X

Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

The Best Cop Shows to Watch

This is a gritty list

keishahatchettbiopic.jpg
Keisha Hatchett
Titus Welliver and Jamie Hector, Bosch

Titus Welliver and Jamie Hector, Bosch

Hopper Stone/Amazon Studios

Whether it's a good ol' Dick Wolf procedural where the bad guy usually gets his due, a gritty prestige cable series that raises complicated questions about the criminal justice system in lieu of a gift-wrapped ending, or a comedy about bungling officers trying their best, there are all kinds of cop shows out there, depending on what you're looking for.

These shows have a way of sucking in viewers for hours on end, so if you're looking for a good distraction that offers up some sense of order and justice in a world filled with chaos, uncertainty, and injustice, this list is for you. From heavy dramas to light comedies, from Netflix to HBO Max to Hulu, there's probably a cop show out there that will satisfy you.

Looking for more recommendations of what to watch next? We have a ton of them! And if you're looking for more hand-picked recommendations based on shows you love, we have those too. 


NYPD Blue

Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz, NYPD Blue

Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz, NYPD Blue

ABC

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

 

City on a Hill

Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge, City on a Hill

Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge, City on a Hill

Claire Folger/SHOWTIME

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

 

Chicago P.D.

Jesse Lee Soffer, Chicago P.D.

Jesse Lee Soffer, Chicago P.D.

Matt Dinerstein/NBC

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

 

Angie Tribeca

Hayes MacArthur and Rashida Jones, Angie Tribeca

Hayes MacArthur and Rashida Jones, Angie Tribeca

Tyler Golden/TBS

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

 

Bosch

Jamie Hector and Titus Welliver, Bosch

Jamie Hector and Titus Welliver, Bosch

Aaron Epstein

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 a spin-off where he leaves the public sector for good and starts working as a fixer for a law firm. 

 

The Wire

Wendell Pierce and Dominic West, The Wire

Wendell Pierce and Dominic West, The Wire

HBO

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. 

 

Criminal Minds

Criminal Minds

Criminal Minds

Cliff Lipson/CBS

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. 

 

Southland

Benjamin McKenzie, Southland

Benjamin McKenzie, Southland

TNT

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. 

 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

John Fleenor/NBCUniversal

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.

 

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Christopher Meloni and Ice-T, Law & Order SVU

Christopher Meloni and Ice-T, Law & Order SVU

Bobby Bank/WireImage

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.

 

Luther

Idris Elba, Luther

Idris Elba, Luther

BBC

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.

 

Mindhunter

Mindhunter

Netflix

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. 

 

Longmire

Robert Taylor, Longmire

Robert Taylor, Longmire

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.

 

The Shield

Walton Goggins and Michael Chiklis, The Shield

20thCentFox/Everett Collection

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.

 

Reno 911!

Reno 911!

Reno 911!

Darren Michaels/Quibi

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).