I love good cop dramas on TV, not only for their entertainment value, but also because they do a great job of portraying the ups and downs of working for a living. Here are some of the underlying themes that are prominent in many these shows:
1. Pursuing one’s passion (the bad and good of it)
2. Career advancement (triumph and disappointment)
3. Diversity and inclusion (often not a lot of it)
4. Work-life balance (mainly lack thereof)
5. Incivility and bullying (often lots of both)
6. Politics (both in-house and electoral)
7. Ethics (good cop, bad cop)
8. Dispute resolution (from informal chats to murder)
My favorites (alphabetical order)
I’ve written about two of these shows before (The Wire and Prime Suspect), but here’s a longer list of my favorite police dramas:
Blue Bloods — A brand new weekly, it’s among a minority of cop shows built around a non-dysfunctional family. Tom Selleck is excellent as the New York City police commissioner.
Foyle’s War — A treat from PBS, this ongoing series is set in small town England during World War Two, featuring Michael Kitchen as Inspector Christopher Foyle.
Hill Street Blues (*) — Pathbreaking 80s classic set in an unspecified American big city. Hey, let’s be careful out there.
Homicide: Life on the Street (*) — David Simon’s earthy Baltimore, Take 1. Addictive.
Prime Suspect (*) — A gift from across the pond, Helen Mirren is astoundingly good as British police inspector Jane Tennison. Start with Prime Suspect 1 and follow her career and life. Brilliant stuff.
The Shield (*) — You’ll feel guilty for hoping that LA cop Vic Mackey doesn’t get caught.
The Wire (*) — David Simon’s earthier Baltimore, Take 2. Widely acclaimed for its portrayal of life in inner city urban America.
(*) = has completed series run; episodes available on DVD.
But where’s the union?
Even the best cop dramas miss on the realities of being in unionized work settings. Most rank-and-file police officers and detectives are unionized, and collective bargaining negotiations over salaries and benefits have a significant impact on their lives. In most cop shows, however, the union presence is practically invisible, usually limited to calling in a union rep when an officer gets in trouble.