Last night TNT aired a special new two-hour episode of The Closer, their popular summer series starring Kyra Sedgwick. It got me wondering: who are the best law enforcement officers in the history of TV? Currently, I’m enjoying Law and Order: CI‘s Maggie Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson), and – don’t shoot me, Olivia fans – Benson’s temporary replacement, Dani Beck (Connie Nielson). I’m also digging Gina Torres as the head of the crisis negotiation unit on Standoff, and of course, I loved the lesbians cops in the never-aired pilot Nikki and Nora.
But it takes more than a few good episodes to stand out among the now-crowded field of female detectives, captains, and FBI agents on TV. Here’s a list of my overall favorites:
10. Lt. Billie Chambers, Fastlane (Tiffani Thiessen)
Sure, her show was only on TV for 5 minutes, but Billie was fun, aggressive and sexy, and herundercover stint as a lesbian was pretty convincing.
9. Captain Monica Rawling, The Shield (Glenn Close)
The captain of the controversial FX series for one season, Monica ruled with a quiet but firm hand, and wasn’t afraid to bend the rules when she needed to.
8. Inspector Magdalena “Magda” Ramirez, The Division (Lisa Vidal)
As a single mother struggling with relationships, Magda was just as interesting off the clock as she was on in her four seasons on this underrated Lifetime detective series about female cops in San Francisco.
7. Det. Diane Russell, NYPD Blue (Kim Delaney)
A recovering alcoholic and incest victim, Det. Russell was one of the few female characters on the controversial cop drama consistently given major storylines. Her character got a little annoying – and depressing – by the end of her 94-episode run, but that pretty much characterizes the show in general.
6. Lt. Anita Van Buren, Law and Order (S. Epatha Merkerson)
Merkerson has been in a record 313 L&O episodes so far as the weary head of the venerable detective unit, and she does that “nothing surprises me anymore” head-shake better than anyone on TV.
Click below to see my top 5…
5. Cagney and Lacey (Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless)
These trailblazing characters from the ’70s ’80s were among the first female cops on TV (along with Angie Dickinson’s Sgt. Pepper), and still evoke fond memories for many.
4. Det. Shakima Greggs, The Wire (Sonja Sohn)
Hard-working Kima will spend hours patiently eavesdropping on suspects and carefully cultivating relationships with informants. And did I mention she’s a lesbian? Yeah, she gets bonus points for that.
3. Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, The Closer (Kyra Sedgwick)
Smart, flawed, and sporting a great Southern accent, Brenda is one of the most three-dimensional cops on TV, and so subversive she makes you forget she’s a cop – until you suddenly find yourself confessing to a triple-homicide. Damn you, Brenda!
2.Sydney Bristow, Alias (Jennifer Garner)
As a CIA agent, Sydney doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the women here, but it’s my list, so I’m putting her on it. For five years, Sydney juggled jarring personal revelations – my mother’s dead! no, she’s not! yes she is! – while chasing down the bad guys, and she did it all while wearing great wigs and sexy outfits.
1. Olivia Benson, Law and Order: SVU (Mariska Hargitay)
What can I say about Benson that hasn’t already been said? Hargitay won an Emmy for her portrayal of the detective who specializes in “sexually based offenses”, and earned herself legions of fans along the way.
I’m sure I’ve left some good cops / FBI agents / general ass kickers off the list, so let me know your favorites in the comments.