Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who's the Best... Cop Show?


lilbaggie said...

Three words:

Rip Jagger said...

It barely crawls into the Bronze Age (ending in 1970) but I find Jack Webb's Dragnet endlessly watchable. Sgt. Joe Friday is so ramrod straight, his noggin crammed with proper procedures and laws of the land. Harry Morgan is a hoot as the just slightly less perfect cop, the salt to Friday's bland delivery.

What really stands out about this show is the regular cast of characters who jump in and out of episode after episode, seasoned professionals all (save for the occasional UCLA footballer) able to leap in and out of character show after show.

The rapid fire pace of the suited the half-hour format ideally, still blazing from its earliest radio days.

The worldview shared by all the characters is a hoot and a stark contrast to the real world which was increasingly seeping into this monolithic fictional creation. You can see modernity chipping away at Friday's baked-in morality, a teensy bit at a time. He'd never admit it, but it's happening nonetheless as even Jack Webb saw the world around him beginning to shift.

A rock solid time-capsule of entertainment!

Rip Off

Ray Tomczak said...

How are we defining "cop show"? Do shows about private investigators count, or is that another topic all together? If they do count, I want to say that I have always loved "The Rockford Files" and that is largely due to the excellent performances of the two leads, James Garner as P.I. Jim Rockford and Noah Beery as his father, "Rocky".
My favorite show about police officers is really a "cop show" per se. It's not a crime drama but a half hour situation comedy. "Barney Miller" was nonetheless hailed by some at the time it was on the air as TV's most realistic cop show. It had sharp, funny writing and an excellent cast headed by Hal Linden and including Jack Soo, Ron Glass, Gregory Sierra, James Gregory, Abe Vigoda, Ron Carey, Steve Landesberg, and Max Gail, who, as "Wojo", was my favorite character on the show. This was also, I believe, the most ethnically diverse ensemble yet seen on TV as of 1975, when it first aired.
That said, it was a decidedly all male domain. Barney's wife disappeared from the show after the first couple of seasons, and various attempts to introduce a female detective into the squad room, including one character played by Linda Lavin of "Alice", were unsuccessful.

Ray Tomczak said...

I should proofread better---above I meant to say " NOT really a cop show..."

Redartz said...

Ray- good call on "Barney Miller"; a fantastic cast indeed.

"Hill Street Blues" is my nominee for the day. My father loved cop and detective shows, and we watched everything from "Adam 12" to "Barnaby Jones". Blues was a real departure from the first viewing; unlike most previous police shows we now delved deep into the chearacters' lives and saw lengthy storylines play out over time. Today's ratings hits such as NCIS and "Law and Order" can be traced back to Hill Street.

HSB also had an incredible cast, led by Daniel Travanti as Capt. Frank Furillo. The show was always engaging; it was must-see viewing each week among our group at college.

Oh, and let's be careful out there...

Anonymous said...

I'd probably go with Law and Order, especially when Jerry Orbach was there. I remember liking Starsky & Hutch as a kid, along with the Rockford Files and Vega$.

Mike W.

Humanbelly said...

Man, Rip--Man!

Before I had even clicked on the "replies" button, I had pretty much composed YOUR EXACT POST in my head. Good heavens-- point-for-point! One of the neat things about the digital broadcast channels these days (we've neither cable or dish nor FioS in our household-- not gonna yield) is that they ABOUND with "Retro-TV" type channels, and the 2nd TV incarnation of Dragnet (color version from the 60's) is pretty much a staple. It's very often on at dinner-making time, so I've caught it a lot lately.

Is it the best? Certainly for its time, I'd say so. It's not exactly a work of art-- but even in its radio days, that wasn't its goal. Or rather, say that it raised its very atypical, earnest, under-played, monotonic-yet-melodramatic style to the level of a new art form all its own, maybe?

A particularly cool aspect of it (especially to a continuity-apprciative crowd like us) is that it spawned (in the same L.A. law-enforcement "universe") ADAM-12-- as we first meet Reed and Malloy on a Dragnet episode. Then ADAM-12 sees the first appearance of Johnny Gage and Roy Desoto of EMERGENCY. EMERGENCY served as back-door pilot, then, to something called, I think, ANIMAL CONTROL (which I saw on Wednesday). . . and thus the streak endeth-ed. 'Cause that clunker was a jaw-dropper.

I. . . I watch too much television, don't I?

I do think there's a definite distinction between "cop" shows and P.I. shows, although there's plenty of structural similarity. And there are so many of either that it shouldn't be tough to save the P.I.s for another post, maybe?

Hmm-- I'm gonna toss out a few other titles as memory-joggers:

ALL of the current crop of procedurals (BONES is probably my personal favorite, but I don't watch many these days at all).
Oh man, and if you want to get into the BBCAMERICA arena, there are several more, all of which are quite enjoyable: NEW TRICKS; PIE IN THE SKY; and MIDSOMER MURDERS come immediately to mind.


