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Sleuths Just Want to Have Fun: The Best 80s Detective Shows

From taking down bad guys to rocking feathered hair, they were the best at what they did.

80s detective shows moonlighting
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  • Photo Credit: ABC Circle Films

There's no modern time period more iconically stylistic than the 1980s, and that inescapable air of excessive materialism and lightheartedness left a very strong mark on the entertainment of the time. While crime shows on TV today sometimes feel like all drama all the time—When was the last time Luther made you laugh? Or Hannibal cracked a smile?—the 80s had a different approach.

Catching killers didn't always have to be such a drag. In fact, many of the detectives in the shows of the 80s embraced a carefree personality, or were otherwise wise-cracking while knee-deep in intrigue. Besides, with some of the fashion choices, how seriously could we really take them?

Need a dose of positivity in your mystery? Looking for a blast from the past? Here are eight of the best 80s detective shows, available for streaming now.

Magnum P.I.

Starring Tom Selleck as the titular private detective Thomas Magnum, this show quickly became as iconic as its leading man's mustache. Magnum lives a luxurious life style in Hawaii, but is often subject to the whims of the caretaker of the estate he's staying at. Carefree, surrounded by beautiful women, and taking cases only as he wants, Magnum is the ultimate 80s wish fulfillment fantasy.

Murder, She Wrote

Perhaps one of the most enduring 80s detective shows, Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) is an acclaimed mystery author whose sharp, analytical mind finds her tangled up in quite a few adventures. As charming as she is persistent, this amateur sleuth gets to the bottom of murders committed in the fictional town of Cabot Cove. Fletcher's wit was irresistible, proven by the fact that this beloved series ran for 12 years.


Audiences fell for Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis), a couple of sleuthhounds whose Aaron Sorkin-like rapid-fire banter dominated the small screen in the late ’80s. As rife with sexual tension as it was mystery, the series followed suddenly bankrupt former model Maddie as she joined David at one her her tax write-off businesses, the Blue Moon Detective Agency. The Hollywood Foreign Press was clearly smitten with the premise and the chemistry, as the show won three Golden Globes throughout its run.

Cagney & Lacey

Before Rust and Marty there was Cagney and Lacey. Actresses Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly played a pair of congenial detectives whose working friendship spilled into life outside the precinct. Together, the real-life duo brought home the Emmy for best lead actress in a drama six years in a row.

21 Jump Street

We love Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise’s baby-faced undercover cops exposing the underage criminals infiltrating the halls of high schools almost as much as we love the peppy theme song belted out by fellow Jump Streeter Holly Robinson Peete. Did you know Depp and DeLuise sang the backup vocals? The premise doesn't hold up too much outside of an 80s detective show, but boy is it fun.

Hart to Hart

Actors Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers embody the married amateur sleuths who share date night with murder and intrigue. Slightly sexy and absolutely campy, the Globe-winning/globe-trotting series debuted in 1979 and lasted until 1984. Produced by none other than Aaron Spelling, Hart to Hart took viewers across the pond and back, but the only place it sends us is down memory lane.

Remington Steele

Don’t quote us on this, but creator Michael Gleason’s romance/crime mash-up single-handedly launched the career of one Pierce Brosnan (James Bond, anyone?). The power struggles between Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) and Steele (Brosnan), hired by Holt to be the fictitious face of her private investigation agency, created one of the funniest and sexiest detective show of the '80s.

Miami Vice

No retro roundup is complete without a Don Johnson shout-out. He and Philip Michael Thomas rolled up their sleeves to play the sorbet-suited twosome of Detective James Crockett and Detective Ricardo Tubbs. Together they rid Miami’s streets of drugs and skullduggery. 25 years later, Miami Vice is still the stuff of Italo-casual dreams.