Critic's Notebook: Where's the Next Great Cop Show?

The Wire Still - H 2015
Courtesy of HBO

I think I need another great cop series right now. 

I say that because strange things have been happening inside my head — yes, stranger than usual, which is saying something as my brain generally works overtime to defeat me and make me miserable.

Here's a small sampling of recent thoughts that all lead back to, well, the need for another great cop series:

1. I loved David Simon's scorched Earth rant against packaging in Hollywood, and while I was reading it I kept wanting to rewatch The Wire. Just for the record, I've already rewatched The Wire numerous times and I'm not a person with a lot of free time. I'd say right now that part of my brain is like a candy-fueled kid inside a jumpy house screaming about rewatching The Wire, while the other part of my brain is a separate kid laying down inside that same jumpy house, having given up on the will to do anything except get bounced around against his wishes, thinking this thought constantly: "I should be rewatching Game of Thrones."

2. I was looking for the premiere date of something else and saw that Luther was coming back June 2 on BBC America — for its fifth season, which has already aired in Britain. Those are two things I didn't know because in the Peak TV era, you only need to know what 12 series are premiering this week and which of the 36 you missed the last two weeks will go onto the catch-up pile. So, yeah, Luther. At this point I don't think you can call Luther a great cop series, but the first couple of seasons were pretty damned amazing and all of them have been massively entertaining, even the abrupt fourth season. So, hell yeah, I'll watch another season of Luther, one of the best larger-than-life detectives out there.

3. But thinking of new Luther episodes kind of messed things up. Because I thought, hmmm, what really was the last great cop show, and immediately my mind went back to something I've repeated over and over again from the past — obviously that show was Southland. So I decided I'd construct another Hidden Gems column because so many people don't even know about Southland, and then I watched a few episodes and was down yet another rabbit hole. I haven't written that particular Hidden Gems column, but I'll get to it soon.

4. Why haven't I written it? Because as I watched Southland, a little piece of my brain (yeah, I know — but everything connects!) said, "I think you totally forgot Happy Valley, dumbass." Blunt, but true. Happy Valley is a fantastic series. I searched and came up with the gif I made of the brilliant Sarah Lancashire as Sgt. Catherine Cawood saying, "What a SHIT week." And I laughed out loud and sighed fondly. And I thought, you know what, I need to write about Happy Valley as a Hidden Gems entry before Southland, not because it's greater per se, but just because I was super-excited about that gif and being super-excited about a topic is the ultimate motivator in writing a column.

5. Then I thought, "Wait, is Happy Valley greater than Southland? Do my internal rankings need to be updated?" At that point, my internal rankings had a very grand intro where I mentioned the table-setter series Hill Street Blues reinventing the genre entirely in 1981, and then Prime Suspect doing a different kind of reinvention a decade later, with Helen Mirren at the helm; and that led into the two best broadcast network cop shows of their time, Homicide: Life on the Street and NYPD Blue two years after that in 1993. Then, after nobody could improve on things for years, FX and The Shield revolutionized ad-supported cable and cop shows in March 2002 before — bam! — three months later, The Wire arrived on HBO and became inarguably the greatest cop series of all time. That series was so daunting that pretty much everything became stagnant thereafter and the war was essentially over until Southland came out in 2009 as, wait for it, the last great cop show

At that point, it was basically The Wire at No. 1 and The Shield at No. 2, and everybody could just argue until their lungs collapsed about where things settled after that. I didn't really care. The building blocks and key players were obvious. Until, you know, that just became a too-lazy way of thinking about what came after, which includes some flat-out brilliant offerings like The Shadow Line, Happy Valley, The Fall, Justified, Broadchurch, Luther, River, Bosch, Inspector Morse, Line of Duty and — don't make me say it: The Killing, possibly; or if I have to also consider it, Law & Order — plus any number of excellent outside-the-box choices like Fargo, Top of the Lake, Sherlock, Dexter, Wallander, Life on Mars, Longmire, Mindhunter, Altered Carbon and the first season of True Detective. No, those are not in any order, and no, I didn't include any comedies. And yes, I could make a Top 10 out of that bunch, but won't — at least not yet.

The point is, in short order, that's how I got to where I am now, wondering if maybe we can all do better than True Detective season three and — who knows, Luther season five — and really seriously consider another unexpectedly creative variation on cops, or maybe just another original take on the street cops and detectives combo that works so well.

Only one of those series above is sci-fi (well, arguably two), one (River) I haven't even finished yet and I'm embarrassed I'm coming to it so late; there's two Western-themed variations; I included The Killing only because I loved the characters and not really the plot, and I felt guilted (by my own brain!) into including Law & Order based on longevity even though it was never, ever as good as Homicide or NYPD Blue.

I'm simultaneously thinking I've left something out (probably foreign, definitely a miniseries but that's for a reason and, hell no, not any of the American ones you think I've forgotten but I left off on purpose because they are terrible) and I should really think about that Top 10 list. But mostly I just want another cop show to consider.

I mean, think about it. To my (crazy) mind, the last three series I've loved unconditionally are not traditional cop-style shows, but all have a law and order or at least governmental justice theme to them: Patriot on Amazon, Counterpart on Starz and Killing Eve on BBC America. I believe they have somehow increased my desire to see something more traditional, and yet there's nothing out there currently stoking my interest.

Is something in the pipeline? Probably. Will it be not very good? Probably.

So, where's the next great cop show? Is it wrong to think that maybe, in this overwhelming but blessedly lucky Platinum Age of television, we're overdue for one? Or better yet, we deserve one?