“Bad boys, bad boys / Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do / When they come for you?” If that tune is instantly recognizable in your head, you’re far from alone. Since Cops hit broadcast television 30 years ago this month, the television show has become a peculiar bit of Americana that has lingered on the airwaves. The half-hour program, which first aired on Fox and now lives on the Paramount Network, is part-reality television and part-documentary, providing viewers with a verité-style look into the doldrums of everyday policing. (Supposedly, at least, to the extent that such a mainstream program can.) The show’s thousand-episode-long longevity is a testament to its position as a pop-culture phenomenon, one that has inspired countless references, parodies, and even a bizarre, memorable crossover with The X-Files. And like all pop-culture phenomena, its standing is worth close examination.
Headlong, the anthology documentary podcast series by Dan Taberski, returns next month with a third season that has Cops squarely in its sights. Titled Running From Cops, the season endeavors to dig deep into the show’s long, quiet influence over American culture — how it touches contemporary politics, criminal justice, and public perception of law enforcement. It’s a dense nexus of vital topics that feel all the more sensitive these days, as the more complicated and troubling aspects of American policing have come into clearer public view. From the sound of it, Running From Cops will feature potentially heftier subject matter for Taberski, who most recently followed up the quirky and controversial Missing Richard Simmons with the gorgeously personal Surviving Y2K late last year. (The documentarian worked on this latest season concurrently with Surviving Y2K, explaining the quick turnaround on the new installment.) How he brings his blend of the heavy, the personal, and the complex to something as loaded as policing will be the thing to watch.
Headlong: Running From Cops will drop its first episode on April 23.