Robert Jackman

The best cop dramas to rival Line of Duty

  • From Spectator Life
Image: BBC

As the sixth series of Line of Duty heats up, the good old police procedural drama is clearly back in fashion. If you need an additional fix before the next helping from AC-12, here are our favourite cops on television:

Jimmy McNulty, The Wire

As a rule of thumb, fictional cops tend to gravitate towards two moral archetypes: rule-breaking mavericks at one end and corrupt cynics at the other. But David Simon’s seminal work about the city of Baltimore blew that spectrum wide open, showing its various police teams as every bit as complex and compromised as the criminals they pursued. At the heart of it all is Jimmy McNulty: the obstinate and obsessive detective with overlapping talents for solid police work and relentless self-sabotage. A worthy lead man in a truly iconic series.

Rust Cohle, True Detective


Television cops don’t come much more disillusioned than Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, a man for whom the chance to re-investigate the unsolved murder of a prostitute from 17 years earlier at least provides a break from a private life besieged by family tragedies and recurrent drug addictions. Cohle’s partner, played by Woody Harrelson, is equally fascinating. Like the best conceptual dramas, True Detective also manages to put its location firmly on the map, using its vivid Louisiana backdrop to bring us an unforgettable slice of dark southern gothic.

Sam Tyler, Life on Mars

A smash hit in the early 2000s (and since imitated the world over) Matthew Graham’s breakthrough drama began with an unforgettable premise: a modern-day police officer catapulted back in time to 1973. Underpinning the show’s success was the irresistible dynamic between its two leads. But while Philip Glenister’s heavy-handed Gene Hunt provided the sizzle and swagger, it was ultimately John Simm’s Sam Tyler who drove forward the best police work – at least when he wasn’t being haunted by the girl from the BBC test card.

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