Friday, June 30, 2017

A Complete Ranking of Mystery Television of the 1980s

Having previously undertaken to present the rankings of television mystery shows of the 1960s and 1970s, I thought I'd complete this quixotic quest by taking on the 1980s. This will be the last decade. I believe a number of the series presented below were down-rated because they debuted at the nexus of the availability of the internet in the 1990s. (IMDB was launched in 1990, an early online presence.)

Among the sins of the internet is that people who have strong, often uninformed opinions have come to believe that all opinions are equal*. Anonymity helps give voice to vitriol and I believe the recent past has suffered. Everyone wants to express their opinions and those views for good or bad are exaggerated.

*All carefully weighed, well-thought-out, and informed opinions are equal.

Edward Gorey

In contrast to the 60s and 70s lists, here you will find a number of much beloved programs scoring lowly. Cult programs score highly. Of course, ofttimes cult status is deserved and some of the most highly-rated cult programs on this list are quite good. I have not seen many other high-ranking entries but have become intrigued by their descriptions.

My cut-off for the 1980s were those with at least 150 votes, and even with this higher number, the list greatly expanded over the 60s and 70s. As before, I left off TV movies, and mysteries with fantasy or sci-fi elements. I did include miniseries even when the total episodes were two.

There was a painful number of shows with a technologically-advanced car or helicopter helping to solve the crime. I cut these out. Beyond bordering on science fiction, they seemed to be mostly adventure rather than mystery. For this decade I grouped together series with multiple entries such as Miss Marple.

Two worthwhile trends in the 1980s. A lot of the classic mystery detectives made their debuts or were reincarnated, Marple, Dalgliesh, Marlowe, Morse, Holmes, etc. Gangster-themed shows are among the highest-rated. Perhaps this is a carryover from the popularity of The Godfather.

Not having seen Froutopia, the show with the number one ranking, I will not dismiss its status. I will say, that there were no other programs from Greece which made the list. Similarly, the number seven spot is held by an Iranian series. Iran has certainly made an international splash in recent years for their film-making.

Popular American series did poorly in the rankings in this decade.

This is a decade in which I personally watched little television. I was busy getting my PhD for several years and had little time for outside interests. I still have yet to see an episode of MacGyver, the show with the most votes.

I plan to do another post, to sort out the 60s through the 80s and separate American and British and look at the leaders of the three decades combined.

1. Froutopia (1985–1988) 9.1, Votes: 266
Greek. Puppets act out topical mysteries in this obscure show with a fanatical following.

2. Masterpiece Mystery (1980–continuing) 9.0, Votes: 583
British mysteries and Edward Gorey. This series showcased a lot of other great productions some of which are ranked individually below.

3. The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes set of series. Two series were in the eighties (listed below) and two were in the nineties (not listed). The novels became TV movies (not listed).

  a. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984–1985) 8.8, Votes: 14,897
  Jeremy Brett and David Burke in the canonic of the Holmes television series.
  b. The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1986–1988), 8.8, Votes: 6,396
  Each of the Jeremy Brett series is worth watching.

4. The Singing Detective (1986) 8.8, Votes: 3,615
Unique, hallucinatory, musical episodes of the reminisces of a mystery writer hospitalized with a crippling disease.

5. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) 8.8, Votes: 3,194
German. A criminal can't put his past behind him.

6. La Piovra (The Octopus) series. Four series in the eighties, ten in total.

  a. La Piovra. (The Octopus) (1984) 8.8, Votes: 2,293
  Italian. An inspector fights the mob. Popular, iconic Italian series.
  b. La piovra 2 (The Octopus II) (1985–1986) 8.5, Votes: 802
Man versus the mob, part two.
  c. La piovra 3 (The Octopus II) (1987) 8.6, Votes: 714
Man versus the mob, third installment.
  d. La piovra 4 (The Octopus IV) (1989) 8.8, Votes: 763
The fourth part in the series.

