Back in our youth, when children ran around and played outdoors instead of hunkering down over the latest dazzling video-game system, we boys loved to play "Cops and Robbers." The cops were the good guys, the robbers the bad guys. It's a sorry sign of our morally relativist culture that today those roles are often indistinguishable. Now, boys play popular video games that glamorize quick-shooting thugs. Witness the "Grand Theft Auto" series. The cops are either corrupt or target practice, or maybe both.
On television, the cop-show genre continues, and while the police continue to be depicted favorably, there's a twist. Cop shows today are obsessed with the desire to deal in dark, violent, very visually grisly images. Cameras travel into gaping wounds and linger on decaying corpses, overflowing with the curdled creepiness of childhood nightmares.
The crime lab is the focus of CBS's budding "CSI" franchise (with a third variant based in New York in the planning stages). Most street cops are walking the beat in the three NBC flavors of "Law and Order." On ABC, the new show "10-8" (named after police lingo for "in service") rides along with rookie cops in the Los Angeles sheriff's department.
ABC has chosen to air "10-8" far too early for a grisly cop show ---- Sundays at 8 p.m. Eastern. On Jan. 18, the show featured a pizza delivery man being shot point blank by a customer. Several of the female cops are seen in their brassieres as one primary character shows off a red lacy number, complaining about her lack of sexual activity and how she's scaring away "all the boys I wanna sack." Police discover an obese, smelly corpse perched on a toilet. ABC played it for perverse amusement, having the smirking cop on the scene explain: "Guy probably had a heart attack while executing a back-door purge."
But in the midst of this obligatory "mature" material, "10-8" was also carrying a philosophical plot, showing how policemen are always working at the angry intersection of sin and temptation and disastrous choices. That's right: Someone in Hollywood contemplated the word "sin" in a script with gravity, not irony. The rookie cop, Rico, asks the veteran training him, Barnes, whether humans are basically animals with the urge to kill, steal and lust. Barnes replies: "Some people can control themselves. Some can't. That's where we come in."