What makes this show so captivating? Why are we always so eager to watch it?
Is it that undeniable sense of superiority we get from looking down our nose at the often illiterate, poorly-dressed knuckleheads who have to explain themselves to the police? Is it the red-state conservative in us that craves swift and certain justice, that assumes that these folks are surely guilty (even though they've been in police custody for a matter of minutes) and will soon get what they have coming, extenuating circumstances be damned? Is it an armchair law enforcement curiosity factor at work, an interest in seeing the "everyday" experiences of uniform cops which is so far removed from the fictional blood-soaked thrills of the "CSI" and "Law and Order" franchises? Or does the show serve a purely instructional purpose, a vivid what-would-I-do lesson in how best to handle (or to not handle) unexpected situations like traffic stops or domestic violence?
Nah, it's probably just the car chases and fistfights.
Most episodes of "COPS" have several of the following elements. The very best episodes have all of them.
* "That's not mine, officer."
* A bumpy through-the-windshield shot of a fleeing car, accompanied by the sound of the police car's revving engine. Bonus points for the police car's headlights slicing through clouds of dust.
* A suspect without a shirt, preferably revealing bad tattoos.
* A suspect without a tooth.
* "I only had two beers."
* A grotesque prostitute, paired with a surprisingly normal-looking john. Ew.
* Even better, the normal-looking john coming up with all kinds of implausible reasons why he has a grotesque prostitute in his car.
* "Why did you run?"
* The boss sergeant who shows up after the situation's fully under control, who then proceeds to stand there impassively while the patrol cops explain everything that's happened.
* "What'd I do?" asked by a suspect after he just ran for six blocks from the police.
* A scraggly woman with more kids than she can handle.
* A suspect who says he doesn't have anything in the car, but who - in fact - does indeed some something in the car.
* Little baggies of drugs. Where do they get those tiny little baggies?
* A cop behind the wheel, typically at the top of the episode, giving us a quick little summary of either A) why he's in law enforcement, B) what a great community it is he lives in, or C) how much he enjoys his job.
* A domestic violence situation, with each person involved insisting that it's the other one who started it, the other one who should go to jail, the other one who won't stay away. Extra credit if one of them is bloodied somehow.
* Relatives of the suspect gathering around to yell at the police and defend the suspect, inevitably followed by some variation of "Get back or you're going to jail too!"
* A suspect who can't seem to follow directions that require he simply sit still on the curb.
* A drunk and/or crazy suspect kicking and/or head-butting the window of a patrol car's back seat.
* The tell-tale used crack pipe.
* Two or more cops analyzing their brief moment of excitement and adrenaline in apprehending the suspect as if discussing a touchdown in flag football.
* A broken tail light.
* "Get down on the ground now!"
* Bleeped profanity.
* One last catchy, pithy line from a victorious cop as we dissolve to the blue and red flashing "COPS" logo. It has to be a clever phrase that sums it all up, something along the lines of "Too bad tonight he's going to jail" or "This is just another day on the job" or "That's one more bad guy off the street."