7. Hezardastan (1988) 8.8, Votes: 688
Iranian. Political intrigue, assassins and a jewel thief.

8. The Beiderbecke series. All three series were in the eighties.

  a. The Beiderbecke Affair (1985) 8.8, Votes: 417
  A jazz-lover and an environmentalist stumble into evidence of corruption and a lot of eccentric characters.
  b. The Beiderbecke Tapes (1987) 8.7, Votes: 254
  A jazz-lover and an environmentalist stumble into evidence of corruption and a lot of eccentric characters.
  c. The Beiderbecke Connection (1988) 8.7, Votes: 224
  A jazz-lover and an environmentalist help a refugee and stumble on to more eccentric characters.

9. Smiley's People (1982) 8.7, Votes: 2,758
George Smiley finally bests Karla.

10. Cuna de lobos (Cradle of Wolves) (1986–1987) 8.7, Votes: 166
A popular Mexican novella follows the treachery of the heirs to a pharmaceutical company.

11. Dobrodruzství kriminalistiky (1989–1998) 8.7, Votes: 154
Russian. The history of criminology, dramatized.

12. Edge of Darkness (1985) 8.6, Votes: 2,958
Environmentalism and murder in 80s England.

13. Traffik (1989) 8.6, Votes: 1,308
Inspired the Oscar-winning movie. Drug-trafficking, international.

14. Monaco Franze - Der ewige Stenz (1983) 8.6, Votes: 543
German. Police officer likes to chase women more than chase criminals.

15. The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1988–2003) 8.6, Votes: 464
A conspiracy-laden documentary look at JFK's murder.

16. Mother Love (1989) 8.6, Votes: 288
Problems with the mother-in-law. With Diana Rigg and David McCallum.

17. Shang Hai tan (1983) 8.6, Votes: 191
Hong Kong. Two friends grow up: one with the mob.

18. Mathnet (1987–1992) 8.6 , Votes: 177
Mathematicians work to solve crimes. From the Children's Television Network. The Sesame Street of math detectives.

19. Police Squad! (1982) 8.5, Votes: 11,121
Sometimes failure leads to success.

20. The Russian version of Sherlock Holmes. Two other installments of this series appeared in the 1970s, along with five made-for-TV movies. One more installment would appear in 2006.

  a. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Treasures of Agra (1983) 8.5, Votes: 1,831
  The well-regarded Russian series which began in the seventies, continues.
  b. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Twentieth Century Approaches (1986) 8.1, Votes: 1,663
  More of the popular Russian Sherlock series.

21. The Jewel in the Crown (1984) 8.5, Votes: 1,570
Follows the story of a man unjustly arrested for rape.

22. Duarte & C.a (1985–1989) 8.5 Votes: 184
Portugal. A wild comic detective show.

23. Crime Story (1986–1988) 8.4, Votes: 1,884
Dennis Farina as a Chicago detective versus the mob.

24. The Gangster Chronicles (1981) 8.4, Votes: 163
The story of organized crime in America.

25. Reilly: Ace of Spies (1983) 8.3, Votes: 1,071
Real-life spy gets a mini-series telling of his exploits.

26. Hill Street Blues (1981–1987) 8.2, Votes: 5,311
Bochco's groundbreaking police series set in a very busy precinct.

27. Jane Eyre (1983) 8.2, Votes: 2,544
Who knows what evil lurks in the attic of your employer?

28. Chiefs (1983) 8.2, Votes: 1,236
The changes in a Southern town as seen through three generations of police chiefs.

29. Philip Marlowe, Private Eye (1983–1986) 8.2, Votes: 263
British series of the iconic L.A. private detective.

30. Inspector Morse (1987–2000) 8.1, Votes: 7,048
A police inspector solves baffling and twisty cases.

31. Cover Up (1984–1985) 8.1, Votes: 353
Fashion photographer and ex-soldier solve crimes, world-wide.

32. Maelstrom (1985) 8.0, Votes: 320
UK and Norway. It's a smorgasbord of murder and violence.

33. Harry's Game (1982) 8.0, Votes: 313
Undercover soldier versus IRA.

34. Bangkok Hilton (1989) 7.9, Votes: 3,801
Australian. Nicole Kidman is imprisoned after being tricked into smuggling drugs.

