Apropos of not much, we recently received Cops: 20th Anniversary Edition, a two-DVD set celebrating mirrored Ray-Bans, dirt-bike getaways, and Inner Circle. Since the packaging said it "would be a crime to miss" the gritty vérité that is Cops (including, of course, the episode in which the fuzz find a pot-bellied pig in an abandoned house and make one dopey joke after another, missing the perfect setup to ask if anybody smelled bacon), I watched every last minute of it. Aside from the anniversary TV special, this included highlights from each of the first 20 seasons as well as featurettes like "Toughest Takedowns," "The Story of Cops," "Cops on Cops," and "Famous Fan Favorites."
Not only did I watch every minute of this, but I did so with pleasure—I am an unashamed and unabashed Cops fan. But what struck me from watching this crime-riddled recap is how much the show has changed since its inception. (The first few episodes, in fact, followed the cops in their home lives and added cheesy "rock" music to the action sequences.) Turns out that Cops has not always been such a voyeuristic freak show of disenfranchised desperation. Early on, the show was actually concerned with real police work—they showed homicide investigations, booking stations, and undercover stings that actually said something about police work besides the canned, "I always wanted to be a cop, and my number-one job is to be able to return home to my family in one piece every night" monologues.
The show arguably got more riveting as it got more sensational, granted—but it increasingly comes off as gawking at the humiliating miseries of a nation that suffers a severe deficit of effective social services. At least in the early seasons of Cops, one gets the impression that police do more than catch wayward baby alligators in Broward County or Taser crack addicts, all while throwing self-confident winks to the TV cameras. CHAS BOWIE