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the joys in blue As Line of Duty reaches its nerve-wracking finale, we rate our favourite cop shows of all time

From The Wire to Cracker, we list best police shows of all time


Line of Duty’s Kate and Steve.

Line of Duty’s Kate and Steve.

Line of Duty’s Kate and Steve.

As Line of Duty fans brace themselves for the big season six finale tonight it is clear that Ted Hastings and his AC-12 team has found a spot in our hearts. But where does it sit in the list of the great cop shows of all time?

Since the 1970s we have been blessed with incredible cop shows that have varied from the cheesy Starsky & Hutch to the dark Luther. There have been unique shows like 24 and Nordic noir programmes like The Bridge and around 12 different CSIs in between.

To make this list, the leading roles have to be cops. Sopranos, Love/Hate and Breaking Bad are not eligible even though there are cops in every single episode. Here is my top ten, in no particular order.


CRACKER (1993-1996)

Long before he was Hagrid or the fat one from Nuns on the Run Robbie Coltrane was hard-living psychologist Edward Fitzgerald. The only thing more dramatic than the cases he was working on was his home life and his potentially life-threatening addictions to alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Through it all, Coltrane maintained an intensity and a rough-and-tumble charm that helped him during interrogations, arguments with his employers at the Greater Manchester Police, and in trying to keep his family together.


STARSKY & HUTCH (1975-79)

Starsky and Hutch were rebel cops with a cool car who, basically, only believed in each other. The series was constantly exciting with solid action scenes and it was also occasionally funny. It might be a bit cheesy by today's standards but there's a reason Starsky, Hutch, Starsky's Ford Gran Torino and informant Huggy Bear have become well-known aspects of pop culture.


THE FALL (2013-16)

She may not have made the list for X-Files but in this brilliant drama Gillian Anderson plays Superintendent Stella Gibson who is drafted in to uncover the mystery surrounding the seemingly random deaths of women around Belfast. For three seasons the viewing public was complete gripped by the show and while season three may have petered out slightly it is still worthy of making the list. Jamie Dornan also deserves an honourable mention for making serial killing so sexy.

24 (2001-2010)

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Sure, it was far-fetched and yes, it was weird that he never went to the toilet in 24 hours, but we were willing to let those tiny little facts slide to immerse our imagination in the world of Jack Bauer's real-time antics at CTU. Constant twists, cliffhangers and brilliantly interesting characters filmed in real time over 24 hours is still a genius idea 20 years later. Two hundred episodes later, it is still one of the best ever.


COLUMBO (1979-2003)

Unless you've watched it you won't understand the impact of the four words 'Just one more thing'! As soon as Peter Falk's Columbo uttered those four words you just knew that he was about to tear into whatever suspect he was standing in front at the time. And the mystery was over. Columbo thrived on his unassuming, affable nature, which inevitably resulted in the show's villain-of-the-week underestimating him, unknowingly giving themselves away in the process.


LUTHER (2010-15)

When his estranged wife hurls "You care about the dead more than the living" at Idris Elba's Luther we get an instant insight into the character. Luther is nothing short of mesmerising, slicing through suspects with the angry efficiency of a man on the brink. His already tenuous grasp on civility and basic sanity is tested further by the mind games of a woman (Ruth Wilson) he knows killed her own parents. This is Elba's show from start to finish. It is dark and moody and at times it is gruesome. But it is gripping and engaging throughout.


TRUE DETECTIVE (Season one, 2014)

If you like your cop yarns morally murky and narratively ambiguous, well they don't tend to get murkier or more ambiguous than season one of True Detective. This genius series stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and has a technically brilliant script, cinematography, casting and eerily gripping locations. The flips between present day and the past are not a new concept but the way in which True Detective was portrayed for eight horrifying-yet-hypnotising episodes back in 2014 may never be matched.

The six-minute tracking shot at the end of episode four is the greatest TV moment of all time and no matter how many times I watch I will never figure out how they made it.


THE WIRE (2002-08)

While I may not agree with some critics that this is the greatest TV show of all time - it's top five anyway - I think the HBO series will long be the gold standard for cop dramas, largely due to the fact that it was so much more than just a police series. Through five very different seasons, David Simon gave us dozens of memorable characters, even more quotable lines, and offered up some small ray of hope that a small group of concerned citizens could try to change the horrible world that was Baltimore.


Mindhunter (2017-19)

Mindhunter is a series that, once you watched it, it was impossible to get out of your head. It follows FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they investigate the early psychology of serial killers. Season one saw Holden become obsessively interested and friendly with notorious killer Edmund Kemper while season two dived deep into the world of the unsolved Atlanta Child Murderers. Unfortunately, it was announced in 2020 that the series would not be continuing.


The Killing (2011-14)

No one smiled, it rained constantly, it always seemed to be night time and the crimes were horrific. But you couldn't take your eyes off it. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) were the cops tasked with discovering who murdered Rosie Larsen. For two seasons and 26 amazing episodes we couldn't stop watching. Seasons three and four took on a different case but were just as good.


Police Squad! (1982)

Whoever decided to give the world detective Frank Drebin deserves a knighthood. A complete spoof of police procedurals, the series featured sight gags, wordplay and non sequiturs. Although the show was cancelled after six episodes, it later successfully spawned The Naked Gun films.

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