Saturday, June 8, 2013

Shannon Tweed Guest Stars on A Very Special Episode of "Cagney & Lacey"

Shannon Tweed is best known these days as Gene Simmons' wife, after having been his longtime companion for years, as well as a reality TV personality for A&E's "Gene Simmons Family Jewels."  She is also one of the most successful Playboy Playmates-turned-actresses, having built a long, accomplished, and prolific list of credits in movies and television since the early 1980s.  She was a regular on "Falcon Crest" during its second season (1982-83) as well as on "Days of Our Lives" (1985-86) and the HBO comedy series "1st and Ten" (1989-91).  Because of her looks and Playboy background (she was Playmate of the Year in 1982) she eventually found herself typecast while starring in a series of erotic thrillers in the 1990s that went straight-to-video or played on Cinemax.  What's been overlooked is the fact that Shannon Tweed is actually a very capable actress who has given good performances throughout her career, which is reflected in her longevity and prolificacy.  Her Playboy image still limits her opportunities, but she has done comparatively better than most other Playmates who have attempted to venture in acting (the other exception being Stella Stevens).  Probably one of Tweed's more notable acting roles was her guest appearance in the "Cagney & Lacey" episode entitled "Role Call" that aired November 3, 1986 on CBS.

Tweed guest-starred as glamorous TV star Vicki Barrington, of the fictional cop show "NYPD" where she plays police detective DeeDee St. James, who hides her gun in her brassiere, frequently goes undercover as a prostitute, and nabs her suspects by calling out "Hold it, big boy!"  With the cooperation of the Mayor of New York, Vicki has come to spend a week with real police detectives as a civilian observer in an effort to better understand what they do for a living and to try and bring "realism" to the series.  Vicki requests to be assigned to follow two female police detectives, which results in her accompanying detectives Christine Cagney (Sharon Gless) and Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly) in the course of their regular duties.  Cagney immediately resents Vicki's presence and goes out of her way to intimidate and humiliate Vicki in order to discourage her from continuing to observe them all week.  Meanwhile, to the surprise and annoyance of Cagney, Vicki immediately bonds with Lacey when both women discuss their children (Vicki is a single-mother of a young daughter) and the two seemingly dissimilar women become fast friends with one another.

When an unsuspecting Vicki inadvertently walks into the middle of a stakeout, followed by the media, and causes the suspect to slip away, Cagney wants her sent back in Los Angeles and have it officially noted that Vicki caused the suspect to escape.  However, Vicki apologizes to Lt. Samuels (Al Waxman) over the incident and is allowed to continue observing Cagney and Lacey.  After witnessing a heated exchange in the ladies room between Vicki and Cagney, a compassionate Lacey brings Vicki home for dinner, where she immediately charms Lacey's husband Harvey (John Karlen) and her children.  The next day, when Cagney argues with Lacey over why she likes Vicki, Lacey diplomatically reminds Cagney that she has spent years observing Cagney using her good-looks and charm to her advantage in the course of performing police work.  Lacey reasons, if it's all right for Cagney to do that, why isn't it all right for Vicki?  As Vicki's week winds down, she asks Cagney and Lacey if they will pose with her for a publicity photograph.  When Cagney refuses, the two women have it out once and for all.  Vicki informs Cagney that she's not there to denigrate her police work, and has had to face her own sets of challenges in forging a successful career.  Vicki says she would have hoped Cagney would be able to sympathize with her because they've both paid their dues.  Perhaps realizing that she may have taken her resentment of Vicki a bit too far, Cagney agrees to pose with Vicki and Lacey for a photo at the end.

A comparatively humorous and light-hearted episode, the "Role Call" segment nevertheless resonates because of the way it addresses the sorts of objectification, stereotyping and resentment that men and women feel towards glamorous, seemingly entitled individuals like Vicki.  The men in the 14th Precinct, bowled over by Vicki's beauty, glamor, and presence, spend the entire week hovering around her, asking for autographs, referring to her by her TV character's name, and calling out in-unison "Hello DeeDee!" or "Goodbye DeeDee!" whenever she arrives or exits.  In so doing, they never really see her as a genuine, flesh-and-blood individual and only regard her as a sex object.  Moreover, before he ever meets her, Lacey's husband Harvey dismisses Vicki as a "plastic Hollywood bimbo" and assumes she's a shallow and superficial individual only interested in getting more publicity for the show by spending the week at the Precinct.  Cagney resents Vicki because she feels that her TV show makes a mockery of police work and finds her presence as a civilian observer for the week condescending and patronizing.  Cagney feels that Vicki cannot begin to grasp the reality of police work and objects to her romanticization of the mundane aspects of her career.

