If you can picture a coffee cup as a metaphor for feminism, then Judge Cynthia Boris just poked all sorts of holes in the styrofoam.
"I didn't go after this job because I couldn't find anything else. I did not come here because I needed some kind of work to pay the orthodontist. This means something to me."—Cagney, questioning Lacey's motives for being a cop
"Without Cagney and Lacey, Thelma and Louise would not have been imaginable," says New York Magazine. Hmmm…does that mean that there would be no Pulp Fiction were it not for Miami Vice?
Facts of the Case
Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly, Judging Amy) is the hardest working cop on the planet. She not only has to deal with being one of the first women detectives in NY, but she's also married with two kids. It's a strictly blue-collar lifestyle for Mary Beth and her handyman husband Harvey (John Karlen, Dark Shadows) and that makes for some very long days at home and at work.
Chris Cagney (Sharon Gless, Queer as Folk) is a single woman driven to make a difference in the world. Following in the footsteps of her father, Charlie, Chris takes her work very seriously—but her ambition and drive isn't always a good thing.
These are the women detectives of the 14th precinct. They, along with their boss (Al Waxman), and fellow detectives, Petrie (Carl Lumbly, Alias) and Isbecki (Martin Kove), Cagney & Lacey take on robbers, kidnappers, killers and more than their share of low-level scum. It's all about keeping the peace; on the street, in the precinct, and at home.
Cagney & Lacey was born out of the rise of feminism in the seventies, but personally, I never viewed this series as anything but a cop show that happened to have two female leads. The creators say it's all about equality in the workplace and female empowerment, but from where I sit, Mary Beth Lacey has a pretty crummy life: chasing criminals in heels and a skirt, pressured by the boss to be better than any man in her position, a wife who needs to keep the house clean, a mother who needs to help with homework, make lunches, and keep dentist appointments with the kids. Constant arguing with her husband over when she'll be home and who's babysitting this week. And this is supposed to be female empowerment?
What this is, is life…and that's what makes Cagney & Lacey different and so watchable.
Tyne Daly said that the show was about the "concept of separate realities." While both women have the same goal during the day (catching the bad guy) their approach and what they each bring to the table is completely different. You can see this separate but equal concept all the way down to Cagney drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup while Lacey always drinks from a real mug she brought from home.
Home. Lacey's home, anyway, is an important part of the series. I actually began watching the series because John Karlen was the co-star. I loved him on Dark Shadows and I ended up adoring him as Harvey Lacey. You have to give kudos to casting on this show because they chose "real" looking people, not desperate housewives. Harvey Lacey isn't exactly a head-turner in the looks department, but he's wonderfully warm and loving and (sorry, gotta use the word again) real.
On the surface, the crimes depicted on Cagney & Lacey are typically mundane. But the series has a way of layering these stories with ethical and moral dilemmas that didn't always have a clear right or wrong answer.
In this season you'll find an unusual episode that lands the main characters themselves as victims of a robbery, a controversial date rape tale, several looks at officer involved shootings, and a test of loyalty when the women find out that a fellow officer is beating his wife.
Good stories, great characters, excellent writing: Cagney & Lacey withstands the test of time.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The "elephant in the living room" here is the fact that even though this show is being touted as the first season, that's not true at all. The box art calls it, "The True Beginning" which is a nice way of saying we're bringing you the show you remember and not the show it originally was. Cagney & Lacey began as a midseason replacement with Meg Foster (who has the spookiest eyes of any actress I've ever seen) in the role of Chris Cagney. Six episodes were filmed, but the chemistry between Foster and Daly just didn't work. Network execs said that Foster was too butch and they feared people would think she was a lesbian. Ironically, she was replaced by Sharon Gless who recently found fame again in the homosexually-based series Queer as Folk.
Bad casting or not, there was no good reason for MGM to leave those early episodes off of the DVD. It's TV history, folks. You can't change the facts.
Even though Gless and Daly are participating in a press tour, a website dealing with the series, and an upcoming book by executive producer Barney Rosenzweig, there are no commentary tracks on this DVD. Odd. The only special feature is the "Breaking the Laws of TV" Featurette. A portion of the featurette is devoted to the history of feminism and that's followed by a nice overview with quotes by the stars, the producer, the writers and more. Good for what it is—but I was expecting more.
Finally, the set has shabby production values. Double sided discs, so no picture labels. I need my picture labels! Static navigation screen, and only one special feature. For such a ground breaking series? Where's the effort?
One of Tyne Daly's castmates quotes her as always saying that every scene could be, "richer, deeper, fuller, better."
I think that statement encapsulates what Cagney & Lacey was all about. This isn't just another 80's cop show. It's one of the rare shows of the era that put women in the forefront, doing a "man's job" and doing it with class instead of flash.
This court finds Cagney & Lacey: Season 1 to be guilty of raising the bar when it comes to 80's television.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• "Breaking the Laws of TV" Featurette
Review content copyright © 2007 Cynthia Boris; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.