Watching the TV detectives

Harvey Mapes is a small-time security guard riding the shack at a gated community in Los Angeles. He dreams of becoming a private eye like Rockford, Spencer or Kinsey Milhone, so he jumps at the chance when one of the residents asks him to keep an eye on his beautiful wife. To beef up for the role, he buys a camera, some snacks, a notebook and settles in to watch a “Mannix” marathon on TVLand.

As you can guess,“The Man with the Iron-On Badge” pays homage to the private eye genre and, at the same time, makes fun of its expectations. From his work as a producer on “Diagnosis Murder,” Lee Goldberg has shown an ability to mix the seriousness of the crime story with the kind of humor that doesn’t distract from it, and that forumula works great here.

Mapes comes off as a doofus at first, but as he falls into and out of trouble, he discovers not only why he’s drawn to the life of a P.I., but also some disturbing home truths. By the time he’s learned everything about the producer and his wife, he’ll realize that he should have ditched the TV detectives and read Hammett, Chandler and Cain. Oh, as well as watch “Chinatown.”