TV Detectives…

Columbo, Mannix, Kojak, Barney Miller, Magnum P.I. Rockford Files, Monk, Chiklis, Samberg, Braugher, Joe Friday, Castle, Starsky & Hutch, Lennie Briscoe, Helen Mirren — Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice, NYPD Blue, Murder, She Wrote, Sherlock…

Detective Harry Ambrose is neither a quick study, nor an easy read.

He’s got a lot of stuff on his plate.

I mean, what detective doesn’t?

Danny Reagan is the poster boy for that deeply furrowed brow and short temper, sometimes to his detriment.

Not exactly the model of decorum.

Joe Friday was more serene — at least in his understated, and sometimes barely audible delivery.

“Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts.”

And what of Theo Kojak, pensively sucking on a lollipop — a Tootsie Pop — while thinking the case through.

When solved?

“Who loves ya, baby?”

How about Columbo’s, “…Just one more thing…” before he cracked the case wide open?

Joe Mannix.

Barney Miller.

Jim Rockford.


Lennie Briscoe.

Police Captain Olivia Benson, a detective in her own right.

Vic Mackey certainly.

Heady company.

Harry Ambrose?

He’s just different.

And a very sad character.


Plain to see.

Pure and simple.

We could start with his affinity for a dominatrix — or sadomasochism — which throws a wrench into his otherwise milquetoast-ish persona.

But more instructive perhaps, would be to begin at the beginning, and examine his troubled childhood.

It seems that young Harry started a fire that ruined his mother’s life.

It wasn’t all his fault, but he developed PTSD from that circumstance, and from dealing with “monsters” every night, along with the travails of having an abusive mom.

Being sent to a group home at one point, hardly made things easier.

The guilt stemming from his childhood trauma stuck to Harry like flypaper, and continues to haunt him.

As he enters the lives of the suspects he investigates, they become a part of him.

And he of them.

His pain is palpable as he relates snippets of his own gnarly history to the killers — and their motives — which he struggles to understand.

Then there is the issue of loneliness.

Harry Ambrose is the poster boy for loneliness.

There is a difference between loneliness and being alone.

Harry is both.

In spades.

He has no friends.

Brian Morris, his captain, was right when he said that Harry should retire.

And then, they’d play some golf.

But Harry’s loneliness is either caused by his job or is the paramount reason for his total and complete immersion in it.

Nobody really understands Harry.

When he is suffering, he has nobody to share it with.

He is in denial.

He is depressed.

The crime — and the crime scene — represent(s) his life.

He loses his marriage when his wife kicks him to the curb because of his addiction…

To the job.

Choosing work over family exacts a telling toll.

When his daughter and her son come to visit, it’s the same story.

Bye, Harry.

Seemingly resigned to this; doomed?

Harry Ambrose’s skills as an investigator are never in doubt, but he gets too close to the suspects he should be convicting, and his bosses don’t like it.

They want action.

For their own personal sheets, maybe.

But Harry ends up going the extra mile.

Harry has never really lived a normal life.

He knows that and he tries to apply it.

In his own way.

Harry is still around, maybe in spite of himself.

He may end up being the ultimate self-hater.

Or the greatest survivor.

The Sinner?

Harry’s doin’ just fine, thank you.

Ask Bill Pullman and all the others.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2021.]

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