William said...

The first show that popped into my head when I read this was COLUMBO. Not just my favorite ever "cop show", but one of my all-time favorite TV shows period.

To me, it's one of the most perfect TV series ever created. It had a simple formula that worked every time, and it never deviated from that formula. Peter Falk was perfect as the disheveled but brilliant Lt. Columbo, who was always the smartest guy in the room, and always one step ahead of his (guest star celebrity) adversary.

I loved (love) this show. It's one of the only old shows from the 70's and 80's that I can still watch and enjoy today. It holds up exceptionally well. And I believe that one of the big reasons that it's not as dated as other shows, is that that we never really see much of Columbo's personal life. We know everything we need to know about him from the comments he makes about his wife (who we never meet), and other little things he says here and there (usually to annoy his suspect). And that's all we need to know.

Columbo (the series) was elegant in it's basic simplicity. If the show was produced today, Columbo would have a recurring arch-enemy that would pop up again and again, and who would have some kind of personal connection to him. We'd also know everything about Columbo, and his wife, and his childhood and his past, and every little bit of minutia the writers could cram in. Then all the personal crap in his life would eventually overshadow the crime-solving aspect, and the show would descend into what shows like "Elementary" have become. A serialized soap opera that focuses more on the character's personal lives and problems than it does on the crime solving aspect.

So, if you haven't watched any Columbo in a while (or never) then you owe it to yourself to check it out. In fact, you can check out the dvd's at your local library for free.

Anonymous said...

Yo...I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish but Gunsmoke was one of the best cop shows of all of the best cop shows of all time....

The Prowler (hitting "enter" and walking off the stage).

Humanbelly said...

Wait-- Prowler, come back!
GUNSMOKE crossed my mind as well, except that it honestly is more a traditional Western than specifically a cop show. It's a western where the sherrif of Dodge is the primary protagonist, and has far more to do w/ trial-by-gunfight (hence the title) as opposed to police work. It also focused on non-criminal plots just about as often as it did criminal/outlaw ones. GUH-REAT show, though, make no mistake. I feel like we'd kind of have to consider the Andy Griffith Show, though, if we cast that wide a net, y'know?

But of course, there's yet another terrific genre' for us to discuss: Best Western Show.


J.A. Morris said...

If we're keeping it limited to the "Bronze Age", it's 'Carter Country'.

Just kidding, it's 'Hill Street Blues' in that era.

But the best cop show of all time for me was 'Homicide:Life On The Street'.

Anonymous said...

When I was a teenager, I liked the action-oriented shows like "Starsky and Hutch" and "S.W.A.T." If I watched them now, I would probably think they were silly and stupid. I also liked "Police Woman," but only because Angie Dickinson was sexy and cute. "Dragnet" and the other Jack Webb shows seem corny and simplistic by today's standards, but they should be judged in the context of their time. Webb deserves credit for attempting a realistic portrayal of police work, as opposed to constant gunfights and chases.

Anonymous said...

I vaguely remember the "Emergency!" episode that was a pilot for the Animal Control spin-off series. Jack Webb also co-produced a show called "Sierra," about park rangers, but I don't remember offhand if it ever tied in with Emergency, Adam-12, or any other series. And, IMHO, genres overlap, so I guess a show like "Gunsmoke" could be considered a cop show, although I think of it as a Western. As noted previously, it was often character-driven drama, and many episodes had nothing to do with crime or law enforcement. There was a short-lived series, "Cade's County," starring Glenn Ford as a sheriff in present-day New Mexico. It was advertised as a Western, but it was really more of a cop show.

Hoosier X said...

let's not forget "She's the Sheriff"!

Doc Savage said...

Strictly cops, no PIs or FBI or other law enforcement types?

Brooklyn Nine Nine is the best one currently on TV. Hilarious. Also breaking racial/ethnic stereotypes without batting an eye or calling attention. When's the last time you saw a show with TWO Latina police detectives both portrayed as regular people and neither as "fiery"?

Doc Savage said...

most realisic portrayal of cops may be Dukes of Hazzard...

personally find Hill St Blues unwatchable...

Doc Savage said...

haven't seen it in 25+ years but I remember liking Sledge Hammer...

...waiting for someone to admit to liking Cop Rock!

Anonymous said...

Police Story was, IMHO, the best cop drama show of the 1970s, especially its first couple of seasons. Some of the later episodes, though, were just routine cops-investigate-the-case-and-arrest-the-criminals stuff, and could just as easily have been episodes of Kojak or Hawaii Five-O. The Blue Knight was not bad, and George Kennedy actually looked like a cop, not a glamor boy actor. I would define a "cop show" as one that is primarily about the main characters doing police work. That is, for the purposes of the story, the protagonist has to be a cop, not a doctor or a sales rep. So that would include comedies like Barney Miller (and maybe even She's the Sheriff), as well as the action shows (Starsky & Hutch, T.J. Hooker) and dramas (Law & Order, Police Story). As for whether private detectives count, I would say most of them do, since their shows, like the police series, were classifiable as "crime drama." Mannix and Cannon were basically doing the same job as the police officers. Admittedly, that was not a realistic depiction of private investigation, but TV's depiction of law enforcement was usually not realistic, either.

