Detective Eames, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

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The original Law & Order show had an all-male regular cast. There was a recurring pathologist named Rogers who was female, but other than that, the only women were guest stars. They later introduced female assistant district attorneys for the sole purpose of sleeping with Sam Waterston’s character – and flashing their stunning legs under mini-skirts and swishing their spectacular $500/week hair. Eventually, they brought in Epatha Merkerson to play the boss to the boys in blue, who filled two slots on the affirmative action card, being an African-American woman. And then there was that spin-off, SVU, with that lead woman with the collagen lips and the hair no New York City policewoman could afford.

Imagine my shock when Law & Order: Criminal Intent gave us Detective Alex Eames (Kathryn Erbe). Eames looks like women you know. Her hair is nice, but she’s not going up for L’Oreal commercial auditions anytime soon. Her makeup looks like what average woman wear rather than what professional makeup artists put on runway models. She’s not particularly tall, and her lips and breasts appear to be what nature gave her. She looks like she could be a real live New York cop.

Scratching below the surface, from what I’ve seen she also has the personality of a woman who would choose to be a New York cop. She’s a normal woman who just happens to share more common interests with men than with women, and so chose a career path that’s still thought of as male. And she’s clearly distinguished herself, making it to the elite branch known as Major Case.

Of course, if producers are right and there really are boys out there who can’t stomach a show featuring normal hot women instead of walking Barbie dolls, don’t fret: every episode features at least one guest star who looks like an expensively coiffed whore. Even if the character is a crack-addicted hooker from rural Arkansas with hep-C, your guest actress is guaranteed to look like a plastic-enhanced Vogue ad. Try to suspend your disbelief.

Comments

  1. Mecha says

    I haven’t watched but a handful of episodes of SVU and it doesn’t work for me, so I can’t say much there except that it’s basically a reuse of Homicide: Life on the Street’s characters in the universe. I’m glad, though, that CI didn’t fall into the Fox Mulder-esque trap, though of having the female lead being a pure foil, from what you say. Even if they screw up with the criminal guest stars.

    But I’m gonna have to take issue with the first part of the post, because… yeah. Maybe you track the field more, maybe Dick Wolf is a giant sexist pig, I don’t know. And maybe I’m being a bit defensive of a show I’ve seen most the older stuff on since I was young, but… well. I am sorta familiar with it.

    The first psychologist was also female, strangely enough, but yes, no mains until Clare and Epatha’s characters came in in 93. So 3 seasons of no females in the main credits, before the next… 12+ years having them in ‘em? Did it take them a while to get female chars in? Yes. Have they treated them like crap since they’ve been on compared to the men, or made them wholly unrealistic? I’m going to have to say no.

    As much as the Kathryn Erbe part was more your point, and a little jab at the general Hollywood ‘everyone is beautiful’ production, the female DA hate seems a bit off. There’s been four female DAs in the main series, and while they’ve all stuck with more or less professional attire for lawyers, albeit with skirts sometimes (although Clare seemed to like biker-style leather jackets when casual, once), none of them has slept with him (and one’s a lesbian.) As much as parts of the show have problems, the realism and diversity on the overall for the mains, minus standard TV show ‘nobody looks that good’ crap, have been good.

    And it’s not like the females don’t have power comisserant to their positions. The time that the interim head-DA was female she was not overruled by men all the time, and told Jack what to do as much as any of the others told Jack or Ben Stone what to do. And while Epatha’s character did fill two affirmative action slots (not that they didn’t have a black DA on earlier), and maybe you know more about how that was ‘forced’ on Dick Wolf or not, which is the impression you’ve seemed to give off, she’s been an incredibly strong character. She’s not overruled by her detectives, she stands up to people who try to order her around, she yells at them when they screw up, she’s one of the oldest stars on the show in terms of duration, and there was actually a plotline where she was hitting the police establishment for skipping her over for promotion on the racist/sexist front, so if Dick Wolf’s really sexist and racist, he has a funny way of showing how wonderful it is. And on the flip side, she has shown human concern about the death penalty, about her family, but hasn’t broke down, or refused to capture criminals, or whinged about how evil the death penalty is and how to refuse to enforce it. Whether you have other issues with the general glamour of various people in the series, or the fetishization of some ‘pretty whore’ victims, or whatnot, the female leads get pretty decent treatment. And ALL of the criminals are crazy or pathetic or sad in one way or another, male or female, so it’s damn hard to judge gender stuff on that.

