What I Learned About Life, Love, and Money From Watching '80s TV Mysteries

by Lauren Jonik

Image via WikimediaCommons

Watching re-runs of TV shows, especially mysteries, was my after-school ritual as a tween in the '80s. I raced home from the bus, checking my fake Swatch watch that I got for sending in umpteen proofs of purchase for Tropicana orange juice. My pulse raced with excitement. When the big hand reached the orange and the small hand got to the four, it was time. With a bowl of Doritos and a glass of Coke in hand, I turned on the TV and positioned myself on the couch. For the next hour, I was transported into a world of glamour and intrigue.

Some lessons are better learned after school. Here are seven important take-aways about life, love, and money that I learned from watching '80s TV mysteries.


1. All You Need is $200 a Day Plus Expenses

Though living in a worn-out, old mobile home didn't appeal to me, the view Jim Rockford had of the Pacific Ocean was alluring. It contrasted perfectly with my reality of cold, snowy Pennsylvania winters. The Rockford Files revealed that it was possible to talk your way out of any jam and to live on $200 a day plus expenses. I mastered neither of these skills during childhood, nor adulthood. But my breath was taken away the first time I gazed at the Pacific. I like to think that counts for something.

2. Tropical Beach Estates Are Nice, Guard Dogs Are Not

I would have gladly lived in the digs that Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV called home on Magnum, PI. Living in a guest house on a palatial Hawaiian estate by the beach and tooling around Oahu in a Ferrari didn't seem so bad. Of course, there were the "lads," the ferocious guard dogs commandeered by the estate's caretaker, Jonathan Quayle Higgins who didn't exactly take a shine to Magnum's presence.  (Cue Mr. Burns on The Simpsons saying "Release the hounds!") Small price to pay. Magnum also had cool friends who were happy to help him get out of sticky situations — sometimes, literally. T.C. was a helicopter pilot who routinely had his arm twisted to fly Magnum wherever he needed to go. Meanwhile, I thought I was cool when my friend's mom drove us to the mall in their station wagon with the wood panel on the side.

Read more: Rewatching My So-Called Life Was Actually Really Hard

3. Siblings May Not Get Along, But Family Is Worth Its Weight in Gold

Image via IMDB

Image via IMDB

I thought AJ was the cute one. My grandmother had a thing for Rick. It was perfect. Well, unless you factor in that I was about 20 years too young and she was about 20 years too old and the brothers on Simon & Simon were fictional characters. But I digress. Each case that AJ and Rick worked on ultimately required teamwork. Both Messrs. Simon brought unique skills to the table, and though they often did so begrudgingly, they came to terms that they needed each other. Their mom made sure of it.

4. I See Dead People 

Image via Tumblr

Image via Tumblr

OK, not really, but Quincy, M.E. did — lots of them. As an L.A. county medical examiner, the intrepid Dr. Quincy solved tough cases with his characteristic  grit, heart, and sense of social responsibility. The dead body part creeped me out a bit, but I was oddly comforted knowing that even in death, there are people in the world who will have our backs.

5. If You Know Old Movie Plots, You Can Solve Anything

At least Remington Steele could. His knowledge of vintage cinema, especially Humphrey Bogart flicks, helped to crack many a case. This proved particularly helpful, as he was not really a detective by trade, but a former thief. He was hired by the head of the agency, Laura Holt, to pose as her boss in order to assuage clients who refused to hire a female private eye. Dashing and charismatic, the title character could charm his way out of anything. I related to Laura's frustration every time my brother got away with talking back to my parents. I was relieved when my father started taking away my telephone privileges instead of my TV ones for said crime. I needed that hour between four and five in the afternoon to discover how the world really worked and of course, to plan my future.    

6. Good Hair is the Key to Success 

It was easy to choose which of Charlie’s angels I would be when I grew up. Jaclyn Smith (Kelly) and I had the same hairstyle, parted down the middle, though her locks had more bounce to them. Tried though I might, I never quite perfected the casual toss and turn she did with ease. When I attempted it, my hair usually fell back into my face, rendering me more like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family than the sophisticated detective I aspired to be. Never mind that Kelly, Sabrina, and Jill (and later Kris, Tiffany, and Julie) were strong, capable women. Charlie’s Angels taught us all that good hair trumped all of that.

7. Marry A Self-Made Millionaire, Have A Butler

Image via IMDB

Image via IMDB

Jennifer and Jonathan Hart (along with their loyal butler Max and frisky pooch Freeway) lived a lavish lifestyle in Bel-Air. Jonathan was the CEO of Hart Enterprises and they frequently jetted to beautiful and exotic locales. Mysteries just seemed to find them — thievery, smuggling, murder — they faced it all and remained relatively unscathed. Jonathan adored his freelance journalist wife. Apparently, the life lessons of Hart to Hart were not lost on me. Or, at least one of them wasn't — I picked the right career! Now about the rest... where are you, Jonathan?  I'm waiting, darling...


Lauren Jonik is a writer and photographer in Brooklyn, NY who always enjoys a good mystery show when not at work on her memoir. Follow her on Twitter: @laurenjonik.