A couple of months ago, I wrote way more words than I originally intended to when I did a deep dive into Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle, which I firmly believe (for better or worse) is the culmination of decades of reality television that checks literally every single box fans of the genre are looking for in a show.
While writing that, I did a fair amount of research into the evolution of that realm of programming over the years, which has a history that stretches all the way back to the 1940s. However, it seems like most people credit The Real World for ushering in a new era of reality television when it debuted in 1992, as it’s widely viewed as the prototypical example of the drama-filled shows that most people associate with that label today.
There’s no doubt The Real World introduced the tried-and-true “stick strangers in a fairly isolated space and wait for human nature to run its course” formula, but after thinking about it for a bit, I think there’s another program that deserves more recognition for realizing there’s nothing viewers love more than other people’s misfortune: Cops.
Cops premiered on Fox in 1989 and was a Saturday night staple on the network for over two decades, and growing up, there was nothing I looked forward to more than seeing the clock hit 8 PM and hearing the iconic theme song start playing.
Like most people, I was raised by parents who instilled a “crimes are a bad thing to do” mentality in me, which I don’t think is a super controversial philosophy to teach to children. As a result, I kind of assumed everyone on Cops was getting what was coming to them—including those who got arrested for having a half-gram of weed in their glovebox that was discovered because they committed the grave offense of driving with expired registration.
As I grew older, I started to feel slightly uneasy about finding enjoyment in the misery of drug addicts, the homeless, and people getting arrested for largely victimless crimes. I eventually discovered I was far from the only one, as others criticized the program for disproportionately focusing on people of color and allowing the featured police departments—who made multiple visits to one person’s home in search of footage on at least one occasion—to dictate how they wanted to be portrayed in the final cut.
With police brutality back in the spotlight yet again over the past couple of weeks, all things related to law enforcement have come under increased scrutiny, and on Tuesday, we learned that Cops is no exception, as Paramount Network announced it is canceling the program after 32 seasons.
If it hadn’t been for the commercials that run during Bar Rescue, I wouldn’t have even known they were still making new episodes, and to be entirely honest, I didn’t have much interest in watching them, which had less to do with the show’s slightly problematic nature and more to do with the fact I knew there was no way they could measure up to those that were filmed in bygone eras.
At one point, I had 150 episodes of Cops reruns on my DVR, many of which I’d seen multiple times—including the truly iconic encounter where a little person in Las Vegas tries to escape arrest by climbing up a light pole before unsuccessfully attempting to break out of the handcuffs he subsequently finds himself in.
It does have a happy ending, though, as instead of getting taken to the police station, he gets driven to a restaurant that exclusively employs people of similar stature and is offered a job by the manager, which I swear I am not making up.
My favorite part of these reruns is that you never know what you’re going to get, but almost all of them serve as a time capsule that transports you straight back to the year it was filmed. The best part is that there’s no way of knowing exactly when that was, which means you have to do some detective work of your own by looking at car models, gas prices, hairstyles, and—most notably—clothing.
A couple of years ago, I was extremely bored and decided to start documenting some of the best vintage outfits Cops has to offer on an Instagram account absolutely no one cared about (in hindsight, I probably should’ve just highlighted all of the shirtless dudes).
With its cancelation, I figured there was no better excuse to revisit it in order to highlight some amazing pieces of apparel that were probably picked up for $5 at a thrift store but that I’d pay far more for in order to add them to my collection.
First off, we have the amazing “Shirt Likely Given Away For Free By A Local Business” and “Buttondown That Perfectly Sums Up The Color Aesthetic Of The Early ’90s” one-two punch.
I’m an absolute sucker for AND1, and even though I wish this one was emblazoned with a phrase along the lines of “Here’s $5, Go Buy Yourself A Game,” I’m still a fan.
I’m not entirely sure if this is a polo with the sleeves cut off or a Penn State shirt with the sleeves cut off over a polo with the sleeves cut off but I respect it either way.
I know nothing about this guy but I do know he couldn’t have picked a more on-brand shirt if he tried.
The fact that I’ll never know what this shirt is referring to is going to haunt me to my grave, as I assume it’s not celebrating the death of 95 people following an earthquake in Costa Rica and Panama or Frank Thomas becoming the first member of the White Sox to hit a home run at the new Comiskey Park.
What’s the only thing better than a guy in a colorful shirt riding a motorcycle with a parrot on his arm?
Dennis Rodman riding a motorcycle with a tie-dye shirt on and Oakley ski goggles on his head. That’s what.
Thanks for the memories, Cops.