7 best cop shows of all time and where to stream them

Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Captain Olivia Benson
(Image credit: Zach Dilgard/NBC)

Cop shows have become a huge part of modern pop culture, captivating the imaginations of eager viewers who love seeing a compelling case come together.  One of the big reasons why these types of shows are so popular is the huge swath of sub-genres that fall under its umbrella, including procedurals (“Law and Order,” “NCIS,” etc.), comedy ( “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Starsky and Hutch”) prestige drama (“The Shield” “Homicide: Life on the Street”) and even psychological thriller (“Hannibal”, “Mindhunter”)

With so much variation it can be hard to choose what kind of cop show you want to watch. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best, spanning multiple sub-genres and formats. Whether you want something lighthearted and fun or dark and twisted, here are some of the best cop shows streaming right now.

‘Law & Order: SVU’ 

Spun off from the original “Law and Order” series in 1999, “Law and Order: SVU” has undoubtedly surpassed its predecessor to become one of the most iconic and impactful cop shows of all time, exploring the sensitive topic of sexually-based crime in a thoughtful and complex way. 

Though it has been on the air for 25 years, the show has plenty of life still in it, with recent seasons addressing topical issues like revenge porn, online harassment and viral arrest videos. 

Watch on Peacock


A lighthearted procedural with a twist, “Psych” follows fake-medium Shawn Spencer and his best friend Gus as they solve crimes as official consultants with the Santa Barbara police department. Though Shawn’s psychic skills are fake, he uses his very real heightened observational powers to crack cases, often before the regular cops do, much to the department’s chagrin. 

This procedural has serious moments, but its mile-a-minute pop culture references, long-running in-jokes, and irreverent tone have made it a fan favorite with its dedicated dan base, known lovingly as “Psych-Os.” 

Watch on Peacock 

‘White Collar’

Another lighthearted series, “White Collar” focuses on Neal Caffrey, a charming con artist, art thief, and forger, and his unlikely partnership with Peter Burke, a by-the-book FBI agent who originally put Neal in prison. After Neal escapes, Peter proposes a deal: In exchange for his freedom, Neal will use his expertise and connections to help the FBI catch other white-collar criminals.

This series was modestly popular when it originally aired from 2008-2014 but has recently found new life on Netflix, cracking the weekly top 10 list shortly after its debut on the service. Even though it has been 10 years since a new episode aired, fans are still finding plenty to love about this series, so much so that rumors have begun to swirl about a possible reboot or revival. 

Watch on Netflix

‘True Detective’

HBO's anthology series follows new detectives and cases in each season and has unfortunately earned a reputation for being wildly uneven from season to season. However, its knockout first Installment starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson is enough all by itself to earn “True Detective” a spot on this list. 

Told in a non-linear fashion, the first season of this series follows Rust Cohle, a philosophical and troubled detective with a dark past, and Marty Hart, who presents himself as laid back despite having his own personal demons. This dysfunctional duo must overcome considerable obstacles and find a way to work together to investigate a disturbing murder with seemingly supernatural overtones and ties to the occult. The case pushes them both to their mental and physical limits, with the series also showing the fallout of their actions 17 years later. 

The first season is known for its dark tone, philosophical themes, and stellar performances, and though subsequent seasons haven't quite hit the highs of the initial installment, some have praised the most recent “Night Country” season as a return to form for the series, which hopefully means good things for this ongoing anthology moving forward. 

Watch on Max


This modern-day Western stars Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a quick-witted and morally ambiguous lawman reassigned from Miami to his Kentucky hometown, a place he left behind to escape a troubled past.  

The FX series revolves around Givens' unconventional approach to justice, which leads to clashes not only with local law enforcement but also with the ruthless criminal network led by Boyd Crowder, which has been given carte blanche to do whatever it wants for far too long.  As Givens navigates the complex web of alliances and rivalries in Harlan County, he must also face his own demons and the ghosts of his past.

Watch on Hulu

‘Under the Banner of Heaven’

This acclaimed miniseries is based on a true crime story and stars Andrew Garfield as Detective Jeb Pyre, who is tasked with investigating the brutal murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty, a young woman, and her infant daughter in Utah. As the investigation unfolds, Jeb finds a disturbing link to a fundamentalist Mormon group, which causes him to question his own faith as he confronts the dark side of his religion.  

The central investigation into the Lafferty murders is very suspenseful and features plenty of shocking twists and turns, but what makes this one of the best cop shows is the nuanced way it delves into the complexities of religion, community responsibility, and the dangers of extremism.

Watch on Hulu

‘The Wire’

Hailed for its unflinching realism, “The Wire” isn't your typical cop show. This HBO series takes a deep dive into Baltimore's drug scene, weaving a complex tapestry that explores the effect of the drug trade on police, dealers, the children trapped in the middle, and even the media and politicians who fuel a vicious cycle of addiction, violence, incarceration, and death. 

The series is lauded for its raw portrayal of social issues and deftly shows how poverty, failing institutions, and addiction act as breeding grounds for crime.  Instead of simplistic heroes and villains, the show presents a cast of compelling characters, each grappling with the complex realities of their world.  These characters stay with you long after the credits roll, a testament to the show's depth and lasting impact. 

Often hailed as one of the greatest television shows ever made,  the lasting influence of "The Wire" is undeniable.  Its exploration of systemic issues sparked countless conversations and inspired a generation of television creators to push boundaries and tell stories that challenge viewers to see the world in new ways.

Watch on Max

More from Tom's Guide

Amanda Kondolojy

Amanda Kondolojy is an entertainment journalist based in Florida with over 15 years of experience covering film, TV, theme parks and more. When not in front of a screen you can find her reading something at the beach (usually by Neil Gaiman, Grady Hendrix or Brandon Sanderson) or dancing around the kitchen to her favorite showtunes.