Note this says Cop Shows, so it must focus on policeman. Sorry Rockford, sorry Monk, you are not on the payroll to protect and serve. (By the way, if this was crime shows, you would have a shot, Jim. But then, so would Tony Soprano. Adian…not so much.) JUSTIFIED would certainly be contending in the top five, but I wasn’t sure if a Federal Marshall counts as a cop.
10) DRAGNET – If you go back and watch a lot of old dramas today, they just don’t hold up. I’ve gone back to favorites from childhood like Starsky and Hutch and the old Hawaii 5-0 and they seem so hokey. They follow one story line doggedly, the writing is pedestrian and acting (particularly by the secondary players) can be really stiff.
The great thing about DRAGNET is it was corny when it aired. Back in the day people made fun of the wooden line delivery and leaden pace. Which is why it was awesome then and is now; because the stories were true, it took something special to make everything seem so fake. I watched the color version with Harry Morgan, which had the incredible ‘Blue Boy’ drug episode. And if I’m not mistaken, creator/star Jack Webb voted Republican.
9) LUTHER – No, this is not a show about a German theologian who fights crime on the side. Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from THE WIRE) stars in this BBC show about a British police officer who, well, you know, plays by his own rules and lives on the edge. Which has been done a thousand times (best on the big screen with Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry), and if that’s all there was, I’d still watch because Elba is very good. But what makes this show stand out is the help he receives from a killer he couldn’t get the goods on, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). She is scary, funny and unpredictable.
If I had a chance to see more than 6 episodes of this show, it might rank higher. (I don’t get BBC America, so I’m still waiting for the DVDs to get the Season 1 cliff hanger resolved.)
8) LIFE – As annoying as it is to have a favorite canceled, sometimes it is not all bad. This NBC LA cop show about a policeman falsely convicted of murder, released from prison with a promotion to detective and a really big cash settlement, may have been improved by not having a chance to linger and let its personal mysteries fester too long (see Monk.)
Damien Lewis, who was wonderful in Band of Brothers, is wonderful in this show. His quirks, such as an anger management problem that he tries to handle with a Buddhist self-help tape, come across as real and not gimmicks. And the procedural plots that don’t connect to the big mystery of who framed Charlie Crews for murder are usually clever and creative. A strong support cast that continues to pop up on other shows.
7) MIAMI VICE – There’s something to be said for style over substance, and Michael Mann said it with this show. The show blended great camera work, settings, clothes and music into something special. Has there been another time than when the show use “I Can Feel It Coming” that Phil Collins has been truly cool? (Don’t misunderstand. I like Phil Collins. I have two ears and a heart. Just not sure cool at any other time has been the word to describe him.)
Don Johnson as Crocket with the boat, the car and the alligator…Well, I wanted to be him. That’s why I bought the white jacket. Didn’t buy the loafers, though. And hurrah for its advocacy of letting the shave wait a couple of days. (And what other show has had Sheena Easton and Penn Juliette as guest stars?)
6) BARNEY MILLER – I read someplace (probably the TV Guide) that many policemen consider this the most realistic cop show. It was a sitcom, rather than a drama, but it rarely became too outlandish. Hal Linden as Barney seemed to be the boss anyone would want (a father figure as well.) The supporting cast was very funny. Abe Vigoda was ancient as the time (and yet is still going and was the breakout star (even getting a spin-off, “Fish”.)
But I really liked Jack Soo who raised sloth to an art. Steve Landesberg’s Dietrich was one of the most likable intellectuals on TV. But my favorite was Max Gail’s Wojo, who was dumb, maybe, but never as dumb as you thought he was.
5) THE SHIELD - I was pretty shocked when I watched the pilot of this FX show when Michael Chiklis as the anti-hero Vic Mackey stops straddling the line between legal and illegal and just strides right over it. This show pushed the violence and language content rules to the limit, but usually for good reasons and for strong payoffs.
Loved the supporting cast, especially CCH Pounder as the detective who doesn’t trust Mac or his strike force, Jay Karnes as Dutch and Wally Goggins as Shane. I didn’t see the full series when it aired, so I’m trying to catch up now.
4) COLUMBO – Why would you want to watch a mystery when you find out who did in at the very opening? Peter Falk kept you watching, not just for an hour, but for up to twice that long in these NBC mystery movies (moving later to ABC.)
I gave a speech in a Junior College speech class on doing a Columbo impression, using the dirty trench coat, cigar, slumped posture and catch phrases (“Just one more thing”.) But Falk was always better than his imitators.
There was a bit of a class warfare tension going on with the show. Killers thought their status, wealth, fame, etc. would keep them from justice, but the Lieutenant always showed that just wasn’t so. And the guest murderers, Faye Dunaway, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, Jack Cassidy, Robert Conrad…. Were always great.
3) THE WIRE - There are many who argue that this is flat out the best television show ever made. I won't argue. I like it very much. But I still enjoy two cop shows more.
2) HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS – David Simon created this show as well as The Wire and set them both in Baltimore, which made one very much only want to visit that city on TV. One of the great props on the show was a white board. If a murder was unsolved, it was on the board in red ink and when it was solved, it was changed to black ink. Some murders on the show always stayed in the red.
There were many great characters and actors on the show, but Andre Braugher’s Frank Pembleton stood out. Perhaps one of the best combination of actor and character ever on television (Falk/Columbo is close, though.) The story arc of Frank overcoming a stroke to work again was heartbreaking and funny and great television.
1) HILL STREET BLUES – Maybe it was when I saw this show. During my college and seminary years, this was sometimes the only show I made a point to watch. Thursdays at 10 PM on NBC, I was there. I loved Furillo, Washington, Coffee, Bates, Ranko, Bobby,Phil and Howard and Henry. And Belker. Especially Belker when he growled and pounced and used his favorite invective, “Hairball”. Never could stand Fay Furillo, though. The one thing that could have improved the show was a different actress to play Frank’s ex, but I guess no show is perfect. But the Hill came so very close.
I was so happy to meet Dennis Franz and be able to thank him for his part in making Hill Street Blues. If by some weird chance, anyone else connected with this show reads this, thank you, too. (Sorry, Ms. Bosson.)