To the surprise of everyone, including the audience, the only person who gives Vicki a chance and sincerely tries to show her what police work is about is the brassy, working class Lacey.  Lacey seems genuinely flattered that Vicki is interested in learning more about who she is as an individual and how she approaches her duties as a police detective and gives her a chance.  Lacey continually tells Cagney and her husband Harvey that they're not being fair in prejudging Vicki as a "bimbo" and refutes Harvey's assertion that this is all a publicity stunt by informing him "She said that she has come to New York City to learn how to make her show better."  Lacey spends the week trying to be peacemaker between her partner Cagney and Vicki, as she likes both women and doesn't think that there should be any tension between them.  When Cagney intentionally takes Vicki to the morgue to examine a corpse, she takes delight in witnessing Vicki's discomfort at seeing a dead body.  Cagney gloats over Vicki's squeamishness and cruelly jokes how "I don't think Detective Dee Dee can take it" only to have Lacey defend Vicki by admitting that "I couldn't either my first time, could you?"  Tyne Daly is extremely funny and endearing in this episode, bringing interesting and inspired qualities to this segment, including moments of comedic awkwardness and an atypical timidity as she tries to blunt the sharpness of Cagney's barbs at Vicki.  When Vicki diplomatically brings Cagney's favorite breakfast of bagel and cream cheese, and Cagney becomes silently resentful of Vicki's kindness, Lacey reminds Cagney to "Say thank you, Christine" in a quick, humorously maternal manner that is very funny. 

Tyne Daly and Shannon Tweed have a great, effortless chemistry in this episode as they demonstrate how these two, completely different individuals find a common ground with one another while discussing their children and their love of classic movies.  The scene where they share photos of their kids is rather touching, particularly when Lacey comments how Vicki's daughter looks like "Peaches and cream" and Vicki returns the compliment by commenting on Lacey's dress by noting "Speaking of peaches, you look really great in that color.  It really compliments your skin tone."  I like how Lacey is impressed by Vicki's warmth and sincerity and lack of entitlement that she goes out of her way to try and make her week as a civilian observer a worthwhile experience.  Lacey shows how she is secure enough in herself that she doesn't feel the least bit threatened by Vicki, even after she has dinner with her family and witnesses how her husband Harvey and her sons are impressed by this glamorous TV star.  After meeting Vicki, Harvey suddenly becomes amorous that night in bed with Lacey and she comments to Cagney the next day, with a sense of wonder, "There's a chemical thing, Christine, that does something to men.  18 years of marriage, I never saw Harvey so...well, I don't even know what it was but they all had it.  Even the boys.  Even Michael.  Kind of reminded me of when they first met you."

In so doing, Lacey is able to get to the root of why Cagney resents Vicki.  The more worldly and sophisticated Cagney ultimately has a lot in common with Vicki and feels very competitive with her.  Cagney is threatened by Vicki's presence because she doesn't want to think that her looks and charm had anything to do with her success as a police detective.  She wants to believe that she got where she is solely through skill, accomplishment, and initiative, which is why I think she continually puts Vicki down throughout the episode as someone superficial, unintelligent, and a nuisance.  At one point Lacey's boyfriend David observes that the only reason Lacey dislikes Vicki is because "You're a lot alike...When you're beautiful and smart and ambitious and hard-working, people could find that intimidating."  When Lacey objects to David's observation by defensively stating "I am not intimidated by Vicki Barrington," David calmly responds "That was supposed to be a compliment.  Do you realize that she's the only thing we've talked about since she showed up at the 14th?...Chris, I don't care what the competition is, on any level, man or woman, you can handle it."

Lacey further underscores the similarities between Cagney and Vicki when she challenges Cagney's statement, "I tell you, Mary Beth, you can't trust a woman like her."  Lacey asks, "What kind of a woman is that, Christine?"  Cagney responds, "The kind of a woman who would use whatever it takes to get whatever she wants."  A bemused Lacey smiles and says nothing regarding her partner's hypocrisy which causes Cagney to declare defensively and self-servingly, "Mary Beth, when I use a little charm, I do it for a good cause...I protect people from crime."  Lacey wisely responds, "Uh huh.  So it's OK to use a little charm in your job, but it's not OK in hers...Well, it can't be easy, Christine.  She's trying to raise a child by herself, working hard at that job where people are fussing all over you every minute of the day."  When Cagney defiantly states, "I'm telling you she's as phony as the airhead she plays"  Lacey becomes indignant and defends Vicki by challenging Cagney "Now how do you know?  Did you ever bother to get to know her?"

