Television and film often use incompetent authority figures as comic relief and dramatic irony, and no well has been tapped more than that of inept law enforcement. But every so often, these cops still manage to fumble their way into a win.
The Police Academy franchise—which comprises seven movies, as well as two TV series, one animated and one live-action—is basically “slobs vs. snobs” comedy, with the snobs defined as anyone who insist on basic competence and higher-than-below-average intelligence as requirements for being permitted to carry a badge and a gun, and maybe anyone who demands that lead roles in movies be filled by someone who has more talent and charisma than Steve Guttenberg.
Guttenberg, who stars in the first four movies, plays Carey Mahoney, who—by virtue of his being white, male, and having a conventionally non-wacky body type—is the designated star among a group of unlikely police cadets who get their chance to serve on their city’s police force when the new mayor relaxes the standards for admission to the titular educational facility.
The cadets are poised to wash out until circumstances throw them into a real-life hostage situation, which they heroically resolve with slapstick aplomb. The message—which runs through the entire series, right up to the point where the Police Academy graduates are summoned to Moscow to help Russian police chief Christopher Lee defeat Russian mob boss Ron Perlman—is that teamwork and having your heart in the right place is at least as sure a formula for success as being smart and gifted.
Anyone who disagrees will have to explain how Warner Bros. got so much sap out of this tree.
My take on it:
Sure, there is a method, to their madness, but if they were real cops, they would no longer have their badges.
Also, considerable amounts of property damages, lawsuits, and criminals let go after the fact.
Broken Lizard’s first and only truly great comedy, Super Troopers, features five Vermont State Troopers who are the most prank-prone, chronically incompetent law-enforcement officers.
Their ingenious and hilarious pranks are too numerous to count, from shoving a rookie in a locker and covering him with shaving cream to posing as a speeder to drag officers into a high-speed chase.
Outcast Trooper Kevin Heffernan begins the film on suspension after an incident with a school bus full of children, and ends up attacking a burger jockey for a harmless prank.
Even the lieutenant brings home a speeding couple in a stolen car to swing with his wife. These troopers are more focused on their rivalry with the Spurbury Police Department—sending over comically large cotton candy, throwing maple-syrup bottles around, brawling at a murder scene—than they are on policing their stretch of highway.
But when the budget ax comes down on their department—aided by Marisa Coughlan, the decidedly competent female police officer left out of the corruption loop—they come through to make a big drug bust and earn a promotion.
The Thin Blue Line, Rowan Atkinson and Ben Elton’s follow-up to the legendary Blackadder, is a much gentler, more farcical proposition than its predecessor, as Atkinson plays Raymond Fowler, the mild-mannered but officious and sexually repressed chief of police in the London suburb of Gasforth.
The old-fashioned Fowler wistfully pines for an England where young people spent their days playing Meccano and reading Biggles books.
That leaves him ill equipped to deal with contemporary crime, but he’s still considerably better off than his plainclothes counterpart, David Haig’s Derek Grim, who is convinced he’s policing the roughest neighborhoods of New York or Los Angeles instead of a sleepy suburb.
The rest of the station’s cops are mostly varying shades of moron, and much of the comedy in the show’s 14 episodes comes from their complete inability to get through Fowler’s daily briefing sessions without several inane tangents. Still, Fowler has his moments, albeit often accidentally—in one episode, he resolves a tense hostage situation at a bank by giving the masked robbers a stern talking-to, declaring that they really have gone too far this time and should just hand over their guns before this nonsense goes any further. It’s all terribly impressive, even if Fowler had been acting under the mistaken assumption that the robbers were some college kids playing a prank.
My take on it;
It could be worse, Mr. Bean could be on the police force.
For much of Edgar Wright’s hilarious, densely layered action pastiche Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg’s Nicholas Angel appears to be the only competent policeman (make that police officer) in the United Kingdom.
He’s banished to the country town of Sandford by his London superiors because his unerring devotion to law and order is making the rest of the Metropolitan Police look bad, and Angel’s newfound rural colleagues appear to be just as useless.
Nick Frost’s Danny Butterman means well, but he’s only a cop because his father is the chief, and he derives most of his theories for law enforcement from close analysis of Point Break and Bad Boys II.
The two plainclothes detectives have the swagger and rudeness of big-city cops but assume even the most obvious of murders is just a freak accident.
Karl Johnson’s constable is nearly incomprehensible and appears to be a good three decades past retirement age, while Kevin Eldon and Olivia Colman are less interested in being a cop than they are describing their perfect Sunday to the local paper and gleefully spouting cheeky innuendos, respectively.
But all is not as it seems in Sandford, and, in the movie’s gloriously insane climax, they prove to be formidable allies as Nicholas finally opens their eyes to what’s really going on in their beloved town.
My take on it:
Without the help of Nicholas Angel, the town of Sandford, and it's police department would be screwed.
