THIS SHOWDOWN IS BETWEEN TWO COP SHOWS WHICH focus on strong female partnerships and friendships, separated by the Atlantic Ocean and a quarter of a century. Christine and Mary-Beth versus Janet and Rachel. Manhattan’s 14th Precinct versus the Manchester Metropolitan Police Force.
The characters of Cagney and Lacey grew and developed over the course of seven series, from 1981 to 1988, whereas Scott and Bailey have had, so far, just three series in which to establish their characters and situations. In both shows, the women are tough professionals with contrasting personalities and home lives.
What about the two single women? In Scott and Bailey, Rachel, a terrific portrayal by Suranne Jones, is a clever, intuitive detective whose potential is spotted and valued by their boss Gill. Her private life is a train wreck and its carnage threatens her professional standing. Her affair with a barrister is disastrous on every level. He is married; she perjures herself in a case in which he is involved; she puts her career at risk by using classified information to get his address. Oh, and he arranges for her to be killed but her brother kills him first.
You knew from the beginning he was bad news when he expressed disapproval of her going straight from their love nest (serviced flat) to work without showering or donning fresh undies.
Rachel hurtles into an ill-advised marriage which she escapes by moving into Janet’s, only to cause friction and a rift between them by having noisy sex with a colleague in Janet’s spare room.
Rachel’s mother is an alcoholic whose behaviour embarrasses her. In Cagney and Lacey, Christine Cagney’s father is an alcoholic, a retired cop who Christine idolises, although her admiration takes a knock when she discovers he had been involved in bribery.
Sometimes it seems as if Cagney models herself on her father, behaving as a poker-playing, hard-talking, hard-drinking one of the boys. There’s a macho side to Christine which is not evident in Rachel, I’d say. After her father’s death, Christine’s drinking gets to the point where she has to acknowledge that she too is an alcoholic and seeks treatment. Both Rachel and Christine have troubled relationships with their brothers.
Christine’s love life is more nuanced than Rachel’s. She has a number of romantic involvements, including an ongoing relationship with a fellow officer with a previous cocaine habit. A recurrent theme in her relationships is her distrust of intimacy, her fiercely guarded independence and her discomfort with the concept of being ‘a wife’.
Janet (played superbly by Lesley Sharp) in Scott and Bailey and Mary-Beth in Cagney and Lacey have family lives and a multiplicity of roles. We see Janet dealing with an unhappy marriage and an affair. Her mother moves in to help her take care of her two daughters. Her rocky private life doesn’t seem to affect her performance as work, where she is calm, measured, reassuring, with a quiet strength. She’s a really good interviewer. She’s so nice you’d tell her anything.
Mary-Beth’s marriage to blue-collar worker Harvey is strong and enduring. Over the course of the series, we see their struggles to bring up their two sons in the value systems and ways of life that they themselves honour. Issues of work versus family are brought into sharp focus when she is diagnosed with breast cancer, after which she becomes pregnant again. Although she has previously contemplated leaving, Mary-Beth loves both the new baby and her job, and Harvey’s mother helps out.
Home and away
In both shows, loyalty to one’s partner is tested in personal and professional contexts. Janet knows about Rachel’s perjury and misuse of police information. Mary-Beth is faced with the choice of supporting Christine in a lie about evidence, or not doing so and severing their partnership and their friendship. She agrees to the lie, but dodges the bullet when Christine herself coughs up the truth. Both friendships are marked by trust, humour, anger, jealousy, mistrust, bafflement, affection. In each show, the ‘domestic’ partner is easier, sounder, more stable than her mercurial, driven, hard-hitting opposite.
The feminist theme
The feminist, liberal undertow of Cagney and Lacey may be taken for granted in Scott and Bailey. In fact, you could argue that the latter undermines a male agenda. It is written by, directed by and stars women.
Whereas the male characters in Cagney and Lacey are well developed and involving, in Scott and Bailey they are on the whole less interesting. And their boss is a woman, the redoubtable Gill Murray played by the redoubtable Amelia Bullmore. In a stellar cast, she shines brightly.
A winner? At the moment, it has to be Cagney and Lacey. This choice is informed by the period, the context, the fact that it is a completed and discrete work, owned entirely by its stars Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly and their co-actors. But who knows how Scott and Bailey might develop?