On TV, as in life, there are good cops and bad cops. But, to paraphrase Tolstoy for the millionth time, while most of the good cops we see on primetime are fairly interchangeable fair, valiant types, every bad cop is incompetent, corrupt, or otherwise dysfunctional in his own way. Sometimes that’s just the way the character is written; other times, confusing writing or direction turns officers who are supposed to be heroes into bumbling fools. After the jump, inspired by Grimm‘s unintentionally dense detectives, we round up TV cops you would never want to have on your case.
Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin, Grimm
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?
Andy Brennan, Twin Peaks
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.
Andy Bellefleur, True Blood
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.
Clancy Wiggum, The Simpsons
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.
Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder, The Killing
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.
Stan Valchek, The Wire
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.
Sledge Hammer, Sledge Hammer!
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.
Don Lamb, Veronica Mars
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.
Officer Barbrady, South Park
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.
Randy Disher, Monk
There are garden-variety incompetent cops, and then there are the ones who are weird on top of that, like Randy Disher, the right-hand man to the SFPD’s Captain Leland Stottlemeyer. His biggest flaw is his inability to reason through just about any case, and he’s also annoying wordy (at least for a cop). He does have a pretty sweet band, though…
Reno Sheriff’s Department, Reno 911!
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.