Humanbelly said...

Totally forgot about Police Story. You're right-- very, very high on the list.

ALSO-- forgot about my current-favorite program (well, just finished watching the first season): GRIMM. Like SLEEPY HOLLOW, it's a truly strange (but somehow workable) blending of cop show with horror/fantasy show.

If we were to pull P.I.'s into the mix, I'd go with MONK as my favorite, then. And that's probably a safe call, as the SF Police Dept. is pretty much who he works for and with all of the time--- and his goal is to become a cop once again, etc.

2nd (and once again, the police dept. is a major element of the show) would be PSYCH.


Edo Bosnar said...

I say save the P.I. shows for a separate post as well - there's so many cop shows as it is.

Anyway, I definitely agree with William, Columbo is hands down the best cop show: entertaining and intelligent, and, as he noted, even the oldest episodes from the early '70s still hold up today.
(Also, William, I totally agree with your observation about so many of these shows becoming cop soap operas.) I also agree somewhat with J.A. about Homicide - only somewhat because I think the quality started to decline after a while. Since that series was inspired by a book written by David Simon, I think it's worthwhile mentioning Simon's The Wire, which is one of the better TV series ever made (even though it's not strictly a "cop show").

And I'm glad others opened the field to sitcoms. I love Barney Miller, and, while silly, Sledge Hammer is still watchable (good call, Matt). And shame on everyone else for forgetting Police Squad!
I also really liked Denis Leary's The Job, which really did not last long enough.

As for the more recent shows, I tend like the ones that are more humorous, like The Mentalist (which I consider a sitcom done in the form of a police procedural). And HB, yes, Psych is awesome. In fact, I like it way better than Monk.

William said...

I remember liking S.W.A.T. when I was a kid.

david_b said...

Hmmm, my quick list is:

1) Dragnet.., I've already said many times NO ONE can outdo Jack Webb on monologues.

2) Starsky and Hutch, who could look any cooler in that Torino..?? Second only to the Batmobile.

3) Police Squad, just hilarious stuff.

4) Barney Miller. Dietrich and I would have been like two peas in a pod.

Hoosier X said...

The Thin Blue Line, with Rowan Atkinson.

Doc Savage said...

Keep wanting to buy Thin Blue Line as I love Blackadder...never seen TBL!

Humanbelly said...

WifeBelly (Hmm-- SpouseBelly?) also puts in her vote(s) for both Columbo and Barney Miller. Barney Miller's probably her favorite.

So Edo-- PSYCH makes me laugh uproariously (and I've only finished season 2, w/ DaughterBelly). . . but MONK has periodic moments of painful tenderness that just leave me in puddles of tears. It's the rare comedy that thrives w/ a premise of unimaginable emotional pain at its core. I think maybe it has the emotional edge in that sense. Do love 'em both, though.


Anonymous said...

I will admit that MacGruder and Loud was a definite favorite of mine for the whole 4 months it lasted. I would have and still will willingly ignore codes, disobey laws and break at least 4 commandments for Kathryn Harrold.

The Prowler (always playing Cagney to your Lacey).

Doc Savage said...

Cannot believe I forgot this... my favorite police on TV is MIAMI VICE. Love it. Love the clothes, the cars, the music, and the stories and acting are very good. Also rare for a show to accurately reflect its setting: Cubans in Miami! Who would have guessed it based on TV casting? And did you know LA has a huge Mexican population? Not if you watch TV shows set there...

mr. oyola said...

Bronze Age? COLUMBO.

All-Time? The Wire.

Anonymous said...

Barney Miller, for me. I've been eyeballing the DVD collection of that series in Barnes and Noble's for quite some time, and sooner or later I gotta pull the trigger.

david_b said...

Oh, HERE'S a biggie no one mentioned.. (more recent..).

TNT's "The Closer", now "Major Crimes", regrettably without Kyra Sedgwick... A huge letdown, but still watcheable

Awesome ensemble, great acting, just gotta love when Brenda got her confession.

Hey, no love for 'Longstreet'..? Yet another show from that genre like Ironsides where the main character HAD to have some form of disability. A bit schticky, but it was fun, the re-occuring Bruce Lee character (in four episodes) was cool...

Humanbelly said...

Longstreet- blind
Ironside- paraplegic
Cannon- quite overweight
Barnaby Jones- alarmingly elderly

Mad Magazine at one point did a quick spoof of these guys (P.I.'s, I think) trying to pursue criminals.


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