Police Procedurals

Police Procedurals. Law Enforcement on the beat, Police Detectives cruising to a crime, a cop working a case, a lone officer as the bottom line. Callahan, Doyle, Bullitt, Tibbs, Riggs, Murtaugh, McClane, Traven, Temple, Cates, Ridzik, Danko, Garber, Lowrey, Burnett, Russo, McQ, Brannigan, McQuade. The badge, the duty, the regulations. Gathering intel, busting criminals, catching the culprit. What’s the essence of a police procedural? Why do they work? Why do they linger? Why are they memorable? Television too. The appeal applies to either.

They work because the bad guys are always caught and the good guys (usually) win. Not something we can say about the real world.

Oh and Starsky and Hutch, come on! :smiley:


They work because there’s lots of different stories you can do, with the same basic framework but lots of room for a big cast and guest characters. The mystery-solving of detective shows but with way more people so it’s got a wider audience appeal. Plus: they’re in uniform, they’re out there fighting bad guys and helping people, they’re like real life superheroes!

My favorite procedurals are the ones not actually about cops but more about the detective/civvie who’s *smarter than the cops and solves the mystery before them. Castle, Magnum PI. Psych! :laughing:


Oh I grew up on Magnum, Simon & Simon, Hawalli Five-O (and I So love the recent reboot Five-0). Police/detective shows are probably my favorite.


Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971), and Dirty Harry (1971) form the basis of today’s cop movie. Singular officers, unorthodox practices, surveillance and long hours, the higher-ups, and compromised love lives. It’s laid out in these three and repeated and rephrased ever since. The trio are the grandfathers of the police formula and I’m not sure anyone ever topped them.

Sometimes they’re corrupt.

denzel washington checkers GIF

I’d also add Gere in Internal Affairs and Rifftrax butt of jokes, Nolte, in Q&A.

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I screened In the Heat of the Night (1967) Tuesday. In tribute to Sidney Poitier. I’d argue it’s Norman Jewison’s finest hour. Such a lush intricate web of specifics woven faultlessly, glimpsed in plain view, and combined once the narrative reaches discovery. Quincy Jones and Ray Charles marinate this in authenticity. The instruments another soul in frame walking around as the eye glances. Much is made of Poitier and he’s brilliant in possibly the best acting of his career. Tibbs sizzles and bristles with conviction elbowing and grasping openings on instinct and quietly delivering expertise when needed. Rod Steiger is fully his equal. A Marlon Brando turn of an enigmatic lawman confident and conflicted blowing over to cover the vulnerability and intelligence inside. He won the Academy Award for this and deservedly. Gillespie is a Rorschach of the audience seeing what they want to see or wish to. He is impressed by Tibbs and his respect of Virgil is the heart of the film.

Warren Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert, Anthony James. The actors explode and clash simmering and watching fully invested in every exchange. The writing drives it and the elements fall into place. This is what I miss. Adult, varied, up for interpretation, Night is a masterclass on what moviemaking was. Spirited, transcendent, professional, exacting, pictures had perspectives but you weren’t drowning in them and you would make of the telling what you willed not the filmmaker. Obviously there’s cues though you alone order them into comprehension and multiple meanings are possible. That’s Heat’s gift. Meeting all of it head-on and giving us just enough uncertainty to decide ourselves.

Including Angela Lansbury?

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Richard Tuggle’s Tightrope (1984). One of the odder police procedurals. Dysfunctional cop and the killer he chases share mutual baggage of an increasingly sexual nature. A classic Thriller construct laced with a healthy heaping of investigation, detective work, and the psychology of a killer. I’ve not fully decided on whether this is decent or a touch beyond. Up to the viewer I suppose…

They need great theme music. IRONSIDE!

They do not, however, require Michael Ironside. He’s reserved for other things.

They also need a great name, like…MCCLOUD!!!

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