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Underrated/Overrated: TV Cops

October 22, 2010

cast of ABC's gritty cop drama 'Detroit 187'

The best way to tell a television cop is overrated is by the amount of time other TV cops spend explaining to newbie cops and the audience just how fabulous the puffed up and arrogant veteran is. The best way to tell a tv cop is underrated: generally speaking, she’s a woman.


5. Lt. Randy Disher – Monk – played by Jason Gray-Stanford

Despite being somewhat mentored byCaptain Stottlemeyer, Randy cannot get any respect. He serves as the butt of 75% of the jokes, is often shown as bumbling and overeager, when in reality he’s a pretty decent detective. In fact, this came to light in a seven season episode where Stottlemeyer was out with back pain and Randy ran the squad far more efficiently and professionally than the Captain ever did. It should also be noted that Randy never attempted to interrogate a chimp. That was all Captain Stottlemeyer.

4. Det. Terri Stivers – Homicide: Life on the Street – played by Toni Lewis

Terri Stivers was the clean up cop of the Baltimore Police Department. She did rotations in Burglary, Sex Crimes and Narcotics. It was through her work with the Narcotics unit that she came in contact with Det. Lewis and Det. Kellerman whose appearance in her life would dramatically and irreparably damage her career. She was a strong, tough cop without being a strong black lady trope. Stivers railed against the departments later female hiring choices, but was always respectful to fellow female officers, particularly H:LOTS fave and long suffering beat cop, Sgt. Sally Rogers!

3. Det. Victor Huntley – Damages – played by Tom Noonan

The New York Times described Det. Victor Huntley like this: “He gives off the air of a man who feels underestimated and condescended to by people with higher status.” (source). This is definitely the case. Huntley is quirky and brilliant like Goren, but not snotty, smug or false. Both characters cut an imposing figure, but only Huntley’s desire to disarm the power of his size feels authentic. In the case of Goren, his whisper-y, awkward vocal pattern comes across as a ruse or hustle. Huntley, on the other hand, just comes across as eccentric, interesting and complex. Please give this character his OWN SHOW asap!!!

2. Det. Sgt Nick Yemana – Barney Miller – played by Jack Soo

Until recently, portrayals Asian detectives who weren’t chained and padlocked inside a forensics lab or the medical end of crime-solving were few and far between. Also, where are the ladies? Don’t direct me to Grace Park. They done jacked up her Hawaii Five-O character big time. Tasking her with looking foxy and not much else! Back in the day, Nick Yemana was a great cop who had earned his right to make nasty, undrinkable dishwater coffee, read the paper and occasionally answer the phone – sometimes he’d even take a message. Sure he didn’t like to file reports or organize files (who does – Barney didn’t either) but he was always adept at handling the low level criminal element who populated the squad room. Of course he was most memorable for eating the “pot brownies” Wojo accidentally brought to the squad one morning. Mushi, mushi mushi!

1. Det. Sgt. Kay Howard – H:LOTS – played by Melissa Leo

What does a chica have to do to get some damn respect? It’s not enough to have the highest clearance rate of the department. It’s not enough to score one of the highest score on the Sgt’s exam or solve a crime while visiting family in the sticks. It’s not even enough to get shot in the line of duty and recover! Nobody was as bad ass as Howard – not even Pembleton. They didn’t have to be. Kay Howard had a dogged determination when it came to putting down her cases. Unlike most of her fellow detectives – and later subordinates – she rarely let the job rob her of her humanity. Howard was often praised for her accomplishments. She was often called a “good detective” but rarely was she ever called a “great detective”, which she in fact was. One of the best ever.

Honorable Mentions: Hunter, Chris Cagney, Marybeth Lacey, Det. Ed Green, Det. Ray Curtis, Det. Stan “Big Man” Bolander, Captain Barney Miller, Ranger Trivette


Keep in mind, inclusion here says nothing about the actor’s performance as the character, just the character him/herself. For example, Dr. Gregory House is a pretty lousy person, but Hugh Laurie is an incredible actor. In fact, every single actor listed below is one whose work I thoroughly enjoy, even if I sass the television whenever one of their characters I don’t like appears on the screen. Catch my drift?

5. Det. Frank Pembleton – H:LOTS – played by Andre Braugher – for someone with a lot of red names (unsolved cases) on the board, Pembleton was sure pretty smug. In addition he had to sweat confessions in the box because he wasn’t as patient as someone like Lewis or Howard and he wasn’t as humble about his skill set as Munch or Bayliss. Pembleton was a great detective, brilliant, focused and methodical, but I wouldn’t want to be partnered with him.

4. Det. Olivia Benson – Law & Order: SVU – played by Mariska Hargitay – When she’s not being overly snotty, dismissive or flat out unpleasant, she’s telling folks with lived experiences she doesn’t even have what their lived experiences are like. Maybe she closes a lot of cases, but it often seems at the expense of fostering understanding. Benson often conflates speaking for people with being an advocate.

3. Det. Bobby Goren – Law & Order: CI – played by Vincent D’Onofrio – Don’t get me wrong; Bobby gets results, but at what cost to him or others? His judgment isn’t what I would consider good, but his instincts, which he lives by, are pretty stellar. Still, he wasn’t always as loving towards his mama Rita Moreno as I would have liked, which is 90% of why he’s on this list. Who wouldn’t prefer the company of an EGOT winner? That’s messed up, Bobby!

