Cop shows have always been on television. From ‘Dragnet’ to ‘Starsky & Hutch,’ they were pretty uniform (only the collars got bigger). In the 80’s and 90’s, a wave of gritty police dramas heralded by ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘NYPD Blue’ ushered in a new age of realism. And it just keeps getting better, with complex takes on the genre, like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Southland,’ hitting new heights of quality. But there are a handful of clichés that have never gone away, and probably never will at this point. Here are ten that have kept the genre in arrested development.
Eating On The Go
The writers of cop shows seem so determined to represent police officers as tireless public servants that you never see them on a lunch break or eating without talking about a case. Beat cop Andy Sipowicz Jr. from ‘NYPD Blue’ enjoyed a sandwich, once; the very next week, he was dead.
Evil Defense Lawyers
You’d think the enemy of the police in cop shows would be the criminal, but it’s actually the defence lawyer. While the criminal creates work for the police, the defence lawyer snatches it away. Even ‘The Wire’ falls victim to this cliché as stick-up man Omar has his day in court.
The Maverick Cop
To be fair, it wouldnt be much fun to watch a cop who stays within the law (check out re-runs of ‘Dragnet’ if you dont believe us). But every single hero in a cop show is a disciplinary nightmare. ‘The Shield’ was actually about how to arrest Detective Vic Mackey.
The Cop Is An Alcoholic/Tortured Catholic
It has only been seen as an actual problem post-1980’s — but TV cops have always been hard drinkers. They also carry guilt around like a pair of cuffs. We’ve seen variations on this from Christine Cagney from ‘Cagney & Lacey’ through to Mac Taylor in ‘CSI: New York.’
I Need Your Gun And Your Badge
TV cops need to quit from time to time to keep things interesting. And, when they do, their boss always needs their gun and badge right there and then — presumably in case they celebrate dismissal by arresting someone and then shooting them. A cliché nicely set up in the Treme finale.
They say cops bleed blue, but judging by the amount of coffee they drink on TV we say it’s more brown, with a clot of cream. As ‘Homicide’ and ‘The Wire’ have shown us, not making new coffee when the pot is empty is worse than squealing on your fellow officers.
The Broken-Down Precinct
TV cops are made to seem even more like superheroes because of the third world conditions they work in every day. Nothing works, everything breaks and the building designs seem to be based on a public restroom. It’s where cop shows from ‘Kojak’ to ‘NYPD Blue’ get comic leverage from.
Everybody Always Breaks
Suspects in cop shows are always either impatient or just plain stupid, because they like to blurt out what they’ve done before the first commercial break. It must be all the coffee that’s left around the precinct. ‘Law & Order’ is definitely guilty of this… but then it has a trial to make.
Undercover Work Is Funny
Rather than the life-threatening ordeal it would be in real life, going undercover in cop shows is a gun-barrel of laughs. You get to dress up as if it were a ”Pimps and Hoes” party and punk a bunch of criminals. Mackey once went undercover as a corrupt cop — that’s comedy.
There’s No Such Thing As A Vacation
Columbo travelled the world, and never took time off from a case, so why should any other TV detective? The mistake they make is coming into the precinct hours before to tell everyone they’re going away for a few days. Horatio Kane from ‘CSI: Miami’ looks like he’s on vacation already.