    And look at the male leads in the series. Of the cops, one of them gets (near?)crippled in the line of duty, one of them was sexual abused and is violent and almost kills someone in cold blood (Noth’s character Logan), one of them had a gambling and alcohol problem which gets in the way over and over, as well as being estranged from his daughters and one of them dying as a witness/sting helper (Briscoe), one of them screwed up a lot of their life in an adultery plotline and quit, IIRC, to get things right with their wife (Bratt’s character), Green tends to violent force and a bit too much casualness, and the most recent older cop is a total good old boy of the police force complete with a little bit of the ‘look the other way’ junk. Haven’t watched much of him, though. And the male DAs tend to lonliness and drinking, and not the glamourous kind of drinking, the kind that makes them talkative and stupid. And the main, main Male DA at the moment argues with Jack, uh, constantly, because he’s a very conservative Republican southern boy type, and Jack is not. Everyone in that show gets yanked around, and people are generally in-line with their relative power structures. (Can you tell I’ve watched a heck of a lot of this show? A&E Mystery afternoon when I was younger, go figure.)

    I guess I’m not seeing exactly why you spent the first part of the post hitting L&O for being giantly sexist on the female leads, when it’s had a longer and more consistent treatment of its female leads than… well, a lot of shows. Epatha’s character has been in charge of that police district for twelve years, and it hasn’t been a token thing. Now, you want to hit the way they treat the various criminals, okay, but even I don’t have all that memorized. You want to hit L&O for having people look prettier than they should, okay, but that’s a general trend in all TV, and I’d put L&O about ten steps behind stuff like, maybe, CSI or whatnot. At least not everyone in L&O is THAT good looking. So why’d you bring it up?

    The minor disclaimer on this is that I have no idea what the hell makeup looks like unless it’s caked on and I’m not a woman, so I couldn’t tell you how over the top a lawyer wearing makeup is, especially one on TV where everyone’s wearing makeup.

    -Mecha

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Defensive much? ;)

    When did I ever say that Dick Wolf is sexist? I have no idea how much control he had over the original casting, let alone what sort of person he is. All I’m saying is: this show was simply following in the footsteps of the usual male-centric crime drama… until Eames, when they got creative.

    I’m glad, though, that CI didn’t fall into the Fox Mulder-esque trap, though of having the female lead being a pure foil, from what you say.

    In the early eps, it looks like they could’ve gone that way, but they don’t. I was pleased, too.

    The first psychologist was also female

    Right. She was the one who was stupid enough to get herself raped by a crazy gynecologist in hopes of proving a client’s case. And it didn’t work. I have to admit that even just one episode about a woman intentionally getting herself raped to prove a point deeply affected my attitude toward the show.

    I did almost mention Rogers when I wrote the post. The pathologist, who’s been on from early days and is still on CI, and possibly the others for all I know. She’s cool. When she’s on.

    none of them has slept with him (and one’s a lesbian.)

    Claire did – in the episode where she dies, we learn they had been lovers (actually, there’s a subtle but clear hint before that). Even though she knew he’d slept with all his previous assistants, and told him early on that wasn’t happening with her, she went back on that when faced with his overwhelming manly charms, I suppose. *vomits*

    and maybe you know more about how that was ‘forced’ on Dick Wolf or not, which is the impression you’ve seemed to give off

    Well, again, YOU’RE the one making this specificlly about him, not me. But since you went there, he said on The Actor’s Studio that he was ordered by Warren Littlefield of NBC to bring in some women during or after the third season, or else the show would be cancelled.

    one of them was sexual abused and is violent and almost kills someone in cold blood (Noth’s character Logan),

    Just FYI, he wasn’t sexually abused. He had boyhood friends who were, by a Catholic priest, I believe. His mother was indeed very abusive, but not sexually. And because of that he had issues with women, which I thought were explored in a rather interesting and realistic fashion, inasmuch as they were explored at all (personal lives not being the focus of the show, generally).

    At least not everyone in L&O is THAT good looking. So why’d you bring it up?

    Huh? My point was that even though they had the guts to go with Eames as a lead real life women might relate to, they still feel the need to cast stereotypically beautiful women in guest roles.

    I couldn’t tell you how over the top a lawyer wearing makeup is, especially one on TV where everyone’s wearing makeup.

    I didn’t say a THING about lawyer’s wearing makeup. Where are you getting this stuff? I said their hair looks ridiculously expensive – ADA’s shouldn’t earn THAT much.

