My Contemporary British TV Detectives

Quick and Energetic, but Conventional

Quick and Energetic, but Conventional

Unless my team is playing, I’m on the underdog’s side. According to the latest Radiolab episode, so are most people—90 percent in some studies. That means when I’m watching detective programs, I have a soft spot for the police inspectors, particularly those who have to work alongside a brilliant, lone-wolf detective.

Detective Chief Inspector James Harold Japp, portrayed by Philip Jackson in the long-running Poirot series, is my favorite. He goes into every new adventure believing he’ll finally one-up the Belgian penguin, but always loses. Still he maintains his humor and indulges Poirot’s whims.

I can’t remember the episode number, but there’s a very affecting moment when Japp gives a lecture about modern crime-solving and credits everything he’s learned to Poirot. Though perhaps not about food:


Gumshoes and detectives are underdogs by default. The entire universe seems against them when they can’t string clues together, and they tend to relish the opposition. I like the inspectors—Japp, Lestrade, Gregson, and every cop upended by Miss Marple—because they’re characters I can relate to. They’ve got jobs to keep, and stupid bosses. They like puzzles, but find them to difficult if not impossible to solve. And sometimes when the inspectors are sourpusses or bullies—throwing around their brawn when their brains come up short—I find it endearing. They’re human after all. Just because a guy works with a detective super-genius doesn’t mean he’s not still a man with his own ego to tend.

 

Credit: elena-lu
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Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of three books, including his latest novel The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of 2017). His articles and essays appear in a variety of magazines, including GQ, Travel + Leisure and The Paris Review, and he’s written opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian. More information can be found at his website. More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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