35. Lovejoy (1986–1994) 7.9, Votes: 2,143
Ian McShane as an antique dealer/detective. Ian McShane!

36. Wiseguy (1987–1990) 7.9, Votes: 1,520
Undercover takedown of the mob.

37. If Tomorrow Comes (1986) 7.9, Votes: 1,307
Sidney Sheldon and jewel thieves and con men and lots of etc.

38. Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. Three were mini-series (listed below), several were television movies (not listed) and several more were part of Masterpiece Mystery (not listed).

  a. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced (1985) 7.9, Votes: 1,280
  A newspaper announces a murder.
  b. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: The Body in the Library (1984) 7.6, Votes: 1,274
  Miss Marple knows where to find the bodies.
  c. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: The Moving Finger (1985) 7.6, Votes: 1,057
  The moving finger, having written, writes another installment.

39. Fatal Vision (1984) 7.9, Votes: 693
Did his son-in-law kill his daughter? From a true story.

40. The Inspector Dalgliesh series. Five of the Roy Marsden series were in the eighties. Three more were in the nineties. Also TV movies.

  a. A Taste for Death (1988) 7.9, Votes: 216
  Inspector Adam Dalgleish on the scene.
  b. Cover Her Face (1985) 7.7, Votes: 225
  Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh takes on another crime.
  c. Death of an Expert Witness (1983) 7.7, Votes: 224
  More Dalgliesh.
  d. Shroud for a Nightingale (1984) 7.6, Votes: 231
  Yet another adaptation of the well-regarded Dalgliesh series of books.
  e. The Black Tower (1985) 7.5, Votes: 233
  Another Dalgliesh mystery.

41. Widows (1983) 7.9, Votes: 210
A botched job of armed robbery kills the perpetrators. Their widows take on the job.

42. Protivostoyanie (1985) 7.9, Votes: 166
Soviet Union. A dismembered body leads to a war deserter.

43. The Equalizer (1985–1989) 7.8, Votes: 3,244
Edward Woodward as an ex-spy turned P.I.

44. I Know My First Name Is Steven (1989) 7.8, Votes: 1,949
Years after a kidnapping, a child comes home.

45. Midnight Caller (1988–1991) 7.8, Votes: 894
Ex-police officer takes on radio show.

46. For the Term of His Natural Life (1983) 7.8, Votes: 155
A false conviction sends a man to Tasmania, 1830s.

47. MacGyver (1985–1992) 7.7, Votes: 29,305
Who knew that you could make a bomb out of a toothpick, a hair comb,

48. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985–1989) 7.7, Votes: 1,324
Remakes of stories from the original series reusing introductions by Hitchcock.

49. Jack the Ripper (1988) 7.7, Votes: 3,542
Michael Caine works for Scotland Yard investigating the Ripper killings.

50. Mystery!: Campion (1989–1990) 7.7, Votes: 532
The Mystery series takes on another classic detective.

51. Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980) 7.7, Votes: 289
Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum as an unlikely pair of crime-fighters.

52. Masterpiece Theatre: Bleak House (1985) 7.7, Votes: 265
Dicken's mystery masterpiece. With Diana Rigg and Denholm Elliott.

53. Night Heat (1985–1989), 7.7, Votes: 241
Police detective stories as told by a reporter.

54. Fox Mystery Theater (1984) 7.7, Votes: 175
Anthology of twisty mysteries.

55. The A-Team (1983–1987) 7.6, Votes: 27,247
Four misfit vets solve crimes while on the run.

56. Moonlighting (1985–1989) 7.6, Votes: 14,103
Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd play P.I.s at a firm with a shaky fourth wall.

