TV’s Funniest Sitcom Cops
Sitcom's Law and Order Goofballs
Police work is a grim and quite dangerous career choice.
Perhaps that’s why fictitious law enforcement characters are predominantly created for the most serious of dramas.
This is not to say that sitcoms haven’t had their fair share of law men and women.
Here is a look at cops (from the sitcom genre) who always brought the funny:
Always Fair to Carbohydrates
Actor: Billy Gardell Character: Mike Biggs Show: Mike and Molly
A metabolically-challenged Chicago police officer, Mike struggles with his addictions to food and the subsequent challenges related to his significant size.
Because of his enormity, he is a frequent target for various verbal abuses, which lends him to goofiness by way of being the straight man.
One aside, his is not a Midwestern accent. Mr. Gardell’s brogue is most clearly that of a Pittsburgher, where he was born and raised.
Can't Keep a Good Man Down-Or Can You?
Actress: Chelsea Peretti Character: Gina Linetti Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine
It appears that Gina one day looked in the mirror and saw that “special someone” in her life: herself.
She is the master of the spirit-crushing put down, especially for guys (“not if it would cure cancer”) and has the gumption to take what she wants in life even if it belongs to someone else.
Technically, she is what’s known as “civilian administrator” but she works in a police precinct.
No point quibbling over technicalities because she is mad goofy and that’s what we’re going for here.
The Death of Hope
What She Does Between Mental Health Commitments
Actress: Kerry Kenny-Silver Character: Trudy Wiegel Show: Reno 911
Deputy Wiegel’s employment with the Reno Sheriff’s Department always seemed rather shaky, almost as if it were some kind of practical joke gone wrong.
More than likely, it was the result of a well-placed family member in the county bureaucracy.
Clearly, she was a walking mental health emergency who was a danger to her co-workers as well as the public.
It was frequently difficult to discern how much reality she could process at any given time. One got the impression that her colleagues, for the most part, gave up on trying to get through to her.
Instead, they just silently hoped her medications were working enough to get through the day.
You Think You're Crazy?
Don Leslie Orville
In The Safest Possible Place
Actor: Wayne Knight Character: Don Leslie Orville Show: Third Rock from the Sun
It’s one thing to be incompetent. It’s another thing to be obtuse. It’s a third thing to be courage-challenged.
For Don, he was all three rolled into one doughy pile of lawman.
It was unnerving to see that he was rather spineless and even worse that he seemed unaware of police formalities, such as not letting a civilian participate in an interrogation or forgetting the meaning of police codes.
For example: how could someone lose a dead body?
Don eventually admitted to his girlfriend Sally, who was man enough for them both, that the only reason he became a law enforcement officer was that his idea that being around all the cops would keep him safe.
Getting River Dancey
He Meant What He Said
Actor Leslie Nielson Character: Frank Drebin Show: Police Squad
Drebin was an awareness-challenged detective who lacked a grasp of figurative language as well as the obvious in front of him.
Perhaps it was his complete rigidity that made him take things so literally.
His general, all-around bungling nature nearly always made bad situations worse.
While Police Squad was a very short-lived sitcom, it was unique in that it was a spoof of police dramas.
Further, even though it only lived for six episodes, its subsequent reboot as a popular movie series was due in large part to the popularity of the Frank Drebin character and his portrayer, the late, great Leslie Nielson.
Murray the Cop
Ah, Never Mind
Actor: Al Molinaro Character: Murray Show: The Odd Couple
Though he existed largely as a poker buddy of Oscar Madison, veteran cop’ Murray always seemed to see things as they were.
Problem was, those things were rather hopeless.
Even worse, he knew his better days were miles behind him and one got the impression they were nothing to brag about.
Not Much of A Lady, Either
Arthur P. Dietrich
Not Your Run of the Mill Know-It-All
Actor: Steve Landesberg Character: Arthur P. Dietrich Show: Barney Miller
Dietrich was an enigma among the precinct detectives in that he was, depending on your outlook, either exceedingly cool or very detached.
Whatever the case, it was nearly impossible to rattle the man.
Throw in his ever-present knowledge of seemingly everything and you had the makings of a smug, know-it-all.
Dietrich’s strength was that he was always able to view any situation as an outsider, bringing a fresh but not always welcome perspective.
There was some debate as to any possible credentials that might lend themselves to his intellectual prowess. He once claimed to be a teacher. Then again, he also claimed to have worked as a lumberjack.
His distanced, objective approach to being a cop enabled him to relate to the most bizarre of suspects.
Case in point: a suspect in the midst of a mental-health crisis who claimed to be a time traveler was humbled, stunned and grateful to meet Dietrich.
The self-proclaimed time traveler implied to the detective that in the future, the detective would be highly famous.
Someone knew more than they were letting on, eh?
He Also Did Impressions
Laying Down Seemed Nice
Actor: Abe Vigoda Character: Phil Fish Show: Barney Miller/Fish
Detective Phil Fish was to world-weariness as Elvis Presley was to singing.
Watching the man trudge through the chronic aggravation of his day was enough to bring one to tears.
It’s not that he wasn’t a good cop, he was just exhausted, wore out from the rigors of life on and off the job.
One also got the impression that his work suffered from the incessant haggling, via phone calls, from his wife, Bernice.
The popularity of the long-suffering detective and his wife prompted a short-lived spinoff, Fish.
While I’ve seen popular detectives’ spin-off or guest star in other drama series, I believe Fish doing so put him in rare company shared only with Barney Fife (The Andy Griffith Show; Mayberry RFD) in the sitcom world.
Not Everything is His Responsibility
Not As Smart As He Thought
Actor: Joe E. Ross Character: Gunther Toody Show: Car 54, Where Are you?
Toody neared mental-midget status and seemed continually one-upped, in the intellect department, by his far more learned partner, Francis Muldoon (played by Fred Gwynne).
Further stifling his life was that he lived with his over-bearing mother and sisters.
Leonard Bernstein is No Spike Jones
The Very Thin Line Between Order and Chaos
Actor: Don Knotts Character: Barney Fife Show: The Andy Griffith Show
Barney was the innovator of the “nipping it in the bud” approach to law enforcement which, despite the best of intentions, almost never seemed to bring out any measurable results other than catastrophe and the irritation of every around him.
His palpable anxiety issues, never approached or discussed, was often mistaken for aggression, seemed to be at the core of every mess he created.
Fife seemed to harbor loads of neurosis and peculiarities. It was a shame that Sigmund Freud never passed through Mayberry. He would have had several field days with Barney.
Perhaps the most dangerous of Fife’s problems was his sometimes overbearing self-delusion.
He was nowhere near as capable or charming or aggressive as he considered himself.
But straightening that out would have made him far less funny.
Imagine a sane, rational Fife, shedding his twitching, sniveling demeanor for a calm, logical approach to his life and work.