Cops are supposedly here to protect and serve, but they're also here to entertain! The police drama started off as a staple of television because of its relative simplicity: People doing their job solving crimes. But the genre has evolved over the years, and now cop shows are as complicated as the job itself. That's most evident in the newest addition to our list of the best cop shows to watch on HBO Max, Netflix, Amazon, and more. We Own This City comes from David Simon, the creator of The Wire, and tracks the rise and fall of Baltimore's Gun Trace Task Force, a corrupt squad that ran the streets in the late 2010s.
This list of the best cop shows to watch on all the major streaming services has a wide range of shows, some of which you've definitely watched and some of which you probably haven't. It contains familiar procedurals, gritty cable dramas, and comedies about bungling officers trying their best. Whatever type of cop show you're looking for, you're sure to find something on this list that will make you feel blue (get it?).
Last updated May 12; newer addition are toward the top
As the creator of HBO's seminal The Wire, David Simon is the de facto king of crime dramas. Simon returns to the streets of Baltimore in We Own This City, an adaptation of Baltimore Sun journalist Justin Fenton's book about the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force, which was corrupt through and through and stressed arrests — legit or not — over actual police work. Jon Bernthal and Josh Charles are excellent as dirty cops, and Simon's thoroughness with everyone involved — good cops, bad cops, politicians, lawyers — is every bit as good as The Wire at its best. -Tim Surette
This neon-lit crime drama is the newest show on this list, having just premiered on HBO Max. Set in Tokyo in the late '90s, it follows an American crime journalist (Ansel Elgort) and a Japanese detective (Ken Watanabe) as they work together to investigate how a loan sharking company connects to a larger underworld conspiracy involving two yakuza clans on the edge of war. It's a methodical procedural about the relationship between journalistic and police work with an impeccably directed pilot from Michael Mann, one of cinema's most acclaimed directors of stylish crime thrillers. -Liam Mathews
Speaking of Michael Mann and "Vice" — the original is still worth streaming, too. When you describe the aesthetic of the '80s, you're describing Miami Vice. Everything about executive producer Mann's pastel-shaded crime drama was excessive: the violence, the conspicuous consumption of sports cars and expensive clothing and souped-up speedboats, the way it let almost an entire pop song play while Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) drove through Miami at night. The pilot had the most iconic use of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" outside of that commercial with the gorilla playing the drums. Miami Vice was hyper-stylized, nihilistic noir with incongruously lovely scenery and an incredibly sophisticated visual identity (no earth tones, ever!). It's so seductive that if you watch it now, you'll think that the Armani suit over the T-shirt look should make a comeback immediately. No TV cop has ever looked cooler than Sonny Crockett. -Liam Mathews
Sharon Gless (Cagney) and Tyne Daly (Lacey) had a pretty incredible run in the mid 1980s. For six consecutive years, the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series went to either Gless or Daly (Daly won four times, while Gless won twice). This buddy cop drama followed the pair as they solved crimes in Manhattan. It's rare to see a cop show with two female leads even today, so unfortunately, Cagney & Lacey is still ahead of its time. -Liam Mathews
This groundbreaking cop drama ran for an astounding 261 episodes, won 20 Emmys, and produced one of the most emotionally devastating hours of television of all time, when Det. Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) died from surgery complications. It came from Steven Bochco, one of the most prolific and accomplished TV producers of his era, and David Milch, an idiosyncratic visionary whose gift for dialogue is unparalleled among TV writers. But this ABC show is mostly remembered today for showing us star Dennis Frantz's middle-aged tuchus. It's kind of unfair, but given that NYPD Blue's greatest legacy is pushing the boundaries of how gritty broadcast TV could be, it's fitting. –Liam Mathews
Set in Boston in the '90s when the city's crime rate was at an all-time high, this series imagines a fictional account of the "Boston Miracle," a real police initiative that targeted youth gun violence. Amidst it all, corrupt FBI agent Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon) and District Attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) form an unlikely alliance as they work on taking down a family of car robbers. It's tense, it's riveting, it's dramatic -- it's everything you could want out of a cop drama. -Allison Picurro
If you love Dick Wolf procedurals, this one should be right up your alley. The second in the super-producers's trio of Chicago-based shows, this gripping cop drama follows the elite detectives of CPD's Intelligence unit led by Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) -- a man who often plays by his own rules. In addition to Beghe, the show also stars Jesse Lee Soffer, Marina Squerciati, LaRoyce Hawkins, Patrick John Flueger, Tracy Spiridakos and Lisseth Chavez.
