As the terrifying massive ratings for the recent debut of a new season of Roseanne demonstrate, everything old remains new again. We don’t necessarily need any of these retreads, which also include Will and Grace and Dynasty and upcoming Murphy Brown, but as long as we watch them, we’re going to keep getting them.
Depending, I suppose, on the age, availability and gameness of the original cast members, some of these shows are “revivals” – Roseanne and Will And Grace feature their original casts – while some are “reboots”. Cagney and Lacey, on CBS All-Access in the US and Netflix in the rest of the world, is a mix of the two. The characters are meant to be the same, but they’re played by new actors; admirably, the show bucks most trends by casting new actors who are not only far more established than the original cast members were, but are as old – or older – than the characters themselves would have become.
Helen Mirren is two years younger than Sharon Gless, who originally played Cagney, the blonde, single, career-minded cop partnered with Lacey, played by Tyne Daley in the original and here played by Judi Dench, who, at 83, is eleven years Daley’s senior. It would have been very easy for Netflix to cast two “hot” twenty-somethings, so kudos to them for allowing these two characters to age (and so gracefully). Perhaps we have the astonishing success of Gracie and Frankie, starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, to thank?
The casting of the two Dames is quite a coup; who hasn’t hankered to see them in a vehicle together? Unfortunately, this is pretty much the wrong vehicle. Dench takes to Lacey’s boozy swagger with gusto (if a bit too much Brooklynese) but Mirren, unfortunately, seems all at sea as Cagney. Gless was always the “femme” to Daley’s “butch”, but Mirren seems determined to go another way with her interpretation, presenting a Cagney every bit as grizzled and gutsy as her partner (she also has a much harder time with the accent). Sure, time has passed, and both of the characters have every reason to be hard-bitten, but the similarity of the characters – a fault obviously partially to blame on the script – robs the series (I’ve seen the first four of ten episodes) of one of the original’s most distinct flavours, which was the the difference between the two. Mirren and Dench, as older versions of two distinct women, seem to have grown into one. Or perhaps, the series is saying, all Cagneys become Laceys over time.