After 15 seasons as the boss on “Law & Order: SVU” — and three seasons before that on the original “L&O” — Capt. Donald Cragen is retiring.
Dann Florek filmed his final scenes as Cragen on Friday (Dec. 6), capping a run of more than 400 episodes across the “Law & Order” universe. (The character is coming up against the NYPD’s mandatory retirement age, the same thing that led to the exit of Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch earlier in the season.)
The gruff, disapproving commander is a stock character in crime shows, but Cragen transcended those tropes over the years and joins a pantheon of truly great cop show boss characters. With due respect to predecessors like Barney Miller and Frank Furillo of “Hill Street Blues,” here are our favorites since Cragen first appeared on “Law & Order” in 1990.
Anita Van Buren (‘Law & Order’)
When Florek left “L&O” after its third season, he was replaced by S. Epatha Merkerson, who would go on to become the longest-serving cast member in the show’s 20-year history. Van Buren mostly gave her homicide detectives free rein to work their cases, but you would not want to cross her. She also still had plenty of skills away from the desk, as evidenced by the times she entered the interrogation room to talk to suspects.
Al Giardello (‘Homicide: Life on the Street’)
In a dysfunctional Baltimore Police Department, Giardello (Yaphet Kotto) was the best commander his homicide detectives could hope to have. Loyal to a fault to his squad — to the point of it costing him a couple of deserved promotions — “Gee” led the unit throughout “Homicide’s” seven-season run.
Arthur Fancy (‘NYPD Blue’)
The 15th Precinct had several commanders over the years, but Fancy (James McDaniel) was the longest-serving — and easily the best, navigating the difficult politics of the NYPD while standing up for his detectives time and again.
Jim Brass (‘CSI’)
The people in the forensics lab are the stars of “CSI,” but Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) has taken on an increasingly large role in the show’s long run on CBS. Tough when he needs to be, Brass also brings a welcome dose of street smarts to the science-heavy proceedings.
Cedric Daniels and Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin (‘The Wire’)
The ambitious Daniels (Lance Reddick) is the rare TV-cop careerist who was also concerned with making good cases, going to the mat for his Major Case Unit a number of times over the course of the series. He does rise through the ranks, but after being named police commissioner, he resigns after refusing to juke the crime stats.
Daniels’ first promotion in the series comes at the expense of Maj. Colvin (Robert Wisdom), a long-time commander who dreamed up the Hamsterdam experiment as a way to contain the drug trade in his district. When word of it got out, the tenuous support he had from higher-ups in the department fell away.
Jim Dangle (‘Reno 911’)
Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon) is not what you would call “good at his job” or even “competent,” but no one else on this list rocks a pair of hot pants like he does.
Monica Rawling and Claudette Wyms (‘The Shield’)
After three seasons of the political climbing of David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), the Farmington precinct got a new commander in Monica Rawling (Glenn Close). Her presence made for a fascinating dynamic with Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), but she ran afoul of the DEA and was gone inside of a year. Wyms (CCH Pounder), the moral center of the Barn throughout the show’s run, took the post and helped bring Mackey down.
Karen Vick (‘Psych’)
Chief Vick (Kirsten Nelson) has combined working as the head of a cop shop with having a baby, plus having to wrangle her other two “babies” — the area “psychic” Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his partner-in-crime Gus (Dule Hill). That’s enough to nominate her for sainthood. She’s generally no-nonsense, but she can certainly cut loose and have fun and clearly loves her job and employees.
Art Mullen (‘Justified’)
Early on in “Justified’s” run, Art (Nick Searcy) came across as a more stereotypical disapproving boss — though with an employee like Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), it was hard to blame him. The character has come into his own over the years, though, and his way with a salty one-liner is among the highlights of the show.
Frank Irving (‘Sleepy Hollow’)
Capt. Irving (Orlando Jones) is just the side eye-throwing audience surrogate a show this insane desperately needs. If the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse come to your town, you definitely want a guy like him on your side.
Ray Holt (‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’)
The association we have with the intense roles Andre Braugher has played in the past serves him exceedingly well on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Braugher has to do little more than train a withering gaze on one of his charges to draw a laugh, and he’s proven surprisingly adept when he gets proactive comic material too. The flashbacks to his early days as a detective are a special treat.