This absurdist parody of cop procedurals will have you laughing so loud and often that your neighbors will think there's a siren outside. Rashida Jones stars as the titular LAPD detective, who, along with her partner Jay Geils (Hayes MacArthur), investigates the city's silliest crimes. It was created by Steve and Nancy Carell, who understand cop show cliches and how to satirize them. One nice thing about the show is that it bucks the ubiquitous trend in contemporary comedy where characters react to strange situations as if they're strange. Angie Tribeca gets what other shows have forgotten, which is that a funny situation is made funnier when characters act like it's normal. The show ran for four seasons between 2016 and 2018 on TBS. -Liam Mathews
An adaptation of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels, Amazon's Bosch follows the gritty life of Los Angeles homicide detective and private investigator Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver). Although the show rarely receives a lot of fanfare, it's quite popular, and for good reason: It has been lauded for its realistic portrayal of police work, as well as its faithful interpretation of Connelly's best-selling books. Plus, it has a sweet jazz soundtrack. Bosch the show recently ended after seven seasons, but Bosch the guy will continue on in Bosch: Legacy, a spin-off where he leaves the public sector for good and starts working as a fixer for a law firm.
Now is the time to get acquainted with one of the greatest shows of all time. Lauded for its realistic portrayal of urban life, this HBO series centers on the harrowing narcotics scene in Baltimore, Maryland. The Wire takes a unique and authentic approach to the genre, examining Baltimore's drug crisis from all angles including the detectives cracking down on crime, the users and dealers just trying to survive, and the bureaucratic branches struggling to keep a lid on the problem. It's a methodical exploration of the ways institutions fail individuals.
This CBS series follows an elite squad of FBI profilers known as "mind hunters" who use their combined expertise to identify a predator's motivations and emotional triggers, and anticipate their next move before they can strike again. Complex cases, unique characters, and Shemar Moore saying "baby girl" make this series a must-watch.
Michael Cudlitz, Benjamin McKenzie, and Regina King star in this underappreciated series centered on the complicated lives of the officers and detectives working for the LAPD. More of a character-driven drama than a standard cop procedural, the show's more serialized approach allows its talented ensemble to shine while exploring the toll the job takes on each characters' professional and personal lives.
Mike Schur's delightful cop comedy sparks pure joy, and we could certainly use a lot of that right now. Andy Samberg stars as Jake Peralta, an immature but talented detective forced to change his ways when Ray Holt (Andre Braugher), the stoic new commanding officer, arrives on the scene. The show's charming ensemble also includes overachiever Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), devoted family man Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), earnest hard worker Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), the incredibly intimidating but warmhearted Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), bumbling veterans Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller), and their wonderfully narcissistic office manager Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti). It ended after eight seasons earlier this year.
We're pretty sure Fin (Ice-T) would have booked us for a criminal offense if we didn't include this iconic series on the list. Twenty-two seasons in and the Law & Order spin-off, which surpassed Gunsmoke to become the longest-running live-action primetime drama in television history, still feels as relevant and gripping as ever. If you're looking for something familiar and fulfilling, Mariska Hargitay's Sgt. Olivia Benson and the rest of her elite squad bringing criminals to justice should do the trick.
Watch Idris Elba and his beautiful tweed suits solve crimes in this compelling British police drama about a self-destructive detective obsessed with catching murderers. The show adds a unique spin on the genre by incorporating psychological warfare between Elba's eponymous detective and the predator he's been tasked with stopping.
One of Netflix's best series is this cerebral thriller executive-produced by Charlize Theron and David Fincher. Set in the late '70s, the show follows FBI agents Holden Ford (David Fincher) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they interview incarcerated serial killers like Edmund Kemper and Charles Manson in the hopes of better understanding them and using that intel to solve open cases. Come for the unique premise but stay for the quality writing backed by Emmy-worthy performances.
Even if westerns aren't your thing, this beautifully constructed series about a man piecing his life back together amid tragic circumstances deserves your attention. Based on Craig Johnson's bestselling novels, Longmire follows the titular sheriff who, following his wife's death, forges ahead with support from his daughter Cady and longtime friend Henry Standing Bear. The show doesn't rely on big car chases and explosive cases, but rather the subtle drama that comes with protecting a small Wyoming town filled with compelling characters both good and bad. It's a real gem.
Michael Chiklis leads this edgy drama as Vic Mackey, a corrupt cop who's as bad as the guys he puts away. As a member of the Strike Team, an experimental division of the LAPD with a questionably high success rate, he often resorts to criminal methods to solve his cases while secretly taking home a cut of his drug busts. Over the course of seven seasons, the show drew top talent like Glenn Close, Walton Goggins, and Forest Whitaker.
The spiritual lovechild of Cops and The Office, this irreverent comedy follows the incompetent police officers of Reno, Nevada as they respond to emergency calls ranging from drug busts to public disturbances. The series, which ran for six seasons on Comedy Central, was revived for a seventh season by Quibi (RIP). The hilarious cast of characters includes Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), Deputy Travis Junior (Robert Ben Garant), Deputy Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney-Silver), Deputy Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash), Deputy Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Deputy S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough), Deputy James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui), Deputy Cherish Kimball (Mary Birdsong), and Deputy Frank Rizzo (Joe Lo Truglio).