Later on in the episode, Lacey continues to defend Vicki to Cagney by pointing out, "You know, she can't help being who she is, Christine.  I know exactly how you feel.  Same way I feel everytime we go check evidence with Cervantes...We go in together and it's 'Hello Sergeant Cagney!  How you doin' Sergeant Cagney!'  I may as well stay in the car....When we go to the lab, Solomon offers you sushi.  Me, I get fiber samples.  Don't tell me you never notice."  Cagney feels awkward and apologetic at realizing how she has inadvertently caused Lacey to feel dissed and ignored at times and says "Look, if it bothers you so much why didn't you say something?"  Lacey wisely responds, "Well, what are you supposed to do?  Stop wearing smart clothes and start retaining water?  That's the way it is, that's all.  Same thing with Vicki Barrington.  Doesn't mean she's not a nice person."

In so doing, Lacey sets the stage for the final confrontation between Vicki and Cagney when the former has asked if both detectives would take a publicity photo with her.  Vicki confronts Cagney, after she refuses to take the photo, by asking "Is it just me, or do you have a problem with all women?"  Cagney responds resentfully, "Look, it was your idea to come here.  Now nobody sent you an engraved invitation!  If you can't take the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen!"  Vicki defiantly responds "I can take anything you can dish out.  But I resent it lady.  You think all I am is a tight dress and a push-up bra...Well, you're wrong.  I answered phones, waited tables, and parked cars for my acting lessons.  And then I had to get past agents, producers and directors who still thought I should sleep my way to the top" to which Cagney derisively cracks "Look, I read 'Hollywood Wives.'  In case you hadn't noticed, I had to deal with men too."  Vicki responds, "Then you ought to know what I'm talking about.  Nobody taking me seriously, not one of them giving me credit for having a brain in my head.  And now you.  I thought you'd give me a chance to prove myself...We've both paid our dues.  But I guess you don't give a damn about any woman's career except your own."  As Vicki storms out, a humbled Cagney sarcastically jokes "Helluva performance" to try and save face, knowing full well that Vicki has called her out on her hypocrisy.  Sharon Gless does a great job in this episode at skillfully underscoring Cagney's impatience and intolerance for Vicki, and for her willingness to demonstrate unsympathetic qualities in Cagney's personality.

As for playing the catalyst of this episode, Shannon Tweed gives a very good performance playing the sympathetic and intelligent Vicki Barrington.  The script by Sandy Sprung and Marcy Vosburgh plays fair with the Vicki character by ensuring that she doesn't come across as superficial or self-indulgent.  Despite Vicki's initial naivete in understanding the realities of police work, as well as her presumptuousness in interrogating witnesses and suspects, both Tweed and the script work hard to demonstrate Vicki's sincerity in making her character Sergeant Dee Dee St. James, and her fictional TV series, "NYPD" more realistic and believable so that both can honor the sort of work that Cagney and Lacey do everyday.  As she tells Cagney earlier in the episode, "I didn't leave my kid (in LA) for a publicity stunt.  I came here to make Dee Dee a better I can feel good about what I do for a living....Look, if you don't want Dee Dee to be a bimbo, why don't you help me change her?"  Tweed demonstrates assertiveness and strength of character by demonstrating how Vicki can give as good as she can take in trading barbs with Cagney so that the character never degenerates into shallow Hollywood actress stereotypes.

The sincere warmth that Tweed demonstrates in her scenes with Tyne Daly also goes a long way towards underscoring Vicki's humane qualities as an individual.  The scene after Vicki argues with Cagney, and Vicki asks Lacey if she was sincere about her earlier statement of inviting Vicki home for dinner with Lacey's family ("I was gonna go back to my hotel, eat dinner, read some stupid scripts, try to fall asleep...unless you meant what you said about my having dinner at your place...Mary Beth, I'd love to.  I'd even bring the wine"), is touching because you see how much it means for this glamorous, beautiful TV star to feel accepted by at least one of the two detectives she is observing for the week.  You sense that Vicki wants to make friends with both Cagney and Lacey and to do right by them by making her TV show more substantial.  Tweed is particularly good in scenes where Vicki's feelings are genuinely hurt by Cagney's antagonism.  It's clear that Tweed understands and sympathizes with the presumptions and expectations that Vicki has to deal with in her life and acting career, which is why her performance has such authenticity.  Even though it is only in a single guest appearance on "Cagney & Lacey," Shannon Tweed demonstrates qualities of intelligence, warmth and integrity that she should have been allowed to represent more often in her career. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece! I used to watch "Cagney & Lacey" with my mom every Monday night at 10. It was her favorite show and I vaguely recall this episode. It sounds like it highlighted the show's sense of humor, which I always enjoyed. My guess is the Shannon Tweed character was supposed to be a spoof of Angie Dickinson, who played Sgt. Pepper Anderson on "Police Woman." That series preceded "Cagney & Lacey" and has been dismissed (by some critics, at least) as a superficial depiction of women in law enforcement.


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