Two cops fight racism, sexism in 'Angel Street'

NEW SERIES

September 15, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Angel Street" wants to be a "Cagney and Lacey" for the twentysomething set. Two women cops, played by Robin Givens and Pamela Gidley, are yoked together in a rocky relationship -- a '90s female version of "Starsky and Hutch."

In any series about partners, the pilot is where the two bond, where each becomes committed to this person so unlike themselves. That happens in tonight's two-hour movie to homicide detectives Paretsky and King in a fairly predictable plot involving a kidnapped child and a drug-related killing that might involve police corruption.

Givens, as Anita King, is the conservative, quiet one who shows up for her first day in homicide in high heels and coordinated accessories. She is the first African-American woman in the department, and her welcome is underwhelming. It's surprising at first that Givens, who is startlingly beautiful in real life, is made to look less attractive in this series. At times she looks downright plain.

Givens' co-star, Pamela Gidley, gets the glamour shots. The glossy lipstick and tight sweaters make Gidley's Dorothy Paretsky more visually arresting. Furthermore, she walks, talks, curses and smokes like her male counterparts in the department -- which tends to make her stand out even more. She's working class and comes from a Polish-American family that still doesn't want "coloreds" in their home.

I think screenwriter and producer John Wells wants viewers to think of author Sara Paretsky and her V.I. Warshawski character in his naming of Gidley's detective. Like Paretsky's novels, "Angel Street"is set in Chicago.

I also think Wells wants viewers to somehow connect Givens' Anita King with Anita Hill and Martin Luther King and all they have come to represent in terms of rights for women in the workplace and African-Americans.

The series wants to be very much about racism and sexism. Givens is called by a racial epithet that I am not sure Wells should be using on TV in the context he uses it. The two rookie homicide detectives are continually hazed at the office by their male colleagues with acts that some viewers will find as despicable as the crimes and criminals outside the precinct headquarters.

As for life inside headquarters, this is a series with a troubled past. Initially called "Polish Hill," this is the show that Barry Levinson said included material plagiarized from the book "Homicide," written by Sun reporter David Simon. Wells has changed the show but declines to discuss the matter, saying his agreement with Levinson precludes public comment. Levinson is scheduled to be in Baltimore this month filming his series for NBC based on Simon's book. NBC has given Levinson an order %% of six episodes at this point.

In the end, 'Angel Street" might better be called "Anger Street," because that's what this Thelma-and-Louise-with-a-badge pair and the series really trade in. Everybody's angry at somebody. Because of the anger, which mostly goes nowhere, this is not a liberating series or even one with the occasional wisdom of "Cagney and Lacey."

If this show makes you feel anything, it's nostalgia for "Cagney and Lacey," a series saved by viewer mail when CBS initially canceled it. I can't imagine anyone writing in to save "Angel Street."

' ANGEL STREET'

When: Tonight at 9

WHERE: WBAL (Channel 11)

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