Weekly Mini-Review: Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001 + some TV movies)

The show’s original cast: The eccentric but kindly and shrewd doctor, his snarky but supportive son the policeman, the ‘sassy’ secretary (who disappears in season 3), the nebbishy hospital director (who also disappears), the ex-punk-with-a-twerpy-attitude doctor (who gets replaced in the 3rd season and the wealthy/mildly stuck-up/often there just to scream female coroner (who only briefly leaves the show).

Story: A doctor solves mysteries with the help of his son (a policeman) and usually two other doctors, a female coroner and a male surgeon/intern.

Review: This was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. In bumbling around on the IMDB recently, I found out that the protagonist Mark Sloan seems to have been invented for an episode of Jake and the Fat Man called “It Never Entered My Mind” first. It’s a fairly good episode, but they did make some major changes when it spun off (viz., he didn’t have kids, worked at a different hospital, it’s much more light-hearted, and his helpers were med students – a rich boy, a girl, and an African American guy that all appear to have been condensed into two characters for the series). Anyways, Diagnosis Murder is one of the better cheesy mystery shows that sprang up by the dozens around that time. Many of the episodes feature old TV and vaudeville performers doing variations on their old bits (e.g., comedy, song and dance), and leads from 60s/70s crime shows (like Mannix) reprising or lampooning their roles. The show often features Van Dyke’s relatives in guest roles.

They swapped helpers a couple of times, and his son’s hair got dyed blond eventually, but the show was consistently good and fairly silly for at least the first three or so seasons. After that, it started taking itself a bit to seriously. The episodes that introduced a previously non-existent daughter (played by Van Dyke’s actual daughter) as an abused wife who’s finally brutally murdered – A Town Without Pity and Murder in the Family (who does that to their own kid’s character on their show? Yick!) – and a sprinkling of others are really awful. But most of the show is pretty good. Actually, it’s all good (albeit cheeztastic) before it started getting kinda dark at the start of season 3, but there are still some good ones after that.

Recommended for: Fans of corny/cheesy mystery shows from the 70s/80s, people who like non-gory crime shows.

Content Notes: (PG) – There’s a bit of swearing, but I never noticed it when I was younger. Even the most horrific crimes are so verbally danced around that no kid will be accidentally subjected to hearing about them by watching this show – until the third season, then it gets a tad iffy.

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