The True Beginning: Cagney & Lacey

Film
Recommended
5 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

In retrospect, it seems inconceivable that Cagney & Lacey made it on to American TV in the first place, much less survived three low-rated seasons thanks to unswerving fan support. The CBS cop show, whose first season receives a 25th-anniversary DVD release this week, wasn’t just groundbreaking because it had two female leads (Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey and Sharon Gless as Chris Cagney—replacing Meg Foster, who played the role in a TV movie and six series episodes before CBS canned her for not seeming feminine enough). But it was also notable for its grubby atmosphere (more Hill Street Blues than Police Woman) and its willingness to tackle politically touchy subject matter, including homophobia (“Conduct Unbecoming,” in which a fellow cop is suspended after his picture appears in a gay magazine), drugs (“Recreational Use,” about an investigation endangered by Cagney’s boyfriend’s coke habit) and homelessness (“Jane Doe #37,” in which the partners try to learn the identity of a murdered vagrant woman).

Most striking, though, was the way the show acknowledged the persistent, largely unspoken tension between the heroines and their mostly male profession. Cagney & Lacey’s gender awareness comes through especially strongly in “A Cry for Help,” which has a subplot about a male cop who beats his wife; “Affirmative Action,” in which Cagney struggles over whether to call out a new female detective for incompetence; and “Date Rape,” featuring the partners’ running argument about whether a sexual-assault victim is partly responsible for her fate. This box set is light on extras-—just a two-part documentary about the series’s social significance-—but the show itself deserves a spot on any TV fan’s DVD shelf. — Matt Zoller Seitz

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