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Ashley Warren

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Ashley has a Masters degree in English Literature, and is currently attempting to master her very own quarter-life crisis. She has an honorary doctorate in watching TV, eating food, and being awesome ... more

A Brief TV History of the Supernatural Detective

Inspired by competing shows Grimm and Supernatural, both of which feature supernatural detectives fighting supernatural crime, and both of which air on Friday nights, I decided to create a list tracking the history of this noble profession. Below you’ll find a list** of the most notable supernatural detectives that have graced the small screen.

**You’ll notice I left The Dresden Files off of this list, and that’s because I identify urban wizard P.I. Harry Dresden more with his book series than I do his short-lived Sci-Fi television series.

Carl Kolchak
Kolchak: The Night Stalker, 1974-1975

Kolchak, which evolved from a novel and two preceding TV movies, featured Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), an investigative reporter with a penchant for all things supernatural. Kolchak wandered the night in his yellow Mustang convertible, armed only with his camera and cassette recorder, looking for trouble. But no matter how many times he solved the case, successfully uncovering vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, succubi, and zombies, no one ever seemed to believe him. The series only lasted one season, but has made a huge impact on popular culture. It is famously cited by Chris Carter as one of his main inspirations for The X-Files. The series was revived in 2005 by X-Files veteran Frank Spotnitz, but was quickly canceled.

Special Agent Dale Cooper
Twin Peaks, 1990-1991

Like Kolchak, Twin Peaks was short-lived. Sprung from the twisted mind of David Lynch (Dune, Blue Velvet), Twin Peaks sought to answer the question: Who killed Laura Palmer? A critical and popular hit in its first season, the show lost steam after answering that question, and honestly, because it just kept getting weirder and weirder. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) wandered through the dreamy, surreal landscape of Twin Peaks, a small fictional town in Washington, basing his investigation on hunches and bizarre symbolic dreams. And things in waking life weren’t all that much more normal. Every character had a double life, and hauntings, possessions, and other supernatural occurrences were never out of place.

Special Agents Fox Mulder & Dana Scully
The X-Files, 1993-2002


Relegated to the basement of the FBI, and a joke to their colleagues, Special Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), emphasis on the special, searched for the truth in the weird and unexplainable. They uncovered vast government conspiracies, contracted fatal diseases, made wishes on genies, and played baseball with aliens. Reversing traditional gender roles, creator Chris Carter made Scully the skeptic and Mulder the believer (see Fringe, Warehouse 13, Farscape, for some examples of how this male/female dynamic has turned into one of the show’s legacies). But, like Kolchak, no one ever believed them.

Angel Investigations
Angel, 1999-2005

Vampire with a soul noir Angel wasn’t the first vampire detective show to grace the small screen (Forever Knight takes that honor), or the last (Moonlight), but it is the best. Angel (David Boreanaz) and his team, Angel Investigations, uncovered the dark underbelly of LA, which is secretly full of demons, all the while seeking redemption for the past wrongs they committed.

Dean and Sam Winchester
Supernatural, 2005-Present

Supernatural is the Great American paranormal road-trip. Brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) travel the US hunting demons, werewolves, and ghosts in the family tradition. The show owes part of its heritage to spooky spiritual ancestor The X-Files (executive producer Kim Manners, who died of lung cancer during production of the fourth season, was trained on years of X-Files, alongside future Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan), but you throw in some Kerouac and some brotherly love, and you’ve got yourself a show.

The Torchwood Institute
Torchwood, 2006-Present (?)

The BBC’s Torchwood, a spin-off of the long-running and extremely popular across the pond show Doctor Who, was meant to be the more adult of Russell T. Davies‘s fictional children. Led by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a time traveler who is at least 4,000 years old, team Torchwood investigate strange alien inspired events in Cardiff, Wales, which is located on a rift in time and space. The first two seasons aired on the BBC and were marginally successful, but the show didn’t really find its voice until the third shortened season, which aired as a mini-series subtitled Children of Earth. Torchwood‘s fourth season was a joint venture between the BBC and Starz. No word on whether or not there will be a season five.

Ned the Piemaker, P.I. Emerson Cod, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, & Olive Snook
Pushing Daisies, 2007-2009

There are two types of supernatural detective: the normal kind that live in a world full of supernatural events, and the kind who are supernatural themselves and use their powers for good (and sometimes evil, let’s be honest). Ned the Piemaker (Lee Pace) is one of the latter, and even though he accidentally killed love of his life Charlotte Charles’s (Anna Friel) father as a child, he’s never used his powers to harm anyone. See, Ned can bring people back from the dead with just a touch, and put them right back with just another. The catch? If the person is left alive for more than sixty seconds, someone else has to pay the price. So what does Ned do with his powers? He brings dead people back to life so he can solve their murders, with the help of P.I. Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). Pushing Daisies was canceled after a season and a half, and Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me) once again proved that he seems incapable of making shows that aren’t doomed to die early cancellation deaths.

FBI Fringe Division
Fringe, 2008-Present

The Fringe division investigates Fringe science, seemingly impossible occurrences that all have to do with a mysterious paranormal pattern. But I feel like I might have already said quite enough about this show, so just go here for further reference.

Secret Service Agents Myka Bering & Pete Lattimer
Warehouse 13, 2009-Present

The dynamic between Agents Bering (Joanne Kelly) and Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) on Warehouse 13 is faintly reminiscent of Mulder and Scully. She’s the skeptic, he’s the believer. She’s highly rational, and he’s highly emotional. But that’s about where the similarities end. Warehouse 13 is a goofy paranormal procedural with occasional elements of heartbreak added to the edges (see this year’s finale). Warehouse agents track down historical artifacts that have become imbued with paranormal elements and neutralize them, all the while dealing with strange baddies like HG Wells (Jaime Murray). But the real pleasure in the show is watching the cast have so much fun with each other.

Nick Burkhardt
Grimm, 2011-Present


NBC’s new against-all-odds hit Grimm is about detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), who learns one day that he is the heir to a long legacy of monster hunting and it’s his job to find the bad ones and prevent them from harming others. He’s a Grimm, a descendant of the Brothers Grimm, whose fairy-tales were actually true life stories. He also comes from a long line of supernatural detectives, as you can see above, but as for the legacy this show may or may not leave for the future of TV, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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So, did I miss any? Sound off in the comments.


Categories: TV

Tags: Alexis denisof, Amy acker, Andy hallett, Angel, Anna friel, Anna torv, Bryan fuller, Charisma carpenter, Chi mcbride, Chris carter, Darren mcgavin, David boreanaz, David duchovny, David lynch, Eddie mcclintock, Eric kripke, Eve myles, Fringe, Gillian Anderson, Grimm, J. august richards, Jared padalecki, Jasika nicole, Jensen ackles, Jj abrams, Joanne kelly, John barrowman, John noble, Joshua jackson, Joss whedon, Kai owen, Kolchak: the night stalker, Kristin chenoweth, Kyle maclachlan, Lance reddick, Lee pace, Pushing daisies, Russell t. davies, Supernatural, The x-files, Torchwood, Twin peaks, Warehouse 13

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