Cop shows: they normalize white privilege in an unjust criminal system, they taint jury pools in a fashion that is surely an under appreciated threat to our democracy, they glamorize state violence while depriving the viewers of any context through which to comprehend the meaning and extent of structural violence, and they are just so damn fun to watch!
Really, I watch almost every cop show I can find, from the very best (The Wire, obviously) to the very worst (Blue Bloods), from the British to the remake of the British, from the repetitive (any Law & Order) to the creative (Southland). And, all of these shows have their problems. Even The Wire depicts a Baltimore PD that leaves us with a minimal understanding of either the depth of the corruption depicted in the single example of the Adnan Syed police investigation and trial (don't just listen to Serial, but also Undisclosed, especially episode 9, "Charm City" where they show how many other investigations follow the same illegal patterns that surely put the wrong people in jail [or, read the preview of that episode, here]) or the massive structural violence that is railed against in the Freddie Gray protests (for more, see Dave Zirin on The Wire). But, damn, it is just such a good show!
But perhaps the most insidious show on TV--the one cop show to bring them all and in the darkness bind them--is Rizzoli and Isles.
It is basically a cop show made by women, starring women, and clearly targeting women.
Which, given our patriarchal society, means it is really dumbed down, portrays unhealthy body images, and provides two completely different personalities in its two leads, each of which is beholden to worrisome gender norms in completely different ways.
Det. Jane Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon, is the tomboy turned homicide detective, who is horrible at finding a man, but meets social beauty ideals without even trying (she can eat anything and never gain a pound; she doesn't know a thing about clothes, but always has clothes that fit her slim frame perfectly, etc.).
Dr. Maura Isles, played by Sasha Alexander, is the intellectual, fully employed Chief Medical Examiner of Massachusetts and Boston P.D. forensic expert. She knows literally everything, she is wearing the latest fashion in every scene (clearly spending millions on her clothing), and only her brutal honesty gives her trouble finding a man.
Two perfect women, but neither able to land a man. But that's okay, because, in spite of having seemingly nothing in common, they are best friends forever!
But what's really important about the show is the background music. As I mentioned, the show is fairly dumbed down, even in the world of cop shows. The background music is a great example since every scene has background music that lets you know what kind of scene it is in the most obvious fashion.
This is most telling, and most insidious, in the scenes when Rizzoli and Isles find the murder victims. As far as I can tell, without exception, each of these scenes follows the same pattern. Rizzoli and Isles arrive at the scene, often at the same time, though sometimes Rizzoli is last to arrive. When they first arrive, the music cues up that the scene is fun, lighthearted, and cute. Wait? What? You ask. Yes, every murder scene starts as cutesy. As soon as Rizzoli or Rizzoli/Isles together arrive, it is time for someone to say something adorable. And, we know this is acceptable because the music moods us into cutesy fun. So, one of the detectives at the scene will open with a joke, or a funny story, or just say something that is as adorable as a puppy that is listening to you with a single ear.
But, don't worry, they haven't forgotten that it is a murder scene. After everyone laughs at whatever cutesy thing is said, with Isles usually rolling her eyes--but in the fun way that says, "I find that funny, but I'm also too smart to find that funny," not in the way that says, "What the hell is wrong with you sick people? This is a murder scene!"--we transition to seriousness. Remember, largely female audience, murder is serious business!
But how is the largely female audience to know? Well, thankfully, the music takes an abrupt change. The characters transition smoothly as if there was nothing wrong with them being cutesy at a murder scene. But, the music tells us that this is now quite serious, just so that we the audience know to transition our viewing posture in unison.
And, of course, it is important to note, this isn't done in some fashion that is meant to subtly shine a light on a morbid sense of cop humor. Instead, it is done to emphasize, as is done throughout the show, how a team of cops don't just work together to bring about justice (and so when you, dear viewer, find yourself on a jury, believe every word they say), but also that they do it as a family.
Even on Blue Bloods, a show about a family of cops, the line between family/friendship and working as cops is clearly drawn. They are serious about catching the right man at work, and every episode ends with a dinner where they all sit down together, discuss the lessons learned from the episode, and parrot rightwing talking points. A real winner of a show, but at least it doesn't depict homicide investigations as mini-parties that allow good friends to get to know each other better.
The depiction on Rizzoli and Isles is clear: cops are just buddies who hang out, always bring criminals to justice with the utmost virtue of character, and women can have it all (the clothes, attain social beauty norms, BFF's, a career [or two], know everything and be good at everything), except get a man.