Appearing on Fridays, This Was Television Asked & Answered is a chance for the writers of TWTV to answer questions about TV history. Questions can range from the personal to the critical about historical television. Asked & Answered has been on hiatus for a while, but we thought we’d bring it back for the warm summer Fridays.
While we came up the question for this installment, we’d love for you, our readers, to submit questions for us to answer in the future. Feel free to leave them in the comments, tweet them to us, ask on Facebook, or email them to us.
This week’s question is: In honor of the late and fucking (had to do it for him) great Dennis Farina, who is your favorite television cop?
Jessica: In the age of cops falling apart or cops worse than the criminals they’re catching my favorite will always be Detective Lennie Briscoe. As I get older I have more and more an appreciation for the appeal, and honestly heroism, of basic decency. That was Det. Briscoe, a been around the block officer who had no doubt seen it all but had not hardened into a reflexive antipathy with the people he dealt with. If anything, he’d developed a wry sense of humor as a survival mechanism. He was sharp, and he gave no quarter to fools, but he operated from a great empathy. The Law and Order universe hasn’t been the same since Orbach’s death. It needed Briscoe to keep it from tipping into dour hopelessness. That was the greatest gift Briscoe gave the show, the hope that things could go terribly wrong, but there would always be people like him trying to set it right.
Andrew: Admission: I’m not one for police procedurals. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever watched a single one. Still, I refuse to not participate, and so I will go with an exceptionally random answer. After the 2008-09 NFL season, Nnamdi Asomugha, of the Oakland Raiders was, far and away, the best corner back in the league (my beloved Darrelle Revis would have his breakout season the next year). He had made his scripted TV debut the year before, in a cameo appearance on The Game, at that time on the CW, so he had shown an interest in acting. What greater fit for an NFL star interested in acting would there be than Friday Night Lights? And so it was that Asomugha would appear in the fourth season premiere of FNL as Officer Ken Shaw. Although Officer Shaw appeared in only one scene, it was an essential scene to the East Dillon era. Officer Shaw introduced new Lions Coach Eric Taylor to Michael B. Jordan’s Vince Howard with an ultimatum of football or jail. So while Ken Shaw is unlikely to make any television historian’s list of greatest or most influential cop characters, he played a fun central role in one of my favorite shows, and that makes him my favorite.
Whitney: There are so many Law & Order choices to pick from that could easily be called my favorite TV cops, but I’ll have to go with one of the most complicated officers on one of the most critically acclaimed shows of all time: my boy Jimmy McNulty himself. He was never perfect (not even close) but I loved the way he was always out to simply make it through the day. He never pretended what he did on the job was the best he could be doing, but there were a lot of times when he legitimately cared which can’t be said for the majority of the Baltimore Police Department. Even in the fourth season, when he was all but ignored while the show focused elsewhere, it was always a pleasant surprise when he popped up to be a sarcastic ass or goof off in the background. His relationship with Detective Bunk was half the fun, but when he was by himself or dealing with superiors the show always had that special fun about it. McNulty is on the Mount Rushmore of conflicted and tormented police offices, but rewatching (and rewatching, and rewatching) him screw up and redeem himself over and over will make him one of the most memorable and awesome cops on television.
Emma: I find something strangely comforting about police procedurals, which is weird considering all the bad things that happen in them. It’s probably down to the super high conviction rate. My choice isn’t really a TV cop but falls into the private detective genre (perhaps I’m bending the rules a smudge) and that is Agatha Christie’s Poirot. David Suchet has been playing the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot since 1989 and will have appeared as this character in 70 different Poirot stories when his last outing happens at the start of next year. He’s always been around for me as a viewer and thanks to reruns it’s pretty much still always on (one that I saw not that long ago featured a young Michael Fassbender) and a lot of the episodes could blend into each other. Poirot is unassuming and people let their guard down when he is around; maybe it is the moustache or his snappy style but he always gets his man (or woman) and tends to reveal whodunnit in that grand tradition with all the suspects present. It’s not ground breaking or innovative but quite often these kind of shows aren’t and that’s fine.
Cory: Two of my top choices were McNulty and Lennie, but it’s not like TV has been lacking in cops over the last…forever. It’s hard to deny the appeal of early-run Miami Vice and Don Johnson’s Sonny Crocket. The show has aged much better than you might expect considering folks would rather joke about the fashion than talk about its visual flourishes, and Johnson’s the perfect slick-but-grimy cop at the center. In his Johnson’s hands, Sonny earnestly strived for the moral high ground while being supremely cool, which isn’t entirely easy to pull off. He was certainly troubled by some of the things he experienced, but his raw emotions didn’t always negatively impact the job in the most cliched, hackneyed ways. And even though it wasn’t technically Sonny, we can all admit that this is the greatest four minutes in the history of art.