Why I Love Cagney & Lacey

“Chris, let me tell you: cop feet weren’t meant for hooker shoes.”

Oh, Mary Beth… Cagney & Lacey, a legend at TVClaw Towers, is back. Not in remade or rebooted form (please don’t), but in weekday afternoon repeats over on BBC 2.

And it’s still awesome.


Not many classic TV series really do stand the test of time, but Cagney & Lacey does. Yes, there’s a surfeit of chunky knitwear and questionable berets (and that’s just the men), but the scripts and performances are just as sharp, witty and moving as they always were.

And it’s great to see New York City in all its grimy, smoky, wise-cracking ’80s splendour again.

Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly) and Chris Cagney (Sharon Gless) were successful detectives in Manhattan’s 14th Precinct. As a teenager I used to wait for each new episode with bated breath. I loved them. I loved their sense of humour. And I fell in love with their home town.

They worked hard and played hard, but they always looked good. Always coiffed, always made-up and always in heels, Cagney and Lacey chasing a perp through midtown whilst not letting go of their handbags was a sight to behold.

Whether it’s Chris being scraped off the windows at Bergdorf’s, the Robin Byrd lookalikes sassing the cops in the station house, or a bunch of old ladies moving their cars en masse because of alternate side parking restrictions, Cagney & Lacey was a realistic portrayal of life in the city.

I moved to New York City a decade after Cagney & Lacey had been cancelled. Rudy Giuliani and Donna Hanover were still an item, crime was down, rents were up and everyone was watching NYPD Blue. The Yankees were officially the winningest team in baseball.

Not knowing the city too well, and struggling to find an apartment bigger than a shoebox on our limited budget, we somehow stumbled into Cagney & Lacey territory when we signed the lease on a one-bedroom rental around the corner from the real-life 14th Precinct (a.k.a. Midtown South) station house.

Our side of the street was just inside the boundary of the 13th Precinct, but the other side of the street was in the 14th. For a Cagney & Lacey fan it was serendipitous. (Did I try to move to that side of the street? You bet I did. His nibs wouldn’t go for it though.)

When we bought a bed the salesman looked at our address and whistled through his teeth. “Couldn’t pay me to live over there,” he said. “Hookers everywhere.” Nowadays, like most of Manhattan, our old neighbourhood is expensive and glossy, the hookers having given way to hedge fund managers, but back in the ’90s it wasn’t so different from the Cagney & Lacey version.

Thanks to the magic of DVRs I’ve been rewatching Cagney & Lacey at my leisure, and I confess that I still get a thrill when I see them run down the block I lived on, or go into a bar I drank in. With another 100 or so episodes to go, I reckon there’s an outside chance of me spotting someone I know from the ‘hood in a scene, even if they’re just crossing the street in the background.

Cagney & Lacey airs weekday afternoons (time varies) on BBC2.


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