episodes.
Even the TV series “Lucifer” in which the devil himself becomes a police consultant has more credibility than these actor consultants because Lucifer has a certain hypnotic ability that can coerce people into nearly confessing their crimes. The show was canceled by Fox after three seasons but has been picked up for a fourth season by Netflix. Although a bit silly at times, I do enjoy it.
In summary I sort of liked “Deception” even though it lacked a lot of credibility. “Instinct” with its Sherlock-like consultant and “Elementary” with its reimagined actual Sherlock Holmes are both worth watching. But I can’t recommend either of the actors-turned-consultant shows “Take Two” or “Carter” and unless you are more interested in a RomCom than a real cop show. They both get “skip it” ratings from me.