As any robe-wearing layabout without cable can attest, "COPS" is on The Channels You Get With Rabbit Ears roughly four hundred times a day. If it isn't time for news, soap operas, or Putty whoring himself out for the egregious pimp known as "Family Feud," you can rest assured that "COPS" is on. "COPS" is, essentially, the first reality show ever, both in it's obvious realism and in it's equally obvious distortion of reality. See, on "COPS," the police always get their man. Sure, sometimes they have to chase a shirtless hillbilly through a swamp or taze some titanic, bloodlusting goonatic, but in the end, that low-rent, marble-mouthed criminal will be in the back of squad car and we, the viewer, can rest easy, knowing that peace, justice, and the American Way have been saved by Sergeant Overweight and Deputy Assbrain.
Only any thinking person knows it doesn't always---or even usually---happen that way. Despite half of London and San Francisco scouring the streets, Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer, respectively, were never even identified, let alone arrested; John Rigas had to build his own private golf course before the Feds decided that maybe he might be defrauding a few million rubes; and the FBI had to enlist the knowhow of an effete cannibal to catch Buffalo Bill, only to foolishly release him so he could star in "Freejack" with Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez.
The point? Those criminals were smart. Or smartish. To wit: cops only catch stupid criminals and, fittingly, "COPS" only catch stupid criminals. Your typical "COPS" mastermind has the mental wherewithal of a preoccupied monkey with a grotesque head injury. So when Johnny Law Enforcer begins a high-speed chase during the third act of a "COPS" episode, you assume that the perp will eventually run his '88 Olds Cutlass into a guardrail, make an obese/blotto attempt at a getaway, then get tackled by a cop who will call him "the individual" or "the suspect," all before the sweat Reggae stylings of Inner Circle announce the closing credits. This is why it was so surprising to see the perp run his '88 Olds Cutlass into a guardrail, make an
I dialed my friend and told him all about it. He was very proud of me. Not "Congratulations on your new baby girl!" proud, but "Way to sit on your ass and see the COPS where dude escapes" proud. It's a subtle distinction but an important one.
Now, for a little compare and contrast. We here at my house have had some recent unpleasantness with the San Francisco Police Force. Without going into tedious detail just know that if your house gets robbed and you learn from an anonymous note who perpetrated said crime, where they live, and what their names are, do not expect the police to do anything. Instead, be prepared to learn the true meaning of "Kafkaesque" while leaving countless messages for these donuted commandos of public nonservice, getting no reply, filling out seven different kinds of TPS reports, getting no recompense, and eventually just going to the house of the thieves yourself. The whole outlandish calamity will be a frustrating amalgam of "The Wire," Barney Fife, and Chief Clancy Wiggum's immortal line "Can't you people take the law into your own hands? I mean, we can't be policing the entire city!"
What I ended up learning from this is that, sadly, "COPS" are better than cops. Sure, the show is a ludicrous farce, but dealing with "COPS" is an enjoyable undertaking, one that can be done with Tecate in hand, slippers on feet, and a smug sense of your own awesomeness still fully intact. Is it all a little schadenfreude-y? Sure. But I'm down with other people's problems (yeah you know me). They make for good T.V. And the cops on "COPS" always at least try to solve crimes, apprehend suspects, and protect the greater good. Dealing with the non-COPs cops, in contrast, is a harrowing, taxing debacle. I had expectation that the City Police will, you know, police the city, but what I discovered was it was more like the DMV with guns: a joyless, soul-crushing slog through a bureaucracy in which no one wants to help you. Sad indeed, but true as well.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's another episode on. I hope it involves a "domestic disturbance."