POLICE WOMAN – SEASON TWO: A Cosmopolitan Second Helping Of Cop-Show Thrills

Police Woman was a hit right out of the box.  It was the first big prime time hit built around a female star but in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise.  For starters, it had a great pedigree: producer David Gerber had previously established his cop-show skills with the excellent Police Story anthology series and Police Woman was a spin-off that utilized acting alumni from that show’s first season for all its lead roles.  It also helped that Police Woman had the ideal star in Dickinson: she had an old school Hollywood sexiness as well as a quiet, resilient toughness that allowed her to work well in the traditionally masculine genre of the cop show.

Police Woman: Season Two maintained the success of its first season by sticking to the template it established for the show.  Dickinson toplines as Sergeant Pepper Anderson, part of a four-person investigation squad alongside boss Lieutenant Bill Crowley (Earl Holliman)  and detectives Royster (Charles Dierkop) and Styles (Ed Bernard).  Each week, the group tackled a different investigation that involved Pepper going undercover to get evidence on the bad guy of the week.  Whether infiltrating a bad guy’s operation as a worker or posing as bait for a killer/psycho, Pepper always put it on the line to get the job done.  Variation was occasionally provided by episodes where Pepper and the investigation would play the b-plot to a character sketch of someone else in the law enforcement or criminal worlds.

The resulting formula was versatile enough to pull off another solid season of cop-show action and drama.  Surprisingly, the opening episodes are the weakest ones of the season: “Pawns Of Power” has a solid setup, including a nice turn from Roddy McDowell as a smarmy Fed who carelessly plays havoc with Crowleys’ operation, but has a rushed finale that sidelines Pepper while “The Score” suffers from some oddly incorporated humor and doesn’t integrate the crook and cop plotlines in a satisfying way.

That said, Police Woman: Season Two quickly picks up steam after the first few episodes: “The Chasers” figures out a clever way for Pepper to stumble across the activities of a pair of schemers (Ian McShane and Ida Lupino) who trick hospital patients into insurance scams that favor the coffers of their so-called charity legal service while “The Purge” has Pepper teaming up with a con man (David Huddleston) to clear Crowley’s name after a criminal frames him during a bust gone wrong.

There are also some interesting episodes that blend the usual Police Woman investigation formula with the kind of melancholy character sketches you usually saw on Police Story.  For example, “The Hit” features Pepper and the gang investigating the attempted murder of a boxer but the main focus of the episode is the mid-life crisis of a hit man (Harris Yulin) with bad luck.  Another effective episode in this vein is “Paradise Mall,” in which the main plot deals with an investigation focused around a mystery rapist/killer but adds a personal element into the mix when a cop (James  Wainwright) goes off the deep end when his wife becomes one of the killer’s victims.

Fans of cop shows will be pleased by Police Woman: Season Two‘s blend of grit and action.  Since the show was a success, it’s obvious that the second season had a healthy budget to work because the show puts it to good use: there’s plenty of great location shooting all over the Los Angeles area and virtually every episode involves at least one car chase.  As a result, each episode feels like a t.v. scale version of the cop/action films of the era.

The show’s a-list status is also represented in the strong guest cast it drew in for each episode.  In addition to the aforementioned guest stars, Police Woman: Season Two also features memorable guest appearances by up-and coming stars like Sam Elliott, Erik Estrada as well as familiar t.v. faces like Robert Loggia, Joan Collins and Robert Vaughn.  B-movie fans will be amused by the episode “Glitter With A Bullet,” which features supporting performances by cult faves like Robert Ginty of The Exterminator and Robbie Lee of Switchblade Sisters fame.

The final asset of Police Woman: Season Two – in fact, the glue that keeps it together – is the consistently compelling work of its central cast.  Dickinson proves her worth both as star and team player: she can carry episodes when she has to, like the “undercover with a killer” episode “Cold Wind,” but is just as comfortable in episodes that require ensemble work with the rest of the team.  For an example of the latter, there is a great scene in the “Don’t Feed The Pigeons” episode where Dickinson works with Bernard and Dierkop to give a three-person illustration of how the “pigeon drop” bunco scheme works.

Holliman makes a strong co-lead for Dickinson as the squad’s boss – they really show off their chemistry and chops in the aforementioned “The Purge” episode – and Dierkop and Bernard offer the right mix of quietly strong support and sly humor as the squad’s detective team.  Dierkop even gets to stretch out a bit in “Double Image,” an episode where he falls in love with a troubled suspect he is supposed to be guarding.

Some fans are critical of Police Woman‘s second season as public criticism of the first season’s “cheesecake” elements led to a toning down of that element for the second go-round.  Whether that is an issue for a viewer is a matter of personal taste but the show’s focus on action and pace is likely to carry the day for most fans of this genre – One could argue that by design Season Two goes for an upscale version of the show’s templater, with more elaborate storylines that led the team into higher-echelon crime situations like thievery rings and the international drug trade.  Best of all, Dickinson is sexy regardless of what an episode has her doing.

In short, Police Woman: Season Two continues to deliver the 1970’s cop show goods – and if you’re an Angie Dickinson fan, this is choice stuff.

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