Most of the time, Metro City’s finest cyborg police officer manages to save the day only in the most technical of senses.
Tasked with taking down the nefarious M.A.D. organization and its enigmatic leader, Dr. Claw, Gadget (voiced by Get Smart star Don Adams) is so oblivious to what’s actually going on that he routinely greets sworn enemies as friends and assumes one of his only allies—his shockingly intelligent dog Brain—is behind every crime he investigates.
Although Brain and Gadget’s niece, Penny, are really responsible for thwarting each week’s M.A.D. plot, it’s Gadget who gets the credit. In slight fairness, his constantly malfunctioning gadgets do tend to create slapstick chaos that’s inadvertently vital to saving the day.
Besides, the show’s rigid formula does occasionally stretch far enough for Inspector Gadget to show brief flashes of competence. The end of the episode “M.A.D. Trap” is a particularly good example, as Gadget actually understands Dr. Claw is trying to kill him, deploys a dozen different gadgets to escape, then saves Penny and Brain from a burning building using the helicopter that pops out of his head.
He’s still a lovable buffoon, but it’s a nice reminder that he’s very occasionally capable of so much more.
My take on it:
His tactics may save the day, but I suspect that Penny, has all the makings of a great police dective in the future.
The Other Guys is an unlikely blend of a doofus buddy-cop movie with a commentary on the actual crimes committed during the financial crisis.
As with most movies of this ilk, the interactions of the mismatched duo (Mark Wahlberg as a de rigueur hothead and Will Ferrell as a happy-to-be-in-accounting forensic accountant) take precedent over what seems to be a purposefully convoluted plot: Here, the cops must stop bad guys and the additional bad guys who want to kill the original bad guys from embezzling from the New York Police Department pension fund in order to recoup corporate investment losses.
Unsurprisingly, the bumbling cops stop the money from being stolen and everything works out (including a restoration of Mark Wahlberg’s good name, when it is revealed that he did not, as he was accused of earlier in the movie, shoot Derek Jeter in the leg during the World Series.)
However, director Adam McKay cannily reminds the audience that, laughs aside, it is a story about crime, as is illustrated by an animated sequence that rolls throughout the closing credits, providing infographics about who got fat off the financial crisis. Interesting, but still not quite as hilarious as watching Ferrell and Wahlberg.
My take on it:
Sure, but The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson's characters, captured bad guys at the beginning of the film, using gung ho tactics causing plenty of property damage.
And after one case, they end getting a heroes funeral, when both of them are killed the line of duty.
The “bad cops on top” subgenre gets self-referential in the short-lived TV series The Good Guys, which was created by Matt Nix (Burn Notice).
Bradley Whitford, a long way from Aaron Sorkin country, plays Dallas police detective Dan Stark, an alcoholic burnout who’s still living in the late ’70s, when his brand of two-fisted, hard-living justice was in vogue, and everyone didn’t snicker at him for showing up for work every day with a hangover and not knowing how to work the “computer machine.”
Dan is paired with Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks), a smooth young hotshot who can practically make the computer machine do backflips, but who is lacking in the life-experience department.
Jack is appalled by his partner’s crude style, but is constantly amazed by his ability to stumble across major crimes and throw a net over the bad guys. Maybe the point is that the best of the old and the new can make an effective team, or maybe it just proves that God looks out for children and fools.
Yes, sure, we realize that homicide detective Nick has just learned he’s a Grimm — basically, a male Buffy the Vampire Slayer endowed with the power to destroy the world’s many fairy tale-based supernatural creatures.
That’s all well and good, but why is it that he and his partner, Hank, take so long to consider that the mild-mannered, postal worker Big Bad Wolf he’s tracking just might have a basement, where he very well could be hiding the little girl he’s kidnapped?
My take on it:
Granted, Nick is what they would call on cop shows, a "rookie", but Sam and Dean Winchester would been all over the Big Bad Wolf, from the get go.
There are plenty of Twin Peaks cops we wouldn’t mind having on our side, but poor Andy isn’t one of them. While he’s sweet and well-meaning, and even inadvertently helps Agent Cooper towards the end of the show’s run, his romance with secretary Lucy leaves us wondering if he understands such elementary concepts as how sex works.
My take on it:
Hey, he kinda help Agent Dale Copper, find Laura Palmer's killer, so that's gotta count. Does it?
Come to think of it, maybe outside of Mayberry we should automatically mistrust all cops named “Andy.” And if Twin Peaks‘ Andy is a good-natured idiot, Andy Bellefleur is a fool who doesn’t even always have the best of intentions.
Bon Temps’ detective-turned-sheriff bungles easy cases, takes credit for heroic acts performed by others, and eventually develops a nasty addiction to vampire blood.
In fact, it seems that of all the estimable residents of the town, Andy has the distinction of being the least qualified — and least likely — to solve a crime.
My take on it:
It's probably not a good idea, to have a police office who's about as competent as Barney Fife or Chief Wiggum, and also addicted to vampire blood as well.
