Critics' picks: New DVDs

`Cagney & Lacey' broke gender barriers, resisted stereotypes

screen

May 06, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach

CAGNEY & LACEY -- THE TRUE BEGINNING -- MGM / $39.98

Cagney & Lacey was groundbreaking television in the truest sense. Yes, there had been female cops before; Angie Dickinson's Police Woman comes immediately to mind. There had even been teams of female crime-fighters, if you stretch the definition far enough to include Charlie's Angels. But in both of those shows, glamour was just as important as character, maybe even more so.

That was the mold that Cagney & Lacey broke. True, Tyne Daly, who played Mary Beth Lacey, and Sharon Gless, who was cast as her partner, Christine Cagney, were attractive, but that wasn't the point. The revolution of Cagney & Lacey was that the show saw them as people first, women second, cops third. They weren't there to prance around in slinky clothes, or take orders from some man they never saw. They were there to do a job, to balance that job against their private lives, and -- perhaps most importantly, since this was a buddy show, after all -- to support one another.

Best of all, watching this DVD set's shows, which aired from October 1982 to May 1983, reminds one of how good the series was. Daly and Gless (who would win six Emmys between them over their show's six-season run) proved expert at playing off one another, while the scripts resisted all the timeworn cop cliches (not always, but often enough). Sometimes, the show even managed to stay ahead of the curve; among the episodes included here is May 1983's "Date Rape," which tackled the subject before it became an established part of the national debate over women's rights.

True fans of the series may be disappointed to realize that this two-DVD set, the first official Cagney & Lacey release, doesn't include the show's first season (starring Meg Foster as Cagney) or the pilot TV movie, with Loretta Swit cast opposite Daly. With a little luck, maybe that release is somewhere down the road. (In the meantime, those fans may want to check out not only this set, but also the recently released book, Cagney and Lacey ... And Me, by the show's executive producer, Barney Rosenzweig. It's filled with stories about the show's development and success, as well as all kinds of inside information.)

Special features

Extras include a two-part, 40-minute documentary, Breaking the Laws of TV, which includes interviews with Daly, Gless and Rosenzweig, as well as the show's co-creator, Barbara Corday.

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THE PAINTED VEIL --Warner Home Video / $27.95 /

Edward Norton and Naomi Watts shine in this 2006 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, set in 1920s China. Norton is Walter Fane, a Brit doctor who, after numerous feeble attempts, finally summons up the courage to ask the beautiful, upper-class Kitty (Watts) to marry him. She accepts, largely out of boredom, but soon regrets her decision. The pair end up in Shanghai, where Kitty takes a lover -- and a vengeful Walter, determined to both maintain appearances and teach his wife a lesson, accepts a job in a disease-ravaged remote Chinese village. But life there affects them both in ways they never expected.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com.

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