If you’ve been pining for the return of Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey since they solved their last case back in 1988, I have some good news for you.
Even if you’ve never heard of Cagney & Lacey (perish the thought!), listen up.
The girls are back in town—except this time the girls are Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey and the town is Manchester, England. The ITV series Scott & Bailey, available on some Public Television stations (including WGBH in Boston, KCET and KPBS in southern California, and WLIW in the New York area), is close enough to Cagney & Lacey to be an unmistakable homage, yet original enough to stand on its own.
DC Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) is a married mother of two squabbling teenage daughters. She’s quiet and measured, and there’s more going on with her than she’ll reveal at first blush.
DC Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) is single, rough around the edges, and, when we meet her, dating a man named Nick Savage (Rupert Graves, DI Lestrade from Sherlock!).
Similarities to C&L duly noted.
Rounding out the leads is DCI Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore, who looks familiar because you’ve seen her in Sherlock, Poirot,Inspector Lewis and/or Ashes to Ashes), a woman, who’s the boss, and doesn’t feel the need to remind you of either fact.
Even when the characters feel like “types” you’d expect from any standard police procedural drama, they still manage to act in ways that are both believable and occasionally unexpected.
For instance, it’s not really a spoiler to say that Nick does Rachel wrong or to say that Rachel never sees it coming. That all happens within the first few minutes of the first episode. Yet the show’s creator/writers, Sally Wainwright and former detective inspector Diane Taylor, obviously know that a detective character with a terrible instinct about people in her personal life is neither shocking nor original. So they establish Rachel’s blind spot and move forward; it’s what Rachel does after her dinner with Nick in series 1, episode 1, scene 1 that gives her dimension and interest.
The writing, at least in the episodes I’ve seen, has just the right amount of snap and force without being strident. (The scene in which Rachel demands a reason for being dumped—“Are you implying that I’m unhygienic?”—is golden.)
This is especially noticeable in the interrogation scenes; they’re much calmer and more controlled than we usually see. As Diane Taylor explained to Radio Times in 2011:
Shouting at people doesn’t work. You’ll never get anyone to open up to you that way. When an interview is done well and when it’s planned by a really good interview adviser—and the planning can take days—it’s like a ballet. This question comes in here; this question comes in there. If we get this response, we go this way; if we get another, we go another way. You plan for every eventuality. You don’t just go stomping in, shouting.
No wonder it seems authentic.
Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey aren’t women trying to swagger like men. They’re women doing their jobs and living their lives. If they’re being underestimated—and they frequently are—they use it to their advantage. They know they’re in control, and they’re comfortable in that position. We might reach the point in the series at which they become Women With Something To Prove (which would be a disappointment), but for now they’re simply women at work and that’s refreshing.
The cases they pursue lean toward crimes typically perpetrated on female victims, described in grisly detail but without the gratuitous visuals. (Just hearing about what happened to the primary school teacher was enough, thanks.)
A longer story arc involves Janet reopening a cold case related to her childhood friend, Veronica Hastings. “She had bad teeth and a pretend leather coat,” Janet recalls. She also disappeared at age six, and her unsolved murder was the impetus for Janet joining the police. (Veronica’s brother is played by Kevin Doyle aka Mr. Molesley from Downton Abbey.)
And, despite their breakup in episode 1, Rachel and Nick are not quite done with each other...
Scott & Bailey was a hit in the U.K. when it debuted in 2011. Over the past couple of years, Public Television stations have picked it up as a stand-alone series. If yours hasn’t yet, ask and it might.
If we make it to series 3—and apparently Wisconsin and Idaho Public Television already have!—we’ll see Nicola Walker (the sainted Ruth Evershed from MI5) in a recurring role and Clare Holman (Inspector Lewis’s friend Dr. Hobson) as a guest star.Scott & Bailey starts shooting its fourth series in the U.K. this spring.
Cagney & Lacey fans take heart. Christine and Mary Beth might have retired from the force, but Janet and Rachel are their worthy successors.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.