Best TV Detective Duos of the 21st Century, Ranked

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Best TV Detective Duos of the 21st Century, Ranked

Audiences love a mystery, but they may love the people who solve mysteries even more. Just think about all the iconic detective duos throughout television history: Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey, Crockett and Tubbs, Taylor and Fife. It’s a tried-and-true character dynamic that can be dropped into any genre (from sitcom to drama), any format (from miniseries to procedural), and any time period.

In this particular time period, we’ve already seen some crime-fighting pairs that will surely secure a spot on the all-time great detectives list. Below, we rank the best mystery-solving duos of the 21st century (so far).


Image via FOX

and its central couple, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), owe a lot to another pair of supernatural investigators on this list (but we’ll get to Mulder and Scully later). However, as the fascinating multiverse of the series unfolded, Olivia and Peter built their own unique rapport and formed a captivating bond. Not only did they help each other solve sci-fi mysteries (alongside Peter’s dad, Dr. Walter Bishop, played by John Noble), sometimes, they were the mysteries themselves — which made the show and their relationship, all the more fascinating.


10. Jake Peralta & Amy Santiago (Brooklyn 99)

Image via FOX

The sole duo on this list to spring from a sitcom, Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) had one of the best rivals-to-friends-to-lovers arcs on television. While they both worked frequently with the other detectives in , there was a reason fans shipped these two so hard: their opposing styles of crime-solving sparked great comedy and chemistry. Jake was the unkempt slacker-bro who secretly had a heart of gold and a great mind for mysteries, and Amy was the strait-laced Type A personality who was dedicated to doing things by the book. It was a blast to see them solve mysteries in spite of their competitive natures, but what really made them an all-time detective duo was a shared devotion to the job and their work family, which made them a perfect match professionally and romantically.

9. Steve Gomez & Hank Schrader (Breaking Bad)


Image via HBO

was much more about breaking the law than enforcing it, but Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) was instrumental to the plot. In some ways, he inspired his brother-in-law Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) life of crime, but as an agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the pair are diametrically opposed. Hank and his partner Steve Gomez’s (Steven Michael Quezada) investigation into Heisenberg’s meth operation is a key source of tension in the series. This pairing was crucial enough to the plot that the brutal end of their investigation culminated in “Ozymandias,” widely considered one of the best episodes of television ever.

8. Alec Hardy & Ellie Miller (Broadchurch)


Image via ITV

had pretty much everything you could ask for in a detective duo. First, there were the incredible performances from Doctor Who alum David Tennant (as DI Alec Hardy) and imminent Oscar winner Olivia Colman (as DI Ellie Miller). Second, the pairing had a classic dynamic: Hardy as the jaded, more experienced crime solver, while Miller was the small town greenhorn whose first major case would trigger a serious crisis of faith. Finally, the series’ fraught central mystery would prove to be deeply personal, bringing the pair closer together even as it threatened to tear them both apart. With all those pieces in place, it’s no wonder Hardy and Miller carried the show to such critical acclaim.

7. Temperance Brennan & Seeley Booth (Bones)


Image via FOX

The Bones duo set the standard for 21st-century procedural pairings. Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) are definitely also cut from the Mulder-and-Scully cloth: like her predecessor, Bones is an examiner of corpses and a woman of science, but unlike his, Booth is a man of faith. As familiar as the skeptic-and-believer dynamic may be, these two had a unique and palpable chemistry that won legions of fans and led to a healthy 12 seasons. Their success was thanks in no small part to their ability to switch seamlessly from comedy to drama to will-they-won’t-they tension, all while collaborating to solve intriguing crimes.

5. Rust Cohle & Marty Hart (True Detective)


Image via HBO

With a name like , one can reasonably expect to see a great detective duo at work. The first season, at least, delivered. It was a peak moment for Peak TV, thanks in large part to the compelling central pairing of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson). Like many of the greats, these two were an odd couple: Cohle was enigmatic and cerebral, while Hart was a more classic salt-of-the-earth cop. However, with two of the finest actors ever to make the leap to TV and absolutely electrifying chemistry, they reinvigorated the detective-duo format and produced the must-see mystery of the century (so far). Sadly, they also set the bar so high that the subsequent seasons of True Detective failed to measure up.

