Thursday, 30 December 2010

Cagney and Lacey: "Bang, Bang You're Dead"

It's mildly astonishing that Cagney and Lacey ever became a success, considering what a casting muddle it got itself in from Day One.

First there was the TV Movie, with Loretta Swit (Hotlips from M*A*S*H) as Cagney, in which the girls get promoted from uniform to detective and in which Al Waxman as Lt Samuels isn't even the Boss Cop.

Then the series proper launches with Meg Foster in the Cagney role and Samuels apparently the Boss but it's sort of hard to tell since he sits at a desk beside everybody else and spends all his time making racist and or sexist comments, while doing his best to ensure that our two heroines spend all their time dressed as hookers.

Finally, after six episodes of this, Foster gets the boot (for no obvious reason - she's no better or worse in the role than either her predecessor or sucessor), Sharon Gless takes over - and the rest is television history.

"Bang, Bang You're Dead" is the first episode of the brief Meg Foster Era, known as Year Zero to C&L fans. I found it all a bit weird and difficult to get into - almost, but not quite, unwatchable in many respects, in fact.

For a start, while Foster really is adequate as Cagney, there's little rapport between her and the always excellent Tyne Daly as Lacey, which does hamstring a buddy cop show from the off.

Secondly, the writing is often absolutely dreadful. Not just not very good or bog standard, but actively bad.

Coming to this after recently watching the fantastic first Daly/Gless Christmas episode ("I'll Be Home for Christmas") the difference is staggering. Having Samuels complain that 'last year they were promoting blacks, this year it's women' or kindly Sidney Clute tell a group of asians teens that they 'all look the same' was bad enough but the sight of Lacey, still dressed as a prostitute (with Rubik Cube ear-rings of all things!), leaning aginst the doorframe of her home and 'seductively' simpering to Harvey, 'I know I'm a cop, but I'm also a woman' almost had me switching off. Presumably the intention is to highlight institutionalised bigotry of all types (though God knows what the seduction scene is meant to demonstrate!), but given that nobody remonstrates about any of these incidents, the actual effect is to present a series of off-colour jokes as completely acceptable.

Finally, there's very little of the 'busy' screen which so appeals in later episodes. Once Sharon Gless takes over the series really starts to fly, and there's a genuine attempt to show Cagney and Lacey as merely the main focus of a very bsy world around them. Every useful space on the tv screen is filled with something or other in support of the main action, even if that something only amounts to a bully of a husband telling his mousey wife to get back inside in a corridor scene, or someone resisting arrest at the Police Station. Here though, the majority of scenes feature merely the actors with lines to say, shot straight on, and then off to the next scene. The visual richness and subtlety to be found in later series is almost entirely missing here, leaving only standard network fayre in its place.

I remember this series from my early teen years as one of those shows I quite enjoyed without being bowled over. Something which filled in 50 minutes or so without being unmissable. Recent viewing of random Daly/Gless episodes convinced me that it was more than that and even that it might deserve its place as a classic US cop show.

Watching this first tentative stab though, and I'm a little concerned that C&L is really about as distinctive and worth re-watching as UK rivals Dempsey and Makepeace or C.A.T.S Eyes.

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