So where do you go after being on one of TV’s greatest shows? ‘The Sopranos’ was that rarity, a huge hit that was also considered an artistic triumph; along with 'The Wire', it’s widely regarded as one of the great game-changers in modern television history.

But for the much-lauded cast, it was simply a case of going back to being a job-seeking actor once ‘The Sopranos’ ended in 2007. Since then we’ve seen James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) in a couple of movies, Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano) in ‘Entourage’, Drea de Matteo (Adriana La Cerva) spent a season on ‘Desperate Housewives’, while Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) has impressed in the role of ‘Nurse Jackie’, which is currently running on BBC TWO on Saturday nights.

Adriana’s bofriend, of course, was Christopher Maltisanti, played by Michael Imperioli. Christopher was one of the show’s most popular and interesting characters, so it was always going to be a major challenge for Imperioli to find a role that would be as challenging and rewarding.

He did land the Ray Carling part (and grew impressive sideburns) as Gene Hunt’s sidekick in the short-lived American version of ‘Life on Mars’, but now he’s got a more substantial role, playing lead in a new police drama, ‘Detroit 1-8-7’.

Yep, it's another American cop show. But Imperioli – who we met in the intimate, if slightly sterile setting of a boardroom at Disney Studios in Burbank, just north of Hollywood - insists that ‘Detroit 1-8-7’ had him hooked from the start.

“Well,” he recalls, “the pilot script was originally conceived as a documentary, literally, with a camera crew following these detectives. There were times when we would look in the camera and talk and stuff like that. And I thought that was very interesting for a cop show.”

But that ‘Modern Family’/’Office’-style of approach didn’t last – not that it bothers Imperioli, who accepts that it would have been restrictive in terms of storyline opportunities and character development.

“They went away from that once we got picked up,” he explains, “because they felt in the long-run it would limit the amount of stories we could tell, and the types of stories, because they really wanted to get into some of the private personal lives of these detectives. And my character hated the camera all the time, so you really wouldn't be able to get into my private life and stuff like that.

“So ironically, that was something that got me interested, but it was - you know - it wound up going away. But I think that was a good idea. I thought the show had a lot of humour, which I think is really important, and very lacking from a lot of cop shows.”

While comedy and murder are often regarded as strange bedfellows, Imperioli’s take is convincing – these guys use laughter as a defence mechanism and a way of coping with the often grisly elements of their working lives.

“Homicide detectives are some of the funniest people you'll ever meet,” he insists. “And they have to be funny because their job is so grim. They deal with so much tragedy and pain and darkness all the time that humour is a crucial element of their lives. And I thought that this show had that. I also liked that it was, besides just solving crimes, that these characters have emotional lives and histories and personal lives. It was a combination of those things.”
‘Detroit 1-8-7’ begins on Thursday at on RTÉ Two.

Detroit 1-8-7’: the lowdown

All you need to know about this new cop show

What does it take to be a detective in one of America’s toughest cities? Follow one homicide unit as Detroit’s finest reveal the crisis and revelation, heartbreak and heroism that characterise these inner city cops in ‘Detroit 1-8-7’, a series shot entirely on location in Detroit, Michigan.

The lead character is the damaged but driven Detective Louis Fitch (Michael Imperioli), a wily homicide vet who is the most respected - and most misunderstood - man in the division. Detective Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill) is Fitch’s new partner. He finds the first day on the job a trial by fire, made more complicated by the imminent birth of his first child.

Detective Ariana Sanchez (Natalie Martinez) is sexy, edgy and beautiful. She has emerged from a rough background to become a rising star in the department.

Then there’s narcotics undercover cop John Stone (DJ Cotrona), a streetwise smooth talker, clever and quick with a smile made for the movies, who is teamed with Sanchez - a combustible pairing rife with conflict and sexual tension.

Sergeant Jesse Longford (James McDaniel) is a 30-year veteran and sage of the department who is struggling with his impending retirement from the force and the city he loves.

Together with his partner, Detective Vikram Mahajan (Shaun Majumder) - a fully Americanised son of Indian immigrants – they form an amusing mismatch of experience and enthusiasm, intellect and instinct, old school and new world, but whose combined skills have never encountered a case that couldn’t be cleared.

The department’s head honcho is Lieutenant Maureen Mason (Aisha Hinds), a strong-willed single mother struggling to balance home and work.

The unit works with the primary medical examiner, Dr Abbey Ward (Erin Cummings), who has an unusual hobby in her off-hours: roller derbying.

In Thursday night’s pilot episode, Detectives Washington and Fitch investigate a double homicide at a pharmacy. Was it a drug theft gone bad or something else entirely?

Meanwhile, Longford and Mahajan try to track down the killer of an attorney with many enemies. When both cases overlap, the cops are in a race against time to stop the killing spree, culminating in a high-speed pursuit and a perilous standoff, putting the cops in harm’s way.

The men and women of Detroit Homicide are as smart and tough as they come. They have to be, as they struggle with their own inner demons, using their sharp sense of humour to keep them grounded while working in the demanding environment of the Motor City.

John Byrne