6. Shawn Spencer & Burton Guster (Psych)

The only other (primarily) comedy duo on this list of detectives, Shawn (James Roday Rodriguez) and Gus (Dulé Hill) have left an enduring legacy and a cult of devoted fans that spawned not only 8 seasons of but also three post-series movies. This pair started out as lifelong besties before they were ever crime solvers, but Shawn found a way to spin his eidetic memory, powers of observation, and training from his cop father (Corbin Bernsen) into a private investigation business, bringing Gus along for the ride. They frequently teamed up with the Santa Barbara PD, passing off Shawn’s abilities as “psychic” and landing them into plenty of wacky misadventures. While it was always fun to see how Shawn would solve a mystery, the true joy of the show was the partnership between the pals, which featured lots of witty banter, unshakable loyalty, and childish antics.

4. Jimmy McNulty & William “Bunk” Moreland (The Wire)


Image via HBO

Like Breaking Bad, wasn’t a show solely about detectives; it portrayed both sides of the law, in addition to Baltimore city politics. That said, detectives Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and William “Bunk” Moreland (Wendell Pierce) were integral to the show’s complicated ecosystem. McNulty (the functional protagonist of The Wire) was the renegade cop who chafed at the red tape constraining his ability to seek justice; Bunk is McNulty’s main ally, helping him navigate both investigations and the inner workings of Baltimore PD. Although they have different styles, the friends and partners worked well together and were the standout detective duo on what many consider the standout drama of the 21st century.

3. Sherlock Holmes & John Watson (Sherlock)


Image via PBS

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are arguably the greatest detective duo of all time, although adaptations of the pair have varied in quality over the years since they were initially introduced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887. Luckily, we’ve been blessed by some solid ones in the 21st century, and none more popular than the BBC’s . Benedict Cumberbatch skyrocketed to fame with his portrayal of the legendary detective, accompanied by Martin Freeman as the faithful companion, Dr. Watson. The series successfully modernized the Victorian-era mysteries and earned a rabid fan base unlike any other contemporary adaptation — and the relationship between the two men was a major part of that fan base. (Honorable mention to the very watchable CBS procedural Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as another modern Holmes and Watson).

2. Elliot Stabler & Olivia Benson (Law & Order: SVU)


Image via NBC

Technically speaking, Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) are ’90s babies, since Law & Order: SVU premiered in 1999. However, this duo is inarguably the most prominent set of detectives on 21st-century TV. At 23 seasons and counting, SVU set the gold standard for procedurals, thanks in large part to Benson and Stabler. Fans have always been excited by the undercurrent of romantic tension between them (which still continues to this day, possibly the slowest of all slow burns), but it was their professional relationship that kept audiences tuning in.

The pair were bonded by their grim determination to see justice for New York City’s most heinous crimes and were extremely competent at their jobs, working together and supporting each other through each case. Although SVU plugged along just fine after Stabler retired in season 12, he still loomed large over the series — as evidenced by his triumphant return in season 22 (and subsequent Organized Crime spinoff), proving that the Benson/Stabler partnership can always pick up right where they left off.

1. Fox Mulder & Dana Scully (The X-Files)


Image via Fox

Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) also originated in the ’90s, but while Benson and Stabler may have had more airtime in the 2000s, no one has been more influential on television detective dynamics than heroes of . The impact of these two FBI agents can be seen all over this list: the skeptic vs. believer partnership was such a resounding success that it’s still being replicated to this day. But it’s not just the copycats experiencing success in the 21st century. Mulder and Scully are still so popular that following the 2002 series finale, they returned in a major motion picture (2008’s I Want to Believe) and a super buzzy two-season revival from 2016 to 2018.

Even when the mythology of the series became unwieldy, the show was grounded by the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson, the unwavering faith Mulder and Scully had in each other, and their us-against-the-world dynamic as together they faced down potential alien invasion, shadowy government conspiracies, and every supernatural phenomenon imaginable.

Mary Kate Carr
(20 Articles Published)

Mary Kate Carr is a writer and pop culture enthusiast from Philly. She likes to bake and think about TV, often at the same time. Her byline can also be found on Entertainment Weekly and Screen Rant.

From Mary Kate Carr

Mary Kate Carr is a writer and pop culture enthusiast from Philly. She likes to bake and think about TV, often at the same time. Her byline can also be found on Entertainment Weekly and Screen Rant.

This content was originally published here.