Law enforcers have been patrolling television’s mean streets since even before LAPD detective Sgt. Joe Friday went about asking for “just the facts, ma’am” on “Dragnet.” But television long ago filed away those kind of black-and-white, simplistic Friday figures in favor of complex and conflicted cops and operatives. “We’re not necessarily telling new stories,” says “Southland” star Michael Cudlitz, “but we’re telling stories in new ways.”
Here, The Envelope talked to five of our favorite law-and-order types about their characters and their approach to crime fighting.
MICHAEL CUDLITZ -- ‘SOUTHLAND’
The character: Los Angeles Police Department senior lead officer John Cooper, an exemplary cop who also happens to be gay. Chronic back trouble leads to pain pill addiction, a condition he finally owns in the Season 3 finale.
Contribution to crime fighting: “John has a definite sense of right and wrong and likes to feel that he’s in control of himself when it comes to crossing that line,” Cudlitz says. “He has a sense of urgency in helping those in need. Like most cops, he wants to make a difference.”
Kindred qualities: “I was brought up with strong morals. When people get caught doing the wrong thing, they should suffer the consequences. It’s not a moral high ground. It’s just: Don’t make your mistake someone else’s fault. Cop to it.”
Could he do the job? “I could have easily gone into some kind of service — military, police or fire department. I don’t know if I’d be a good cop because I tend to get very emotionally involved in things. It would eat me up.”
Emmy chances: Even after a remarkable third season, “Southland” remains one of TV’s most underappreciated dramas.
TIMOTHY OLYPHANT -- ‘JUSTIFIED’
The character: Old-school, Southern-fried U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a man given to dispensing justice on his terms rather than by the book.
Contribution to crime fighting: “He was born 100 years too late. And he knows that and wonders how he’d size up against the Old West marshals,” Olyphant says.
Kindred qualities: “I often wonder how I would do on stage in 1890. Nah … I don’t know. I’m not as cool, I can tell you that. But, having read the [Elmore Leonard] books, I can imagine what it’s like. And that’s given me enough confidence.”
Could he do the job? “I’d be scared. The marshals I’ve met seem like a fun bunch. And none of them ever thought about the job until someone offered it to them. But me? It crossed my mind to be a teacher or a coach, but not law enforcement.”
Emmy chances: After being criminally overlooked for its first season, justice may be served for a follow-up year that was even better.