Viewed alongside a complex modern cop drama like The Wire or even The Shield, Jack Webb’s mother of all procedurals looks like a cave painting. But there’s an artistic economy to the show’s simple storylines and clipped cadences—Det. Joe Friday may never have used a semicolon in his life. And a lot of more ambitious dramas could learn something from its clean, documentary style and single-minded commitment to story, story, story. (“Just the facts, ma’am” was not a slogan but a command.) And then there are the spare, noir visuals; not only did this show teach Law & Order and CSI how to tell stories, it looked damn fine doing it. Friday kept his personal life under his tilted-just-so hat, but he arrested our attention all the same.
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