We adore CSI’s Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox), Law and Order: SVU’s Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), and Prime Suspect’s Jane (both Maria Bello and Helen Mirren for the U.S. and U.K. versions respectively). But there are a few female cops of bygone eras (and one new hotshot we had to include) that deserve our props, too. Inspired by Rizzoli and Isles season premiere on June 5, SheWired looks at 10 Hot Female Detectives from TV history.
Julie Barnes on The Mod Squad
When The Mod Squad debuted in 1968, the world fell in love with Julie Barnes, a troubled teen from San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district who was recruited to be an undercover cop instead of going to jail. Lipton’s stick-straight blonde locks and earth motherly feminine demeanor made her an instant counterculture hit, the show itself an instant product of the times that somehow resonated with baby boomers and their less dropped-out parents. Julie and her counterparts (two other kids who had dropped out of society, including a cool afro-sporting dude who was arrested during the Watts Riots) were flower children who didn’t carry guns, drove a Woody station wagon, and managed to make words like “groovy” sound reasonable amidst perp chases and car explosions. Barnes didn’t do a lot of heavy lifting but she was the first successful female lead in a cop show. The best part of Peggy Lipton? She later starred on Twin Peaks and Alias, and after marrying Quincy Jones (she one told reporters that police pulled the duo over constantly assuming that a black man with a white woman was up to no good), she begat Rashida Jones, the affable hottie we all love on Parks and Rec.
Christine Cagney of Cagney & Lacey
A million viewers know her as the mom on Queer as Folk and Burn Notice, but savvy viewers know Sharon Gless as the butch, career-driven, single New York City cop who was the salt to Mary Beth Lacey’s pepper. While the formidable Tyne Daly played Gless’ married working mom of a partner, Mary Beth, it was Gless who shined as a sexy, spirited, and rather cultured woman who still understood the underdog—especially as she battled alcoholism—and who, despite producers’ intense pressure otherwise, still seemed kind of queer. Cagney & Lacey was a rarity too, not just for offering female leads; it also let the women of Manhattan's 14th Precinct deal with the social issues of the day—kind of like Maude with badges.
More on next page...
Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer
Kyra Sedgwick played a police detective who transferred from the South to Los Angeles in order to become that city’s deputy chief, and while she could seem as sweet as the Georgia peach her parents assumed she was, when she was dealing with her passel of unruly (mostly male) employees or the (mostly male) perps she’s one tough-ass bitch. She’s so not queer, but based on Sedgwick’s other roles in which she is (What’s Cooking? for one) it’s not hard to imagine Chief Johnson batting for our team. Plus, have you seen those legs?
Shakima “Kima” Greggs on The Wire
Sonja Sohn played the best lesbian cop ever to grace our TV sets and it took no imagination on our part. On HBO’s long-running crime drama, The Wire, Greggs was one of the best detectives in the narco squad, battling dealers, dopers, and male cops who didn’t take kindly to chicks on the job. At home she had a girlfriend, a baby, and eventually a whole lot of lesbian drama as — like dozens of (male) TV cops before her — loses herself in the job and ends up a cheating dog. But even with philandering and the hazing of her squad mates, Greggs from beginning of the series to the sad end, showed the rare kind of lesbian on TV: one that felt authentic.
Stacy Sheridan on TJ Hooker
This may have been William Shatner’s show (he’s the eponymous TJ Hooker) but it was the star-maker for the ever-gorgeous Heather Locklear, who came on as police rookie Stacy Sheridan in season two. Sheridan, a second-generation cop, began as a police academy recruit but by end of her first season she was on patrol with the men, sometimes the centerpiece of an episode of this popular and gritty (for its day) police procedural. She was the next generation of Mod Squad’s Julie Barnes, a perfect for the ‘80s babe with a badge (and a gun). Anyone going through puberty in the early- ‘80s remembers officer Sheridan well (I mean, it’s Heather Locklear, for goodness sake). Bonus: in one episode she goes undercover at a strip joint and does the best pre-Flashdance performance.
More on next page...
Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues
Long before Betty Thomas was one of the most successful female directors in Hollywood (winning awards for directing or producing films and TV shows including The Brady Bunch Movie and John Tucker Must Die), she played Sergeant Lucille “Lucy” Bates on Steven Bochco’s critically acclaimed Hill Street Blues. The police procedural has consistently ranked among the top TV shows of all time (TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Shows of All Time puts it at number 14) and it garnered a boatload of Emmy nominations (98) during its six-year run. I like to think a good share of that is because of Bates, who begins the series as a rather unsure rookie cop and by the end is practically running the place (OK, she’s a sergeant but you get the point). Unlike Cagney, nobody tried to sex up Bates, and even in press photos from that time show Thomas as lumpy and sullen as every male TV cop before her. There’s something magnetic about her. She’s supposedly straight but when her partner, Kate McBride — played by Lindsay Crouse in a five-episode arc — actually comes out as a lesbian after some false accusations, Thomas takes a matter-of-fact perspective to the outing. Pretty revolutionary for 1986.
Judy Hoffs on 21 Jump Street
Based on the way he’s been canonized you’d think Johnny Depp was the only star of 21 Jump Street, the hottest teen TV show in the late ‘80s. Not so. There were three other guys, but the main attraction for many budding queer girls was Holly Robinson Peet (then she was still just Holly Robinson) as Jody Hoffs, one of a group of undercover cops who work in high schools cracking cases on everything from hate crimes to drug trafficking and abuse. Hoffs was sexy, smart, street savvy, and had bitchin’ ‘80s hair. Depp became a teen idol but Peet should have been the real breakout star (she’s the only cast mate to appear in the full series, she sang the theme song, and she did public service announcements with the other actors which ran after the show aired). The series, only the third primetime show to appear on the Fox Network (after Married…With Children and The Tracy Ullman Show), was one of the few to tackle heavy social issues like homophobia, AIDS, and hate crimes.
More on next page...
Monica Rowling on The Shield
The Shield was a brilliant F/X drama about morally conflicted cops and the scumbags they’re protecting the world from, and when Glen Close arrived on the scene in season four as Captain Monica Rowling she did a brilliant job of portraying a smart, masculine woman in the modern work world. Rowling, who believes “in offering people a hand, even if they slap it away,” is as tough as the guys she commands in her mostly-white, mostly-male squad and her tough anti-drug policies (which call for seizing property of anyone busted dealing) make her a frenemy in the largely minority community she polices. Though she’s compassionate, the kind of leader that takes the best of those so-called gender differences in the work place and picks the best of practices, many scenes with her feel like the producers have thrown a match on a powder keg. Electrifying.
Lieutenant Van Buren on Law & Order
For 16 years, S. Epatha Merkeson (she once said the “s” stood for “Sweet”) held roost as the crème de la crème of TV’s lady cops. She was sharp and witty and never afraid to fight back and hold her own against her bosses as well as her employees. One year she’s forced to shoot a mugger off duty; her eyes alone imparted every single emotion in that moment, but that was Merkeson’s mastery with Van Buren. For many years we knew little about Van Buren’s personal life except that she had a kid, and so convincing she was as a woman who could embody any sexual orientation, so it came as a surprise when later in the series she has a man in her life. Her storyline in that final year was tough, fighting cancer, but it was yet another that resonated with queer women.
Jane on Rizzoli & Isles
The best lesbian buddy cop TV show ever—even if, as many lesbian pundits before us have suggested—the producers and writers don’t know it yet. And Angie Harmon as Jane Rizzoli is all tomboy swagger, a snorting, butchy, softball playing gal who can stop a bullet, take down a perp, and still find time to flirt with her BF (er, I mean BFF) Maura.