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Women on the Case – A Tale of Three Cops

IN THE November 5 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andBooks & Tales,
andDeborah Harter Williams,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTV
SECTIONS

by Deborah Harter Williams

This season (and a half) brought three new women cops to the small screen: Unforgettable’s Carrie Wells (CBS) starring Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace), Prime Suspect’s Jane Timoney (NBC) starring Maria Bello and The Protector’s Gloria Sheppard (Lifetime) starring Ally Walker (The Profiler).

Carrie Wells is the most distinctive as she has a rare medical condition that allows her to remember everything from every day of her life. Hyperthymesia, or super autobiographical memory, has been discovered in only a very small percentage of the population (including show consultant Marilu Henner.)

Carrie gets brought into a case by former partner/boyfriend (Dylan Walsh – NipTuck) because of that ability. Her other baggage – a mother in a home with Alzheimer’s, who doesn’t recognize her most of the time, and a sister who was murdered when she was a child – is the one day that Carrie can’t fully remember, and can’t let go of.

She has to contend with the other members of the squad who have their own reactions to her “super power,” as well as a skeptical DA and the ex-boyfriend’s new significant other, a psychiatrist working with the department. The ex knows her secrets well but they have to find a new boundary for their work relationship. He, in turn, is torn between his “bowling shirt” past, which Carrie reminds him of, and his uptown girlfriend. It’s a classic CBS procedural in the grand tradition of Numb3rs and The Mentalist.

Visually Carrie’s talent is shown as she flashes back to a scene in slow motion, walking around her other self and re-viewing the details. It’s very effective, however, I wish they wouldn’t dress her in those tank tops all the time – the guys are in jackets, it can’t be that warm.

Jane Timoney, on the other hand, is all toughness and elbows out as she joins her version of a New York homicide squad. It’s a Mad Men-style cop show with gender discrimination so prevalent it feels like the 60s – an old boys bastion with rough speaking, hard drinking detectives determined to keep Jane on coffee and paper detail. They use a symphony of hardcore Irish and New York accents as they dig in their heels and unite against the newcomer, who, it is rumored, may have had an affair with someone in power.

Her boss stands up for her but not always in public and not very loudly. It is up to her to find her way. The first two episodes are so laden with chauvinism that they were hard to watch. But Jane has earned grudging respect. She really doesn’t want to be their buddy; she just wants to get the job done.

This show is “re-imagined” from the British version starring Helen Mirren. Some say only the title is the same, though the grittiness and dark tone approximate the original and Lynda LaPlante, creator of the BBC version (1992- 2006), is one of the producers. Going in it looked like the deck was stacked against Bello, who wears a quirky fedora in many of her scenes. Like her character’s uphill climb in the squad room, Bello has stood up and taken control.

Gloria Sheppard comes at the job from an entirely different place. She is the single mom of two trying to do it all. She has a supportive relationship with her woman partner and engages in light bantering with Miguel Ferrer, as her captain. This mom is just as likely to teach her sons to throw knives, as she is to stay up all night making a costume. She solves crimes the old-fashioned way with savvy, imagination and intuition.

Her challenges are more on the home front with a live-in brother who is a recovering addict, Cloris Leachman as her bi-polar mom and neighbors who expect her to be more mom-like. In the pilot, when Garden Gnomes go missing on her block, she steps up to the plate and in a charming scene with her son demonstrates why she appears to him as The Protector.

Not very well publicized, this show may have suffered from being neither fish nor fowl –
not heavy enough for the real cop show followers and not light enough for the romantic drama Lifetime viewers.

If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime:
Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to rb@robinburcell.com or cindy@cindysamplebooks.com.

Deborah Harter Williams works as a mystery scout, seeking novels that could be made into television. She blogs at Clue Sisters and was formerly a mystery bookstore owner.

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