57. Mission: Impossible (1988–1990) 7.6, Votes: 2,602
Still Peter Graves, still impossible.

58. A Perfect Spy (1987) 7.6, Votes: 600
From Le Carré's tome on what makes a perfect spy.

59. Stingray (1985–1987) 7.6, Votes: 520
A mysterious do-gooder helps out strangers.

60. Partners in Crime (1983) 7.6, Votes: 423
Agatha Christie's merry married detectives.

61. The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987) 7.6, Votes: 256
Acid-filled rivalries, murder, Ann-Margret and Claudette Colbert.

62. Sidekicks (1986–1987) 7.6, Votes: 222
Karate kid police apprentice.

63. Nero Wolfe (1981) 7.6, Votes: 179
Classic mysteries with the classic detective.

64. Vizit k Minotavru (1987) 7.6, Votes: 178
Soviet Union. A Stradivari violin is stolen.

65. Miami Vice (1984–1990) 7.5, Votes: 17,881
Iconic 80s police series featuring cool and more cool.

66. Magnum, P.I. (1980–1988) 7.5, Votes: 16,556
A-hunk-a-hunk of Hawaiian P.I.

67. In the Heat of the Night (1988–1995) 7.5, Votes: 2,466
Carroll O'Connor calls him Mr. Tibbs.

68. Dempsey and Makepeace (1985–1986), 7.5, Votes: 1,081
Tough NY cop relocates to London force because.

69. Röd snö (1985) 7.5, Votes: 432
Norwegian, Swedish. Intrigue and murder in 1942 near the Swedish border.

70. TASS upolnomochen zayavit... (TASS Is Authorized To Declare. . .) (1984) 7.5, Votes: 236
Soviet Union. Spies and revolution.

71. The Charmer (1987) 7.5, Votes: 170
Killer, magna cum laude, Charm School.

72. 48 Hours (1988–continuing) 7.4, Votes: 1,167
Documentary show investigates true crimes.

73. Return to Eden (1983) 7.4, Votes: 967
Australia. After her husband tries to murder her by pushing her into a crocodile, Rebecca Gilling plots revenge. Remade as a TV series also starring Rebecca Gilling.

74. The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988) 7.4, Votes: 555
From the true story of the miscarriage of justice and those who tried to prevent it.

75. A Man Called Hawk (1989) 7.4, Votes: 227
Spenser for Hire spin-off.

76. 21 Jump Street (1987–1991) 7.3, Votes: 9,027
Edward Scissorhands proves that he was more than just a cut-up.

77. Remington Steele (1982–1987) 7.3, Votes: 5,373 
Zimbalist and Brosnan make for an unlikely detective team.

78. Spenser: For Hire (1985–1988) 7.3, Votes: 1,430
Robert Urich as Robert Parker's iconic private detective.

79. America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back (1988–2012) 7.3, Votes: 1,333
Be on the lookout: actual crimes are presented.

80. Taggart (1983–2010) 7.3, Votes: 920
Gritty series investigating murders in Glasgow.

81. Return to Eden (1986-1987) 7.3, Votes 323.
Australia. Rebecca Gilling relives the mini-series as a TV series.

82. Police Rescue (1989–1996) 7.3, Votes: 255
Australia. New South Wales rescue squad.

83. Street Legal (1987–1994) 7.3, Votes: 155
Canadian. Toronto attorneys.

84. Bassie en Adriaan en de huilende professor (1982) 7.3, Votes: 154
Netherlands. A clown and a strongman team up against an angry, although not mad scientist.

85. Matlock (1986–1995) 7.1, Votes: 4,661 
Andy Griffith stars as Grandpa Simpson's favorite defense attorney.

86. Simon & Simon (1981–1989) 7.1, Votes: 3,134
Brothers and private eyes.

87. Crying Freeman 1: Portrait of a Killer (1988) 7.1, Votes: 800
Japan. Animated. A woman witnesses a mob hit.

88. Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe (1984) 7.1, Votes: 336
French. Did Ovide blow-up a plane to kill his wife?