Chief Wiggum must be the model that all incompetent cops strive to emulate. He stalks around arrogantly, chomping donuts and jumping to ridiculous conclusions. He does more harm than good.
And, if you know your Simpsons, you’ll remember that he didn’t even earn his position on the police force — he was simply given his badge by a real officer who’d had it with his job. Like many authority figures, Wiggum has a fragile ego.
But his foibles are also so… cartoonish, if you will, that it’s hard not to find him somewhat endearing.
My take on it:
You really can't have a list, of bad TV cops without Chief Wiggums.
It's no wonder, why the crime rate in Springfield, is as bad as it is. The criminals, Fat Tony, Sideshow Bob, and Snake included, must send him fruit baskets on a regular basis.
Detective Sarah Linden may have seemed promising at first — a popular, ace homicide investigator who’s about to leave her home and job to get married.
But a few episodes in, we begin to understand that it’s not really her dutiful dedication that keeps her from surrendering her badge; it’s a mysterious incident from her past that’s led to an uncontrollable obsession with this case.
And that unhealthy investment in the murder of teenage Rosie Larsen leads her to make several truly unfortunate errors. Holder, meanwhile, who is supposed to be her successor, has always been sketchy. He may be over his drug problem, but the Season 1 finale sure made it look like he was planting evidence.
My take on it:
Maybe, they should have called Agent Dale Cooper, for back up help. He seems to be pretty good, at solving case involving dead females. Just as long, as he doesn't bring Andy, along for the ride.
Some police officers are merely incompetent; others, like Baltimore’s Stan Valchek, are downright shady. He’s constantly playing politics, jockeying for position in the city police department’s complex power structure, and letting personal vendettas dictate how he does his job. And he’s kind of racist, too.
Yet, despite all this — and the fact that he’s never been particularly popular — Valchek ends the series as Police Commissioner.
Like most of David Simon’s characters, he’s not a one-dimensional villain. But he’s hardly the kind of guy who will put citizens’ interests above his own quest for power.
Before any of the other cops on this list made their first appearance, there was Inspector Sledge Hammer, the star of ’80s police spoof Sledge Hammer!
Hammer is the kind of reactionary, gun-worshipping, maverick enforcer who’s always getting celebrated in action movies — except his methods of catching his perp tend to be hilariously extreme. Yes, he always gets his man, but he also tends to cause more trouble than he fixes.
My take on it:
Sledge Hammer, is like the king of bad TV cops. They could only wish to be half as a TV cop, as Sledge Hammer.
Take one part Martin Riggs, one part Marion Cobretti, and one part Rick Hunter, and there you have Sledge Hammer.
It’s bad enough that Balboa County Sheriff Don Lamb stole his former mentor Keith Mars’ job. Even worse, he’s bought and sold by the town of Neptune’s wealthy, corrupt “09er” community.
And even if he weren’t a pandering bureaucrat, Lamb is also totally incompetent, kind of stupid, and visibly insecure. All of this makes him the perfect enemy of Veronica Mars, a girl half his age with ten times his intelligence — making it particularly satisfying when she gets the better of him.
My take on it:
The very fact that he retained his badge, and rank for as long as he has, says a lot about him.
And the fact, that Veronica has solved the majority of the crimes, says a lot about him too.
Wow, bested by a teenage girl, who has a higher IQ than him. How embarrassing for Don.
A step beyond even Wiggum, goofy-voiced Officer Barbrady is more likely to unknowingly aid and abet a criminal than actually solve a crime.
This may have something to do with the fact that he was illiterate well into his tenure as the only police officer in South Park. And yet, now that he’s been supplanted by Sgt. Yates and his force, we kind of miss having him in charge.
My take on it:
Also another must have on the list. I wouldn't trust him, to solve the Case of The Missing Donuts.
Seriously, people. If you happen to be a crime victim in (fictional) Reno, you’re pretty much SOL. Don’t even bother calling the police.
My take on it:
The only thing worse, than one bad TV cop, is a whole department of them.
AV Club's take on it:
“Incompetent” is a polite way to describe the Reno County Sheriff’s Department as depicted on Comedy Central’s Reno 911!
Catching criminals seems to be more about luck than skill, though most of Reno’s crime is pretty minor. Big cases tend to be taken away from the deputies, usually with good reason.
But in the big-screen adaptation of the show, the deputies find themselves in charge of policing Miami when a biological-weapons attack traps the nation’s police departments in a convention center.
Although the deputies spend a good deal of time partying and trying to pick up members of the opposite sex, they also manage to find the perpetrator of the attack, snag the antidote to the bio weapon, and break up a drug ring. Luck plays a role, but they also show some surprising competence, as when Lt. Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) pilots a military helicopter to save the day. Well, one of the other deputies accidentally fires a missile and kills the suspect, but that was probably inevitable.