Though it might seem counterintuitive to some of our most dedicated Facebook commenters, there are few things more universally beloved in the Orlando Weekly offices than a good cop show. So when we discussed whether or not to review Dax Shepard's new big-screen adaptation of the classic '70s-'80s buddy cop show CHiPs (in theaters Friday, March 24), the conversation inevitably turned to our favorite cop shows. What follows, then, is not an indictment of the CHiPs adaptation as much as a guide for other ways you could scratch your television police procedural itch if you were so inclined. Tough choices were made in the interest of space, and some favorites had to be dropped from the list due to imminent streaming rights expiration (The Shield) or nitpicking over whether a show about a private investigator is technically a cop show (The Rockford Files).
Dragnet (1967) Probably the most important police procedural show in history, Dragnet got its start as a radio drama in 1949, followed by a longrunning television series that started in 1951. But it's the 1967 revival that gets most of the attention. Series creator Jack Webb stars as LAPD detective Joe Friday, a no-nonsense gumshoe intent on getting to the facts of the case at hand. The 1967 series is notable for its depictions of the youth counterculture of the time, kicking off its very first episode with a look at the dangers of LSD. Dragnet was revolutionary at the time, focusing on the nuts and bolts of police work in real-life cases where "only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." (Streaming on Hulu)
Hill Street Blues Sometimes overlooked by modern fans of the genre, Hill Street Blues is the series that put creator Steven Bochco (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) on the map. Much of the modern language of television drama that we take for granted today – multi-episode story arcs, ensemble casts, handheld cameras – was pioneered in the show, giving it a modern feel despite its dated production values. Only the first three seasons are available on Hulu, but they still make for compulsive watching. (Seasons 1-3 streaming on Hulu)
Miami Vice Though it has very little to do with actual police work, the impact of Miami Vice on the zeitgeist of the 1980s can't be overstated. Taking a cue from the nascent MTV's reputation for emphasizing style over substance, executive producer Michael Mann (later known for crime epics like Heat) incorporated a focus on fashion, action and pop music that was unlike anything that had been seen on television at the time. And while many of the show's plots fall apart under scrutiny, the enduring image of undercover detectives Crockett and Tubbs (Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) can be seen whenever someone wears a pastel T-shirt under a white sportcoat to any '80s-themed event. (Seasons 1-4 streaming on Hulu)
Luther There's little dispute among fans of police shows that the Brits are modern masters of the tropes of the cop drama, turning them on their head with complex, often deeply troubled, blue lives at the center. Though there are enough acclaimed English detective shows on Netflix to keep a reasonable television-watcher occupied for a full year, we picked Luther, starring everyone's favorite head-canon James Bond, Idris Elba, as the best series for the uninitiated. But that doesn't mean you should sleep on gems like Happy Valley, The Fall, Broadchurch, River, Wallander or Marcella – all of which are also on Netflix. (Series 1-4 streaming on Netflix)
The Wire No list of best cop shows would be complete without HBO's The Wire. Over five seasons, the show explored the problems with the institutions of a major American city, Baltimore, through the lens of a police show. Through The Wire, we learned how to run a drug ring, how to crack a pager code, what a longshoreman actually does, and why a nailgun is an important investment. HBO recently remastered the original series for high-definition TVs, so it's as good a time as any to return to "Bawlmer" and see McNulty, Bunk, Bubs, Stringer Bell, Kima and the rest of the crew. (Seasons 1-5 streaming on HBO Go/Now and Amazon Prime)