03 November 2011

Cagney & Lacey in the 21st Century

It's a cop show about two women detectives, their lives, their loves, and their work fighting crime. One woman has a husband and kids, the other is single. One is blonde, one is brunette. They both care deeply about their work, and their audience comes to care deeply about them.

Depending on when you were born, and whether you've seen American cop shows from the 1980s or British cops shows from the 20teens, the names that this description evokes for you might be Cagney & Lacey, or Scott & Bailey, or if you're lucky, both.

In my teens I was a great fan of Cagney & Lacey. It was the first cop show I'd seen with strong central female characters - and their gender wasn't even the central focus of the show. (If you're old enough, or interested in television history, you may remember the cop show starring Angie Dickinson, made when the mere existence of a female cop was remarkable enough that the show was called Police Woman.) Cagney & Lacey was about these women, their partnership, their contrasting personalities, the team they worked with, and the crimes that they solved.

When I first read about Scott & Bailey - I think in a recommendation from amazon.co.uk - I was excited to see there was a new series co-created by Sally Wainwright, because I love her earlier series, At Home with the Braithwaites. Seeing that the lead roles would be played by Lesley Sharp, who was awesome as Alison Mundy in Afterlife, and Suranne Jones, who I'd recently seen for the first time as Idris in the Doctor Who episode 'The Doctor's Wife', made me even more keen to watch the show.

It's a hard-hitting drama. The victims and their families suffer, the perpetrators suffer, the cops suffer... There are some horrendously gruesome murders, one of which, in context, leaves us feeling sympathy for the killer. There are only six episodes in this first season - not unusual for British television dramas - and I really hope that there'll be more episodes to come. Sometimes the grimness of the storylines made me think I wouldn't want to watch the show again; then there'd be such brilliant writing and acting that I'd want to watch it again straight away to appreciate it more, and rewatch the whole series to see how the characters change and grow, and sometimes revert to old bad habits.

Rachel Bailey is a brilliant detective, but as her partner Janet Scott says, clueless when it comes to relationships. Janet is compassionate, professional, and loyal - qualities that come into conflict a few times. All the supporting characters, from the other cops in the Major Incident Team, through families and friends, to the villains of the week, and the philandering barrister, are all believable, though often surprising. And Manchester makes a great backdrop for the drama.

Another joy of watching Scott & Bailey was discovering Amelia Bullmore, who plays the boss, DCI Gill Murray. I have actually seen Amelia Bullmore before, but only in her comic roles. As well as having written some episodes of This Life, Attachments, and Black Cab, Bullmore has played comedy roles in Linda Green and The IT Crowd, dramatic roles in series including State of Play and Ashes to Ashes, and satire in TwentyTwelve (for Australian viewers, TwentyTwelve is Britain's answer to John Clarke, Bryan Dawe & Gina Riley organising the Sydney Olympics in The Games). At first I thought Gill was simply the stereotypical police chief in a police procedural which is basically a two-hander: staying in the office, briefing the team, having the occasional word with the lead characters, and clapping them on the back at the end of the episode. But we gradually and naturally find out that there's a lot more to Gill than this, giving her the depth that makes her situation in episode six an agonising one for her, for Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey, and for the audience. We want her to make the decision that will leave our heroes happy, but understand why that's almost impossible for Gill, a woman of great integrity who wants to believe that playing by the rules is best, and morality will always match with justice.

Also, the theme tune is fab. It's by Murray Gold, a film, television and theatre composer who has written music for Doctor Who since 2005. Part funky city track, part old-style Western theme, I'd listen to it for enjoyment on its own, and it works very well over the opening credits of Scott & Bailey.
I'm sure I've seen a youtube vid of the whole opening sequence, but can't find it now, so here's a trailer with part of the theme music.

Bonus extra: Here's a post about Amelia Bullmore's series Black Cab, from the blog Taxi-Mart News Blog


Erica Bandanna said...

Terrific review! Will seek out the show now...

Sheep Rustler said...

I'm loving this too - taping it so have only watched about three e[isodes so far.

greenspace said...

Thanks Erica - I hope you enjoy it.

Sheep Rustler, I'll be interested to hear what you think once you've seen all the episodes.