89. Hardball (1989–1990) 7.1, Votes: 153
Veteran and new cop team up and they don't always play by the rules.

90. L.A. Law (1986–1994) 7.0, Votes: 3,131
Bochco (Hill Street Blues, Columbo, etc.) strikes again.

91. Crazy Like a Fox (1984–1986) 7.0, Votes: 381
Father and son solve mysteries in San Francisco.

92. Dress Gray (1986) 7.0, Votes: 291
A murder at the military academy.

93. Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996) 6.9, Votes: 13,777
Jessica Fletcher brings order to the mean streets of Cabot Cove. Starring all-time heartthrob Angela Lansbury (not being sarcastic, she's wonderful).

94. The Bourne Identity (1988) 6.9, Votes: 3,474
Sometimes you have to go where nobody, not even you, knows your name.

95. The New Mike Hammer (1984–1989) 6.9, Votes: 685
Stacy Keach as the two-fisted P.I.

96. Brotherhood of the Rose (1989) 6.9, Votes: 682
Romulus and Remus are orphans, trained from childhood to be brilliant CIA operatives. Hoo-boy.

97. Linda (1984–2001) 6.9, Votes: 265
Hungary. Black belt karate-wielding policewoman.

98. Cagney & Lacey (1981–1988) 6.8, Votes: 2,242
Two female detectives are as tough as they need be.

99. Riptide (1984–1986) 6.8, Votes: 1,691
Vietnam vet detectives.

100. Bergerac (1981–1991) 6.8, Votes: 874
A detective with a drinking problem.

101. The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (1987–2000) 6.8, Votes: 218
The mystery novelists explores the dark side.

102. Lady Blue (1985–1986) 6.7, Votes: 181
Tales of a tough female cop.

103. Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop (1988–1993) 6.7, Votes: 148
Dogs also have nine lives. A police dog playing opposite Officer Katts. Rough.

104. C.A.T.S. Eyes (1985–1987) 6.7, Votes: 103
An all-female British P.I. enterprise. These two were below the cut-off for votes, but seemed to fit together, one after the other.

105. The Bill (1984–2010) 6.6, Votes: 2,103
London police, day-in, day-out.

106. Hardcastle and McCormick (1983–1986) 6.6, Votes: 1,580
Criminal and legal cases get a second going over with a retired judge and his helper.

107. Matt Houston (1982–1985) 6.6, Votes: 695
A Texan (note surname) moves to California and acts as a P.I.

108. The Atlanta Child Murders (1985) 6.6, Votes: 283
Based on the investigation into the murder of children in Atlanta in the early eighties.

109. Ein Fall für zwei (A Case for Two) (1981–continuing) 6.5, Votes: 495
German. Lawyers and private investigators worked to find justice. Just wrapped up its 36th season.

110. Großstadtrevier (1986–continuing), 6.5, Votes: 225
Hamburg Germany police comedy/drama. Thirty-one years and counting.

111. The People's Court (1981–1993) 6.5, Votes: 224
Small claims, big drama.

112. Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992) 6.4, Votes: 1,672
Gruff-voiced D.A. works with a P.I. to solve cases.

113. Boon (1986–1992) 6.4, Votes: 518
Ex-firemen solve crimes.

114. Windmills of the Gods (1988) 6.4, Votes: 233
Jaclyn Smith and Robert Wagner in a potboiler mystery.

115. B.L. Stryker (1989–1990) 6.4, Votes: 216
Burt Reynolds returns as a laconic detective.

116. Booker (1989–1990) 6.3, Votes: 487
Investigator Booker plays by his own rules.

117. The New Adam-12 (1989–1991) 6.2, Votes: 181
The iconic cop car gets new treads.

118. Seagull Island (1981) 6.1, Votes: 155
Her sister has disappeared.

119. T.J. Hooker (1982–1986) 6.0, Votes: 2,652
How many Shatner fans mob him for this role? Police drama.

120. Navarro (1989–2006), 5.9, Votes: 354
French. It is hard being police in a country with 246 different kinds of cheese.

121. Police Academy: The Series (1988–1989) 5.7, Votes: 600
Comic nouveau cops. Not to be confused with the even less well-regarded Police Academy: The Series (1997-98).

 Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 


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