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Who's the Greatest TV Detective of All Time? Here Are Some of Our Favorites

We've got a soft spot for Thomas Magnum, Olivia Benson, and other savvy onscreen investigators.

By Jax Miller

There are plenty of professions shown on TV, but perhaps the most exciting one to watch is the detective. It's fascinating to see these savvy and talented individuals put their skills to the test to solve cases minor and major.

How to Watch

Watch Magnum P.I. on NBC and Peacock.    

That's one of the reasons why we love Thomas Magnum, the titular investigator in Magnum P.I., airing Sundays at 9/8c on NBC. Each episode, Magnum tackles all kinds of mysteries in a way that makes us wish we were a little more observant and a little more brave.

He's not the only TV detective we love, though. There are plenty of fictional investigators who have won our hearts with their exploits onscreen.

Here are just some of our favorite TV detectives.

1) Thomas Magnum, Magnum P.I.

Jay Hernandez in Magnum PI

A fan favorite among the ladies, Thomas Magnum is the former U.S. Navy Seal we can’t help but adore. Played by Jay Hernandez, the protagonist solves crimes in exchange for his stay at Robin’s Nest in Hawaii, owned by an author who uses Magnum as his muse for his next fiction book. 

The series is a reboot of the iconic 1980s classic Magnum, P.I. starring Tom Selleck.

Packed with romantic tension between the playboy investigator and former MI6-agent Juliet Higgins (played by Perdita Weeks), each episode of Magnum P.I. has us glued to our seats.

2) Olivia Benson, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Olivia Benson on Law and Order SVU

For the TV detective with a heart of gold, look no further than NYPD Special Victims Unit detective-turned-Captain Olivia Benson (dun dun). Played by Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning Mariska Hargitay, Benson leads an elite squad assigned to investigate special cases involving homicides and other disturbing crimes.

Benson is a strong and independent woman, leading her team with empathy and compassion while championing for the voices belonging to survivors.  

Now in its 24th season, Law & Order: SVU stands as the longest-running primetime live-action series of all time, making Benson TV’s longest-running female character in the same category. 

3) Adrian Monk, Monk

Adrian Monk from Monk

With the millennium came the lovable Adrian Monk, played by Tony Shalhoub as a former San Francisco homicide detective whose life is defined by his obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

The series’ eight-season run on USA tells the story of Monk, whose condition worsened when his wife, Trudy, was killed in a car bomb that was allegedly left for Monk himself. Although Trudy’s homicide prompted Monk’s suspension from the police department, he is still called back to solve a number of homicides and mysteries, with a Columbo-esque take on his condition.

RELATED: 'It's A Great Story': Jay Hernandez Shares A 'Terrible Tattoo' Tale

Viewers can watch the entire series on Peacock

4) Jessica Fletcher, Murder, She Wrote

Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote

A classic cozy from the 1980s that stays in the hearts of even the most seasoned mystery show audience member is Murder, She Wrote. Though not a detective per se, Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury, is a widowed mystery writer and amateur sleuth in her small Maine town of Cabot Cove. In Scooby-Doo fashion, Lansbury’s character often uses her keen sensibility to discredit the seemingly obvious suspect in favor of a less likely culprit.

To keep up with the series’ success throughout the 1980s and 1990s, ongoing storylines had murder after murder taking place in the small coastal town, which would have made Cabot Cove the murder capital of the world, according to The Telegraph.

Fun fact: Murder, She Wrote and Magnum, P.I. had their own two-episode crossover back in 1986.

Episodes are available on Peacock.

5) Robert “Bobby” Goren, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Robert Goren from Law and Order

Of all of the detectives in the Law & Order universe, Detective Robert “Bobby” Goren of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, was arguably one of the most intelligent. With the help of his partner, Detective Alexandra Eames, Goren took a psychological approach to high-profile crimes and possessed piercing attention to detail. He didn’t just want to know “how” a murder took place but pondered on the “why,” with Criminal Intent heavily focused on the motives of its offenders. 

Although Law & Order: Criminal Intent ended in 2011, reruns are still available on Peacock

6) Shawn Spencer, Psych

Shawn Spencer from Psych

Psych has maintained a large following since the series ended in 2014 after eight seasons, and for good reason: It's a show with a lot of heart and humor.

James Roday stars as Shawn Spencer, a police consultant with alleged psychic abilities, much to the skepticism of his childhood friend Gus, played by Dulé Hill. Once used as a means to avoid jail, the hyper-observant Spencer hones in on his “psychic abilities” to help officers solve high-profile cases, giving life to the duo’s laugh-out-loud predicaments.

Spencer’s attention to detail was largely impressed upon him by his doting father, a former detective with the Santa Barbara Police Department, a path Spencer rejects for himself. 

Psych, as well as its feature-length spinoffs, can be streamed on Peacock

To catch the fifth season of Magnum P.I., tune in Sunday nights at 9/8c on NBC. Episodes are available to stream on Peacock the following day.