There are many elements that make a cop show great: good cop/bad cop routines, intertwined storylines, undercover operations, police corruption and super-gross autopsies (CSI, we’re looking in your direction) are some of them. We decided to put a whole bunch of our police-related TV shows and movies on sale in honor of our releases of Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, and as we were looking through our long list of classic cop shows, we couldn't help but notice a few common threads of awesomeness between them.
First things first. No, really, the first thing that makes an impression on you is a show's intro, so it's a good idea to have a really memorable one. You have the dramatic, percussive opening for NYPD Blue that immediately throws you head-first into the gritty New York City crime world. Or maybe you're a sucker for a really catchy theme song, as is the case with the immortal Peter Gunn theme. And it doesn’t get much more iconic than Law & Order, which has had the same intro theme for almost 25 years!
But we're gonna give the most points to a cop show intro that inspires John Hamm and Adam Scott to do a shot-for-shot parody. Why? Because John Hamm, that's why!
Before Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson teamed up for True Detective, there were Rick and A.J. Simon taking on bad guys in Simon & Simon and Pete Malloy and Jim Reed fighting crime side-by-side in Adam-12. A cop is only as good as his partner, and a cop show is only as good as its buddy cop pairing. We love watching a good team on the small screen, but a little friction between partners makes for more drama and, therefore, more fun.
The Interrogation Room
That suspect sure does have a smug look on his face. He thinks he's outsmarted the boys (and girls) in blue, but we the fans know better than to believe that. That’s because he's sitting in the most dangerous place of all: the interrogation room. The lights are hot, questions are pointed, sleeves are rolled up and alibis are flimsy. And just when you think the suspect has gotten the better of our heroes, BAM — they drop the evidence bomb that stops them in their tracks. The perp’s been defeated. He’s going to jail. The interrogators sit back and sip a fresh cup of coffee. Ahh, the sweet taste of successful television!
Famous Guest Stars
As if the regular stars aren't awesome enough, the case-of-the-week cop show format is rife with opportunity to see a high-profile guest star in for an episode or two. Now, not only are we watching one of our favorite shows, we're also honored with sixty solid minutes of a young Christopher Walken or Kurt Russell.
Car (and Foot) Chases
Those feisty criminals just never want to admit when it’s over. Luckily for us, that makes for much more entertaining TV than someone who surrenders without a fight. So inevitably, the greatest cop shows always provide a hefty dose of chase scenes, both on foot and on the road.
Many of them start in the car, sirens blazing and tires peeling. Then, when they've run out of road or are cornered by the fuzz, the suspects bail from the vehicle and try their luck the old fashioned way, running in vain and trying to jump over fences and other obstacles.
Our heroes usually prevail, of course. Justice is served. The streets are safe for decent people until another chase begins. And we're grabbing for that second bowl of popcorn.
The Classic Shoot-Out
Well, maybe justice hasn't been served quite yet...In a final, desperate attempt at freedom, the guns are drawn by the bad guys and in a furious flurry of hot lead, the classic shoot-out marks the climactic moment of our already-action-packed episode. These cops don't want to shoot anyone, but they've been left with no choice. And although we're a little worried that during the cacophonous crescendo one of our favorite officers got hit, we know that when the smoke clears and the credits roll, we'll be seeing the same cast of protagonists next week.
Or, you could just throw subtlety to the wind and have the biggest freaking shootout in the world!