‘Arguably the greatest sexual tension in history!’ TV’s top crime-fighting duos – ranked

<span>Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

The sad death of David Soul sparked a wave of nostalgia for the retro TV cop classic Starsky & Hutch. But nearly half a century since the Californian cops roared on to ABC in their trademark striped muscle car, television crime-fighting duos have never gone out of fashion.

Cosy cleric-and-detective drama Grantchester is back on ITV1 and True Detective returns tonight, recapturing the blazingly brilliant form of its debut run. On the small screen, it seems, two sleuths are still better than one. So where do all these figure in TV’s all-time crime-cracking canon? Find out as we rank the 25 premier investigative pairings …

25. Dempsey and Makepeace (Dempsey and Makepeace)

A brash American and an English noblewoman? Watch those culture clash sparks fly. This mid-80s ITV romp threw together Lt James Dempsey (Michael Brandon) and Sgt Harriet Makepeace (Glynis Barber) when the former was seconded from NYPD to the Met. The pair’s chemistry was so sizzling they later married in real life.

24. Ponch and Jon (CHiPs)

Who cares if they were often out-acted by their motorbikes? Teatime favourite CHiPs followed the engine-revving bromance between California Highway Patrol officers Frank Poncherello (Erik Estrada) and Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox). In late-70s Britain, it all seemed impossibly sun-kissed and glamorous. Vroom vroom.

23. Jake and Amy (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

The sole entries on our list from a sitcom. Across eight seasons, NYPD man-child Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and by-the-book Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) went from arch rivals to married parents. He even became a stay-at-home dad in the finale. Heartwarming, hilarious and happy ever after.

22. Bodie and Doyle (The Professionals)

Ford Capris! Fights! Firearms! Ex-Met detective Ray Doyle (a bubble-permed Martin Shaw) and ex-SAS smoothie William Bodie (Lewis Collins) made a dynamic duo in this macho 80s drama – even if the Comic Strip did later spoof them as Bonehead and Foyle, AKA “the Bullshitters”.

21. Laure and Gilou (Spiral)

The peerless Parisian procedural (known as Engrenages in its native France) was a gritty, gripping ensemble piece but the fiery bond between Captain Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) and her lieutenant-cum-lover Gilles Escoffier (Thierry Godard) provided its emotional heart.

20. Hardy and Miller (Broadchurch)

These Dorset coastal colleagues got off to a tricky start – not least because DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) assumed she’d get promoted, until DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) got the gig instead. After three series of fierce bickering and fraught close-to-home cases, they almost liked one another.

19. Crockett and Tubbs (Miami Vice)

It doesn’t get more 80s than the Ferrari-driving duo in Ray-Bans and shoulder-padded pastel jackets with their sleeves rolled up. Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Rico Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) were detectives for the neon-lit new wave. The original pitch memo simply said “MTV cops”.

18. Dalziel and Pascoe (Dalziel & Pascoe)

For more than a decade, no Yorkshire murderer was safe from the BBC pairing of unreconstructed, nose-picking DSI Andy Dalziel (Warren Clarke) and his well-mannered protege, DI Peter Pascoe (Colin Buchanan). It’s pronounced “Dee-el”, by the way.

17. Fleming and Arnott (Line of Duty)

Bent coppers beware. Across six blockbuster BBC series, the dream team at police anti-corruption unit AC-12 were undercover specialist Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and waistcoat-clad Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). Will they ever call each other “mate” again? Mother of God, let’s hope so.

16. Saga and Martin (The Bridge)

Previous Scandi crime dramas had been led by solo mavericks such as Kurt Wallander and Sarah Lund. The Bridge broke the mould by teaming detached Swedish sleuth Saga Norén (Sofia Helen) with her cuddlier Danish counterpart , (Kim Brodnia). Polar opposites who fitted together like an Ikea flatpack.

15. Tyler and Hunt (Life on Mars)

Not just different personalities, these two were from different eras. When 00s cop Sam Tyler (John Simm) mysteriously time-travelled to 1973, he found himself teamed up with hard-drinking throwback DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). A love-hate relationship ensued. Fire up the Ford Cortina.

