Why can't Cagney & Lacey get any respect? The show had several false starts when it was on TV, but finally earned critical and popular acclaim. It was nominated for a slew of awards when it was on the air, including an impressive 36 Emmys (it would win 14) and even after it was cancelled it was brought back of four 'reunion' films. Yet even with that cache the show hasn't gotten a decent home video release. In 2007 the second season was released, skipping over the TV movie that started it all and the first short season, and then... nothing. The DVD series wasn't continued leaving fans hanging. Until now that is. VEI, a Canadian company, in cooperation with MGM and Fox, has released a comprehensive collection of the ground breaking show: Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Collection 30th Anniversary Limited Edition. It's a fantastic set that is really worth the money.
When you mention Cagney & Lacey to someone who was around in the mid-80's, they'll instantly recognize the name of the show, even if they didn't watch it on a regular basis. It was a show that was mentioned a lot in articles and on TV, often cited along with Hill Street Blues as a show that just got it right. But the program was anything but an overnight sensation, and the original version was a bit different than many people remember.
The idea was simple: A buddy/cop show, but with two women officers rather than men. It sounds like it'd make good television, after all police shows were popular and making the leads female would add an interesting twist. It wasn't that easy however. After being stuck in development hell for seven years, the show's champion, executive producer Barney Rosenzweig, was finally able to get a made-for-TV movie made and shown on CBS.
This initial version of Cagney & Lacey stared Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey and Loretta Swit (from M*A*S*H fame) as her partner, Christine Cagney. As the show opens, they're both street cops, and Lacey is having a horrible day: she gets in a fight with her husband, her partner is running late, and to top it off someone steal her personal car when she chases after someone who is robbing a house. Not everything goes poorly however. When she and Cagney are nabbing the thief, Lacey looks into a skylight and sees a big-time heroine operation. The two cops manage to bust the pushers and the next thing they know they're promoted to Detective.
Their new assignment isn't as rewarding as they had hoped however: they both have to dress up as hookers and bust Johns. Their misogynistic supervisor, Lt. Bert Samuels, figures women can't do real detective work, and the other detectives in the squad, Isbecki, and LaGuardia feel exactly the same. The only person who is sympathetic to their plight is Detective Marcus Petrie (Carl Lumbly, Alias), an African-American who has experienced the same prejudice. With a little help from Petrie and a lot of perseverance, the two new detectives help solve a series of murders and gain a bit of respect from their colleagues.
This first TV movie is really very good. Loretta Swit is fabulous as Christine Cagney, an attractive blond who see no problem in sleeping around if she feels like it. She's tough and stubborn and, coming from a long line of cops, willing to do what it takes to get the job done.
That's sharp contrast to Lacey, a blue collar working mother with two kids and an out of work husband who works construction when he can. She doesn't want to make any waves in the department... she wants to do her job and go home at the end of the day.
The movie received great ratings and six-episodes were ordered. Things were looking up except Loretta Swit was under contract for M*A*S*H and they wouldn't release her. That's a tragedy, because she really did exceptionally well in the role. Instead, they signed Meg Foster; a TV actress who had appeared in a lot of shows previously, but didn't have nearly the drawing power of Swit.
The six-episode first season opened up with a short montage showing how the pair made detective (pointing their guns into a room before putting handcuffs on someone) and in the first episode they're still working the hooker detail. They still have a lot of trouble with the men in the department and Lacey still has to juggle her home and work lives, but they slowly start to earn the respect that they deserve.
The show pulled in some pretty mediocre ratings, and watching it today it's not hard to see why: Foster just wasn't suited for her role. She wasn't as gregarious as Swit and played the part with in a more sedate tone. I never really believed that this Cagney was as driven to succeed as the Swit version was.
In any case the show was cancelled after the six episodes... not because of the so-so ratings however. It turns out that the executives at CBS thought that Cagney and Lacey's desire to be treated as equals with the male members of the department was just as crazy as Lt. Samuels did. As related to a TV Guide reporter by an unnamed executive, the network thought the characters "seemed more intent on fighting the system than doing police work. We perceived them as dykes." One wonders why Starsky and Hutch, who were more dissimilar than alike, who bucked the system, and cared for each other, weren't perceived a as being gay.
When the TV Guide article appeared, many people were rightly outraged. It's one thing to cancel a show because of the ratings and another to do it because it has strong female characters. Realizing that all publicity is good, the powers-that-be ordered a new season.
In the second season, viewers were introduced to the third, and final, Christine Cagney: Sharon Gless. They didn't bother explaining the change or retelling how the pair got to be detectives in the opening credits anymore... they just cut to the chase, so to speak.
