Small towns are so much more interesting on television. Their quirks are quirkier, their drama is more dramatic and their faults somehow make them more endearing. But there’s another feature we’ve spotted in the hit small town dramas we’re currently obsessed with: The cops in these series aren’t all that skilled at, well, being cops.
Case in point: Bates Motel. Sure, the cops of White Pine Bay, Ore. are corrupt, but they also don’t even seem to know how to work a crime scene. The first thing that the Sheriff did upon arriving at a murder scene in this Monday’s episode was touch the murder weapon and then the dead body … with his bare hands. Surely even small town peacekeepers know about latex gloves, right? Assuming they have cable, I’m betting they’ve at least seen Law & Order: SVU and could have learned a thing or two about contaminating a crime scene.
But that’s just one instance of subpar police work on the show. How they never managed to pin Keith Summers’ murder on Norma — your average housewife who somehow transported a 200-plus pound (bleeding) body from her house to her motel and then to a lake without anyone seeing — is beyond me. I’m sure it helps that there only seems to be one person at the police station at all times and only two cops (well, now one) on actual duty, but I digress. Let’s relocate, shall we?
Say hello to Mystic Falls, VA, where The Vampire Diaries‘ supernatural beings make being a cop practically a moot point. Fact: A badge just isn’t a match for a nice pair of fangs. And while I will give Sheriff Forbes and her deputies credit when it comes to tracking down a lost car — they found Elena and Rebekah pretty quickly — the only other area where they deserve credit is in keeping supernatural secrets hidden. To be fair, Elena did say that there was hardly any crime in Mystic Falls pre-Salvatore invasion. If only crashing a high school party were still enough to keep the town crime-free.
Finally, we have to discuss the law enforcement in Pretty Little Liars‘ Rosewood, PA, where four teenage girls and even more teenage cyber bullies RUN THE TOWN. For one thing, no individual crime has been solved in Rosewood … ever. We still don’t know who killed Alison DiLaurentis — or even if she’s dead — which was the mystery that kicked off the show in the pilot. Also, in this past season, two teenage girls were able to get a “missing” cop car from Hanna’s garage to a lake without anyone seeing. Explain that one to me. Did they just drive it down the street and distract people with their prettiness? I’m not buying it.
So what is it about this TV trend? Do bad cops make for good shows? Are they becoming a signature trait for small towns?
Here are some additional EW staff thoughts about shows with small town cops:
Adam Carlson: The Miami PD in Dexter tries really hard — they’re always on the hunt! — but it loses major points for being unable to figure out that the star forensics analyst is also a vigilante sociopath with a fondness for sharp things. P.S. LaGuerta? Always call for back-up. Kevin Bacon (The Following) is handsome and exhausted and everything, but would it really take him so long to track the machinations of a man who’s already in prison? He and his country-wide FBI team bungle prisoner transfers and give new, tragic meaning to “safe perimeter.”
Lanford Beard: Obviously Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show was a terrible cop — bumbling, prat falling, and an all-around doofus (but so lovable!). Luckily he lived in Mayberry where there was really no crime to speak of. He definitely paved the path for terrible cops of the modern day, including The Simpsons‘ Chief Wiggum.
Hillary Busis: Emma on Once Upon a Time is also a sheriff, and also pretty terrible at her job. But she’s not nearly as bad as Prince Charming, who took over the position when she got transported to Fairy Land at the beginning of season 2. (Prince Charming also happens to be Emma’s dad, though they’re the same age. It makes sense on the show, I promise.) All you really need to know: Storybrooke, Maine is the only place in the U.S. where cutting a person in half will not lead to a murder charge, or any consequences at all, really.
Now it’s your turn! Which show is home to the worst cops on TV?