14. Scott and Bailey (Scott & Bailey)

Writer Sally Wainwright would later create a lone-wolf copper in Happy Valley’s indelible Sgt Catherine Cawood, but first came DC Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) and DC Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones). Like Cagney and Lacey had moved to Manchester and been assigned grisly murder cases.

13. Jonathan and Maddie (Jonathan Creek)

They might have both been civilians but there was no seemingly impossible murder that couldn’t be solved by nerdy magician Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies) and mouthy journalist Maddie Magellan (Caroline Quentin). When the latter left after three series, this BBC gem was never the same.

12. David and Maddie (Moonlighting)

Another Maddie, another will-they-won’t-they pair. Former fashion model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and wise-cracking detective David Addison (Bruce Willis, in a star-making turn) were partners at Blue Moon Investigations. Their zingy screwball dialogue set the tone for a generation of comedy-dramas.

11. Cassie and Sunny (Unforgotten)

The understated class of cold case duo DCI Cassandra Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunil Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) became clear when she devastatingly departed after four series, leaving her loyal sidekick bereft with grief – rather like us viewers.

10. Rust and Marty (True Detective)

Moody nihilist Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and family man Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) had a punch-up in the police station parking lot. Yet they were so electric together that subsequent duos in the HBO anthology couldn’t compare – at least until Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in the new series.

9. Starsky and Hutch (Starsky & Hutch)

The definitive 70s cop duo plied their undercover trade in Bay City, California. David Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Ken Hutchinson (David Soul) worked the streets in a red Ford Gran Torino with white trim, nicknamed “the Striped Tomato”. Their demonstrably affectionate friendship was quietly trailblazing for the era.

8. Regan and Carter (The Sweeney)

“We’re the Sweeney, son, and we haven’t had any dinner.” The British equivalent of Starsky & Hutch were the Flying Squad’s fist-happy DI Jack Regan (John Thaw) and DS George Carter (Dennis Waterman), who sped down London streets in a bronze Ford Granada, investigating authentically dirty deeds. You’re nicked!

7. Benson and Stabler (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)

For 12 seasons of queasy crime-solving, relentlessly determined NYPD pairing Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) were the beating heart of the long-running procedural spin-off. Fans speculated eagerly about an undercurrent of romantic tension. Wisely, this was left unexplored.

6. Sipowicz and Simone (NYPD Blue)

Battle-scarred alcoholic cop Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) was originally teamed with combustible detective John Kelly (David Caruso), but it was his chemistry with sensitive widower Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) that made TV magic. Across five superlative seasons, they built an affecting friendship while busting bad guys.

5. Cagney and Lacey (Cagney & Lacey)

Throughout the 80s classic’s six-year run, Sharon Gless (who played NYPD detective Christine Cagney) and Tyne Daly (her partner Mary Beth Lacey) passed the Emmy for best actress between them. Their mutually supportive friendship in a macho workplace paved the way for future female-led series.

4. Mulder and Scully (The X-Files)

Alien-fixated FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and sceptical sidekick Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigated paranormal phenomena and shadowy conspiracies in a 90s cult classic that went mainstream. The truth was out there. So was arguably the greatest sexual tension in TV history.

3. Morse and Lewis (Inspector Morse)

The late John Thaw makes two appearances in our Top 10. As the opera-loving, crossword-solving, real ale-supping, Jag-driving DCI Morse, he formed a profound bond with his polar opposite, DS Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately), as they caught killers amid Oxford’s dreaming spires. So beloved, both got their own spin-offs.

2. Bunk and McNulty (The Wire)

David Simon’s Baltimore masterpiece was more panoramic than the average police drama but integral to it were detective duo Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and William “Bunk” Moreland (Wendell Pierce). Every scene between the wise-cracking womaniser and the cigar-puffing grump was a joy. See the early episode where they examine a crime scene while talking entirely in F-bombs.

1. Holmes and Watson (Sherlock)

Jeremy Brett and Edward Harwicke are the traditionalist’s choice. Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are underrated. However, it was the BBC’s blockbuster reboot which turned a 120-year-old creation into a 21st-century global phenomenon. This was largely down to Benedict Cumberbatch’s charismatic “high-functioning sociopath” and Martin Freeman’s humanising influence as his faithful friend. At the heart this was a love story. The electricity between the pair inspired an entire sub-genre of frisky fan-fiction. The game is on indeed.