TV Tuesday: The Pinkertons

While recovering from binge-watching Luke Cage (or possibly while warming up to binge-watch Luke Cage), my wife and I found this thing on Netflix. It’s a 2014-15 Canadian detective show based on the career of Civil War spy and detective agency founder Allan Pinkerton (Angus Macfadyen), his son William (Jacob Blair) and fascinating historical character Kate Warne (Martha MacIsaac). Like perhaps a lot of historical television dramas, it suffers from the fact that both Kate Warnes and Allan Pinkerton were actually stranger and more interesting in real life than their fictional counterparts (although we’re only a few episodes in, so perhaps they’ll weird up).

We’ve watched a couple of episodes, and it’s … OK. It plays down all the weird things about Allan Pinkerton and just makes it into a classic bickering-detectives police procedural show in a historical setting. Now, as it happens, I like a good bickering-detectives procedural show as the sort of narrative background noise of an evening. It is, I am not making this up, officially licensed by the Pinkerton detective agency, which immediately makes it both dorkier and shadier.

The other funny thing about this show is that MacIsaac and Blair play their roles completely straight while Macfadyen is, well, Angus Macfadyen, playing the genial version of the nutcase he plays on Turn.


It drags in a lot of historical figures — there are cameo appearances by a lot of people who might have been around in 1865, from a young Jesse James to Edwin Booth and Abraham Lincoln’s lazy-ass former bodyguard. This was actually weirdly educational for me, although most people probably don’t watch a TV show with Wikipedia open, constantly going “is that really true?” I knew some of them, but a lot of the characters were new to me (American history is not really my strong suit).

It’s not … I mean, it’s a perfectly average TV detective show, a cut above Houdini and Doyle but maybe a cut below the mainstream. The leads are fine, the production is fine, it’s better the more it leans toward comedy, and it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. The historical setting is moderately well-realised in a way that acknowledges some of its complexities — like lawlessness in the post-war west and its relation to politics — and that makes it interesting from this blog’s perspective.

TV Tuesday: The Pinkertons

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