Television

John Oliver Investigates Police Raids, and Also Cop Rock

John Oliver sits at his anchorperson desk, in front of a graphic reading "Raids."
Police raids: not even once. HBO

It’s been nearly seven years since John Oliver embarked on his extended, ongoing tour of the many, many ways we’ve screwed everything up, and his basic formula still works: Tell the audience in detail about one of the worst things in the world, using one or more of the best things in the world to soften the blow. This week, the terrible thing Oliver focused on was police raids, which continue to take an unacceptable toll on the country, and the spoonful of sugar was Cop Rock, Steven Bochco’s preposterous musical cop show, which flamed out spectacularly in the fall of 1990. Here’s what Oliver had to say:

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First things first: Steven Bochco began his career writing Columbo, so he gets a lifetime pass on any cop-show-related missteps he may or may not have taken in 1990. Second, Cop Rock is way more delightfully awful than a single Last Week Tonight segment can possibly demonstrate, so if that’s your thing and you somehow haven’t already shelled out for the DVD box set, you’ve got a lot of cringeworthy television in your future. The full version of “Baby Merchant,” from episode four, “A Three-Corpse Meal,” is on YouTube, and John Oliver is absolutely right to emphasize that it lasts for three whole minutes.

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Most importantly, however, policing in the United States is a million times more screwed up and ill-conceived than Cop Rock ever was. ABC put the show out of its misery in just over three months, but the U.S. has been around for centuries, and we’re still cruising right along with a militarized police force that brutalizes the people it’s supposed to serve. If we treated the other amendments in the Bill of Rights with the same disregard we give to the prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, we’d all have a regiment of lobsterbacks quartering in our living rooms. That might be preferable to jackboots kicking in doors, but neither is ideal. It’s easy to get depressed thinking about how broken our police system is, but remember: Although it may seem vanishingly unlikely that we will ever find a way to make real changes to American policing, it must have seemed even more unlikely that a major American broadcast network would make a prime time TV show about singing cops. If Steven Bochco can do it, so can we.

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