Thursday, October 21, 2021

What I'm Watching Now: Scott and Bailey

 Scott & Bailey is a police procedural set in Manchester, England. It's free on Amazon Prime; looks like you can get it on YouTube as well. One review calls it the Cagney & Lacey of British television, which, okay, I can see that. But also, no.

Cagney & Lacey, for those of you who don't remember when TV had only four channels, was a police show, debuting in 1982, about two women detectives (Cagney and Lacey) who worked for the NYPD. It was ground-breaking for having woman as main characters, but in every other way it was typical copaganda. Also, both the show and the two women detectives focused heavily on the men in the department, and on their lives. Men were in charge; women were allowed into the department, on sufferance, but they and everyone else knew who the real people were. 

Scott & Bailey had its first season in 2011. The idea of women in the workplace no longer seems groundbreaking (honestly, it never was: my grandmother had a job her entire life, including after her children were born), but that's not the big difference here. The big difference is that women are the center and main focus of this show. We have Scott and Bailey, the two detectives; but we also have Gill, who is maybe 20 years older than they are and the head of the Syndicate Nine of the Major Incident Team, the department in which the series is set; and we have Julia Dodson, head of another syndicate, and Gill's longtime friend and mentor. The show, written mainly by women, accurately portrays the lives of women -- what we talk about, what occupies our attention, the many ways we can screw up our lives, that sort of thing. 

Women aren't primarily or even mostly thinking about men in this show, is what I'm saying. Also, the male characters aren't shown as the norm, or the "real" police, who the women are allowed to pretend to be. The woman are the real police. Some of the men are too, but lots of them are mediocre white guys promoted beyond their level of competence. (Several of the reviews of the show are very pouty about this. Men shown as imperfect? As screw-ups? As people who make women's lives much, much, much harder? How very dare!)

The show also spends some time on men as criminals, and the effect the violence and exploitation and carelessness of men has on the lives of those around them. (There are women criminals as well, don't worry.) In fact, most of the personal problems, the real wearing down of the main characters, is due to the men in their lives: a husband who feels he's not the center of his wife's life; a brother who expects his sisters to continue being his mommy throughout his life; a lover who sees women as objects who exist for his gratification, and resents being called on his bad behavior -- resents it to the extent of violence.

The show lets us see how, rather than being valiant protectors and providers, many men* exploit the women in their lives, demand their support, and become abusive or pouty -- or simply leave -- if their women don't expend huge amounts of energy catering to those men's egos. One major arc concerns a handsome white guy, promoted beyond his capabilities, who goes into a prolonged sulk because his (female) bosses don't praise him constantly, and ends up betraying them.

Anyway, this refreshing view of the world alone makes this show worth watching; but it is also well-written and acted, and I love the accents. It admits that the police screw up, that they lie, cheat, and abuse their power; but only incidentally. This is still copaganda, in other words, so fair warning.

*Yes, I know, not all men.


Bev said...

Love love love this show! I especially love the story arc featuring Nicola Walker, who is just amazing. But my dad, who generally loves British mysteries, hates this one for the same reasons you mention: too many flawed men, too much focus on women's lives. I just wish there were more episodes.

delagar said...

"....too many flawed men, too much focus on women's lives."

Funny how that doesn't bother people when it's the other way around, huh?

This is my first time watching the show, and I'm two episodes into the final season and already sad!