Gless is the person that everyone associates with Cagney, and she does a great job. She and Tyne Daly really mesh in the show, they're different but compliment each other. The two would be in the lead roles for the next six years and one of the two would win the Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series every year.
Watching the show today, it's easy to see why it garnered so much critical and popular success. The show dealt with real-life problems in a realistic way, and one of the very first to do so from a woman's point of view. Lacey's problems at home, her husband's inability to find work and feeling of worthlessness, weren't necessarily solved at the end of every episode. Cagney also develops a drinking problem to which there is no easy fix. That's one of the show's great strengths... it doesn't come up with easy simplistic solutions.
There are a lot of stand out episodes over the course of the series. Who Said it's Fair? is a two-parter where Lacey discovers a lump in one of her breasts and is afraid to go to the doctor. After being pressured by her partner and husband, she finally goes and gets very bad news: it's a tumor and she needs to have a mastectomy. The very first Gless/Daly episode Witness to an Incident, was also good. It really set the tone for the series. After a perp has been chased into an alleyway, a cop shoots him when he sees him pull a gun. Cagney was standing next to the officer who fired but Lacey was in another position. The man who was shot however wasn't the criminal they were chasing, but a supposedly unarmed member of a neighborhood watch committee. When Lacey states that she didn't see a gun, although Cagney did and one was found at the scene, the tension between the partners rises. It's a good episode where both sides of an issue are examined nicely.
How does the show stand up today? Surprisingly well. Though a lot has changed in American society, it's not so different that the problems that Cagney and Lacey face won't seem relevant. There are some parts that are a little dated, but it's more of a case of "they could never do that on TV today" than a hokey story line. One good example is in an early episode when Lacey brings home a young black boy after his sole guardian was arrested. Lacey and her husband just finish up having sex when the officer has to go out to meet her partner. Just as she's leaving, the boy she's looking after walks into her bedroom and announces that there might be a ghost in the room he's staying in. Lacey's husband, Harvey, still in bed naked, lifts up a corner of the covers and invites the child to sleep in his bed. The boy quickly jumps in. It was supposed to show how
This massive 38-disc collection arrives in a sturdy, attractively illustrated box. Opening the box at the top reveals each of the seven seasons in its own single-width keepcase. It's a very nice looking package.
The set comes with the original stereo soundtrack well preserved. The dialog and audio effects come through loud and clear and there aren't any defects worth noting. The soundstage isn't used as much as it could be, but there really wasn't too much reason to get fancy with the audio back in 1982 when only a handful of houses bothered to hook their TVs up to their stereo system. Overall it's a fine sounding collection.
The full-frame color image has not been restored but it generally looks good, though it does vary a bit. The original movie and first season look better than I expected, with a sharp, pleasing picture. The other seasons (with Sharon Gless) aren't quite as strong. They're a bit softer and the colors aren't quite as vibrant, and there's a bit of grain in low-light scenes. Don't get me wrong, video quality is fine; just don't expect it to look like the latest season of Game of Thrones. Overall, the whole show looks good for something that originally aired over 20 years ago.
The last DVD case, holding 6 discs, is devoted to the extras, many of which are not found in the regular edition of this set. There's some great stuff here, and it's well worth seeking out the LE to get them. First off is the original TV movie featuring Loretta Swit as Cagney, followed by the first season of the show, the "lost episodes," with Meg Foster in the role. It's very deceiving that the "30th Anniversary Complete Collection" doesn't include these.
This comprehensive set also includes the four made-for-TV movies that aired after the series was cancelled: The Return (1994), Together Again (1995), The View Through the Glass Ceiling (1995) and True Convictions (1996).
If that was all, I'd be content, but there's a lot more. The two-part featurette that was included on the stand-alone season two DVD release from 2007, Breaking the Laws of TV, is ported over. It's a nice look at the history of the show and its impact. There's also a 30th Anniversary interview with Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless, and producer Barney Rosenzweig that was recorded on November 11th, 2011 and runs nearly an hour and a half.
In addition to all of those video extras, there are a couple more cool things packed in with this set. The first is a 12-page booklet that has an introduction by executive producer Barney Rosenzweig, an episode guide, and some great behind-the-scenes pictures. Speaking of Barney Rosenzweig, the unabridged audiobook version of his recollections on the show, Cagney & Lacey... and Me is included and runs over 12 ½ hours. The most exciting thing however is the still of Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless which is signed by both actresses. That's a really nice bonus.
This show received many awards when it was on the air, and it deserved all of them. Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly are impeccable as two NYC detectives who are trying to do their job while handling the day to day problems that arise in any life. This one is a keeper, just make sure you order the Limited Edition version that comes with all of the great extras. Right now it's about the same price as the smaller set, so it's a no-brainer. Highly Recommended.