A lot of '70s cop shows built worlds that viewers were happy to live in for an hour per week, but that wasn't necessarily the case with Police Woman. Spun off from a well-received 1974 Police Story episode, Police Woman offered Angie Dickinson as a detective specializing in vice cases, which she cracked with the help of a motley squad of Serpico-style undercover officers, led by Earl Holliman. Dickinson was sexy and smart, and Holliman was gruff-but-sweet, but their flirtatious relationship wasn't all that endearing, and the squad's camaraderie rarely extended beyond a few drinks at a local bar. And it isn't like the show glamorized police work. In one of the pilot's first lines, a cop calls one suspect "a righteous madam who'd turn out her own mother for a half-bag."
Yet enough people watched Police Woman to make it a Top 10 show in its first season. Was it just titillation, watching Dickinson go undercover as a hooker, a go-go dancer, a swinging housewife, and a high-school gym teacher whose idea of calisthenics included hip-swivels and chest-thrusts? Well, sure. But there was also something darkly compelling going on in Police Woman—at least in the first season, before protests by feminist groups led to a softening of the show's content. The 23 episodes on the Police Woman: First Season DVD tend toward the grim, with Dickinson and company investigating black-market adoption, teenage drug addicts, racial unrest, and rape after rape after rape. Even the opening credits are harsh, alternating shots of Dickinson looking seductive with shots of her being smacked around.
The star makes it work. Dickinson played her sexy cop with curious enthusiasm, savoring the ritual of cozying up to criminals before turning around and busting their asses. In episode after episode, she straps on a wire and pitches woo to the bad guys, while her father/brother/husband-figure Holliman tails her at a safe distance, following the action just like the TV audience at home. There was something deliciously wrong about the first season of Police Woman, maybe because it fed our need to see someone beautiful get dropped deep into the ugly.
Key features: Dickinson and Holliman provide spotty commentaries on multiple episodes. Their most commonly used phrase? "I don't remember."