The rise of new TV detective

Hollywood just loves its gumshoes, those cinematic everymen fighting for goodness and truth even in the face of seemingly endless evil around them. Early TV sleuths such as the sly Columbo and Britain's darkly morose Singing Detective, won hearts with their stoicism (did we ever know anything personal about Joe Friday?); modern detectives such as Adrian Monk are barely able to hang to their own sanity long enough to solve a crime.

On Thursday, NBC will push two more detective dramas into the fray. "Andy Barker, P.I." (9:30 p.m., EST), stars Andy Richter as an accidental private eye, an accountant who stumbles into a new career when he unwittingly rents the office of a retired private investigator. In an homage to the big screen's Inspector Clouseau, Richter's character trades on his guilelessness as he bumbles towards justice – and oh, yes, the love of a good woman (Clea Lewis) who stands behind him. The pilot episode was co-written by Conan O'Brien, also the show's producer.

"Raines" (10 p.m.), a more traditional procedural starring Jeff Goldblum, offers us a moody – possibly loony – Los Angeles Police Department detective. (Once we get the conceit of the show, that he "sees" dead people, it's a toss up whether he's projecting his inner ghosts as hallucinations, or whether these are actual apparitions.)

It's hard to say if "Raines" will wear out audiences early. Imagine replaying "The Sixth Sense" each week once you know the surprise. On the other hand, the best TV detectives endure because of the actors who bring them to life. Peter Falk endeared himself to us forever as Columbo; same goes for Jack Webb as Joe Friday.

So can Goldblum and Richter carry their respective vehicles? For his part, Jeff Goldblum is a weirdly wonderful performer, difficult for TV to package. If he can find a few more expressions than shell-shocked gloom, the show might be an interesting vehicle for his unique gifts. Likewise, Richter has to get beyond the one-note idiotic naivete of the character and find a few more comic colors.

As good detectives know, there's always more than one way to solve a crime – or keep a TV show on the air.

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