2. Det. Louis Fitch – Detroit 187 – played by Michael Imperioli – Despite seeing a handful of episodes of the freshman series, I’m still unclear as to what’s so fantabulous about the gruff, grunty Det. Fitch. Since he’s not particularly forthcoming with the conversation, I’m left to rely on what is constantly being said about him, which feels very “Have you heard about that Fünke?” to me. I ain’t stud’n you, Christopher!

1. Det. Vic Mackey – The Shield – played by Michael Chiklis – Oh sure, Mackey gets results, but if you experienced Los Angeles: The Rampart Years up close and personal, it’s not likely you’d wish to revisit them via this character, who looks like one of those thuggish chowerheads. I recall the prayer many of my friends and I would say before embarking on an evening at the clubs, “Lord, if god forbid, I have to get pulled over, mugged or anything else, let it happen in West Los Angeles or Beverly Hills. Please don’t let it occur within the jurisdictional reach of the Rampart division!”

Honorable Mentions: – James “Sonny” Crockett, Det. Andy Sipowitz, Captain Donald Cragen, Det. Zack Nichols, Columbo, Det. Arthur Dietrich

What’s your list look like?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2010 8:56 am

    Your encyclopedic knowledge of television, and crime dramas in particular, astounds me. I am in awe!

    Can’t agree enough about Olivia as an overrated cop. She personalizes every single crime and makes it all about her and tends to jump to conclusions. I can barely watch SVU anymore because I find Benson and Stabler so smug.

  2. October 22, 2010 9:14 am

    Can’t agree enough about Olivia as an overrated cop. She personalizes every single crime and makes it all about her and tends to jump to conclusions. I can barely watch SVU anymore because I find Benson and Stabler so smug.

    Awww thank you! As for Benson. I don’t recall when the paradigm shift in her character took place but it’s made her intolerable. I don’t particularly like that show anyway, but appreciate it out of loyalty to the mothership, but Benson’s character just gets on my damn nerves. As for Stabler, he’ll always be the fridge humper from Wet Hot American Summer. Or that dude who isn’t Elias Koteas!

  3. hsofia permalink
    October 22, 2010 1:44 pm

    Re: SVU That show would have benefitted from some cast changes. The characters got more and more unprofessional.

    You are totally right about Kay Howard. If I were murdered, I’d want her on the case. A prime example of someone who put work before ego.

  4. October 22, 2010 2:20 pm

    Seriously re: Kay Howard. She’s gonna fine your ass. Run and tell that! SVU is one of the only Law & Orders that hasn’t had a lot of shake ups in the casting. It’s been on the air for 11+ years and it needs some seriously turnover.

  5. cindy permalink
    October 22, 2010 5:46 pm

    I agree with all of these, except for Fitch – so far I have some kind of soft spot for him. He’s just so strange, the way he needs to call people on the phone to talk when they are sitting right at the next desk, and his obvious “I’m in love with you but have no idea what to do about it” attitude toward Det. Sanchez. Which, IRL, would be creepy I’m thinking, the way he called her to tell her he liked her hair, but on tv, I’m finding him odd and kind of hilarious. I have no idea why he’s a “great detective” (so yeah, he probably does belong on this list) but I do enjoy the oddities of his character, and how the other detectives are a bit wary around him because they all think he’s weird. His own partner has “Crazy” as the ringtone for Fitch’s calls. I’m hoping for some backstory at some point.

  6. October 23, 2010 12:05 am

    The only thing I ever truly liked about Olivia Benson was her short her. And now she doesn’t even have that! I think Angel Batista on Dexter is an underrated cop. This is probably partially due to me thinking he is adorable.

  7. October 23, 2010 8:59 am

    Ha! I love Batista too but wonder if I’m biased because I want to smooch him.

  8. October 23, 2010 9:09 am

    I agree with all of these, except for Fitch – so far I have some kind of soft spot for him. He’s just so strange, the way he needs to call people on the phone to talk when they are sitting right at the next desk

    I have a feeling he’s gonna be moving off the list very quickly. I still need to watch a few more episodes and the character has a whole season to get settled. I am open to having my mind changed about Fitch.

  9. hsofia permalink
    October 23, 2010 3:02 pm

    Batista is lovable, but I wouldn’t think of him as a great cop. I mean, has he ever caught a bad guy? =) Well, yes, but remember this is the dude who got busted with an undercover cop posing as a hooker and then he tried to date her! *groan* But he does make me want to make him a big messy sandwich just because I know he’d really appreciate it and make all kinds of smacking noises like my dad does. ((happy memories))

  10. evmaroon permalink
    October 23, 2010 7:55 pm

    Thirded on Batista, but let’s not forget his now-wife, LaGuerta. She figured out Jimmy Smits’ evil and nobody else other than Dexter knew what was going on.

    I also would love to see more time spent admiring Lucille Bates from Hill Street Blues, Laura Holt from Remington Steele, and Sam Axe from Burn Notice. I am totally in agreement on your overrated list, although I also detest the character of Lt. Horatio Crane. He makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a Saturday Night Special.

  11. hss46 permalink
    March 21, 2011 6:52 pm

    Does anyone know the name of the actor who plays fitch’s son?

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