Cagney and Lacey — Killer TV No 15

cagneylacey8CBS, 1982-86

‘You feel like a little girl. What I see is a woman of great courage.’ – Mary Beth Lacey

Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless, Al Waxman, John Karlen

Identikit: Two women show their strength and vulnerabilities dealing with their private lives and careers as New York detectives.

The TV landscape is awash with formulaic police procedurals. Cagney and Lacey was one that lifted the genre above the norm, for the first time depicting women as buddies in a tough job. Christine Cagney was the career woman, Mary Beth Lacey was the working mother, and here was a drama that cut away a lot of guff usually seen in hero cop shows. Cagney and Lacey did rough police jobs in brutal New York to make a living, usually close and mutually supportive but occasionally dishing out home truths to each other, often in the privacy of the Ladies. The weekly stories had the usual chases and shootouts, along with the odd corny routine for light relief, but what made it distinctive was the human side of the characters – Mary Beth’s breast cancer, her pregnancy; Chris getting shot, being raped, her failed relationships and dread of ending up alone. It also never shied away from the bleak side of policing, such as Chris’s occasional lapses into booze dependancy (like her cop dad before her). The cases they dealt with exposed the underbelly of grimy Gotham – abandoned children, victims of the pornography industry, sexual abuse – some based on true events. And real issues were confronted – abortion, nuclear weapons (Mary Beth was arrested on an anti-nuke demo), date rape. But in addition to its strength as a crime drama, its depiction of working women in a male environment certainly spoke to women holding down jobs in the real world. It was Christine’s boyfriends and frustrations, and Mary Beth’s family crises that always chimed with fans, rather than unravelling the whodunit. Despite early misgivings by some execs in CBS that the characters would be perceived as ‘dykes’, or at least as too unfeminine, executive producer Barney Rozenzweig steered the show through two cancellations. Sharon Gless was brought in to replace Meg Foster as Cagney after the first series to reduce the character’s aggression a bit. When the show was cancelled at the end of the 82-83 season, it was brought back by popular demand when viewers (many of whom were women) wrote to CBS to complain. It became one of the most cherished series of the 1980s, with Daly and Gless going on to share best actress Emmys for six years on the trot – a unique achievement.

Classic episode: Turn, Turn, Turn, the two-part conclusion to season 6. Christine’s dad dies after a drunken fall, and Mary Beth confronts her about her own disastrous boozing, eventually dragging her to AA. ‘My name is Christine, and I’m an alcoholic.’

Watercooler fact: Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday actually developed an outline for the series in 1974, but it was turned down by all the networks, none of whom thought a series about women cops would succeed.

Burn Notice series 5, starring Jeffrey Donovan PREVIEW

Grant Show as Max and Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in Burn Notice. Pics: FX UK

Rating: ★★★ 

FX UK: starts Monday, 16 July, 9pm

Story: It’s been six months since Michael Westen was welcomed back into the fold. Armed with a list of people who have burned him, Michael works with the CIA to investigate and dismantle the secret organisation that got him kicked out of the intelligence service.

Burn notice rescinded! Or almost rescinded, anyway, as Michael Westen is coming in from the cold, where he has been since the series began in 2007 as the CIA outcast trying to find out who ‘burned’ him, or kicked him out of the agency and froze all his money.

Having finally got hold the list of people behind his expulsion in the last series, Michael was told ‘Welcome back’ and has been tracking down those on it, with the wider aim of destroying the covert network.

Friction with his new CIA buddies

Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona

As series five comes to FX UK, this opener finds him in Caracas where he is after the final name on the list, an American called Kessler, who is living in a fortified compound.

Having operated on his wits for four years as an unlicenced private investigator, Westen now has to rub along with his new CIA buddies, who are not eager for him to bring in his team on ops – that is Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), Michael’s girlfriend and former IRA ‘operative’ with an American accent, and Sam (Bruce Campbell), former Navy SEAL.

Burn Notice is a slick hour of undemanding action entertainment that is not remotely believable. Westen and his spy team are about as convincing as a bunch of Big Brother contestants, while the shootouts are punctuated by wisecracks from Westen and his CIA handler, Max.

Nice to see Sharon Gless
Michael’s narrative voiceover is totally bogus too, failing to give any gravitas to his insights into spycraft, with gems such as, ‘As a spy, your job is intelligence.’ Gee, really?

Sharon Gless, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar and Bruce Campbell

Homeland is ten times more compelling on the complexities and dark side of intelligence work, where Burn Notice has more in common with quaint old hits like Mission: Impossible and I Spy.

Still, it is nice to see Cagney and Lacey‘s Sharon Gless again, here a little wasted as Michael’s mother mouthing homilies such as, ‘Nothing is beyond saving if you work at it.’ Someone offer her a role in the next series of Homeland, please.

Gripes aside, the show’s characters – particularly Michael, Fiona and Sam – and the glam settings have certainly caught the eye of an audience – one that presumably is extremely tired after a long day at work. Series six started running Stateside earlier this summer.

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