    Where I DID mention makeup was in comparing the woman on SVU to Eames. The woman on SVU has the usual TV-show makeup job that female characters tend to wake up with. I’ve bitched about this trend on about half the shows I’ve reviewed, so you shouldn’t be shocked to come across it here. ;)

  3. Mecha says

    Quickpost, so no quoting, but I think we know which pieces we’re talkin’ bout.

    Yeah, I mentioned that. And to get all the sexist stuff out of the way, I remember you talking, somewhere, about the ‘revisionist history’ of the character switches in 93. That conversation gave me the impression you did not think highly of Wolf with respect to such things. Like the Littlefield thing. So I went there because it seemed to figure into your view. ^^;

    I do remember the rape thing, barely, because I think I only saw the second half of it. It never made much sense to me at all. She did show up a lot on the show, ultimately, even up through Abbie Carmichael’s stint.

    I didn’t get the sexual relationship thing from Clare, although that was the one I _would_ expect, but I think I missed that part of the two-parter as well. The rest all had other things in their life, or more guts. Also, Clare and Ben worked together, so McCoy was brought in to sleep with her, not the other way around, maybe? ^_~

    Actually, for the Logan character, I’m pretty sure he WAS abused, as were a number of his friends. It has been a while, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just tangentially related. And yeah, the IMDB quote about a rosary from Logan sorta sums up his church + female issues.

    I was getting the stuff from the last two because you spent a good chunk of the post attacking the female ADA’s ‘short skirts’ and expensive hairdos (Is having straight hair really necessarily that expensive?) and the affirmative action hire of Epatha and etc, etc, along with, ‘All the DA women are sex moppets’ when at most one of them was. It seemed somewhat… bitter, and not really well focused on ‘Thank god that there are at least SOME female performances that don’t revolve around being overdone on makeup.’ You barely slipped by the SVU woman, who is a real cop-to-cop comparison. (And didn’t mention the SVU lawyer, who dresses… almost exactly like Abbie or Serena.) It seemed a bit tangential and bitter and confusing to the point. And, as you noted, sparked a bit of defensiveness. I think a lot of them are solid, although I can’t decide between early (where the men cops were more edgey) or later (where the women are far more realistic).

    -Mecha

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Perhaps the main point to be made is that when a TV show is all male, it’s a TV show. When it’s all female, it’s a TV show for women, which men aren’t expected to watch. Women have been conditioned to accept stories about men, and embrace them, but according to the industry, men don’t want to watch women unless they’re sex bunnies. Now, I personally doubt very many men are incapable of finding an interesting woman character watchable, and feel there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. But no one’s asking me.

    I remember you talking, somewhere, about the ‘revisionist history’ of the character switches in 93. That conversation gave me the impression you did not think highly of Wolf with respect to such things.

    You’re referring to this post, in which I questioned the veracity of the whole Littlefield story: the claim that women would watch if they put women on, the claim that women weren’t already watching in the all-male seasons, and the idea that a studio head had to force a producer to do the enlightened thing. It’s usually the other way around.

    The “revisionist history” remark had to do with, in the very same interview, the reference to Noth having a “sabbatical” rather than being fired without warning because they thought women my age would find Ben Bratt sexier. Now, if they made up the little white sabbatical lie to make NBC look less stupid for firing him (and I believe it was NBC’s idea, though I may be wrong), maybe they convinced Wolf to credit NBC with putting women on the show. In the name of PR, bigger lies happen every day.

    I really don’t have the impression Wolf is sexist, so I think you’re reading things into what I’ve said. I do, however, have a lot of evidence that NBC doesn’t want women viewers and doesn’t care how women are portrayed.

    I didn’t get the sexual relationship thing from Clare, although that was the one I _would_ expect,

    Interesting. I and several women I’ve talked with felt stunned and betrayed when they suddenly tossed that in.

    The rest all had other things in their life, or more guts.

    I thought Clare was considerably gutsier than the later ADA’s, except Cary Lowell’s character.

    Is having straight hair really necessarily that expensive?)

    To have it with that level of gloss and perfection, yeah. Admittedly, this is something that even some women might not be aware of, but it jumps out at me as ridiculous, like perfect makeup on a character who’s just had her face in the swimming pool.
    What also jumps out at me is the fact that they don’t spend anything like that kind of money on the male actors’ hair.

    ‘All the DA women are sex moppets’ when at most one of them was.

    But I’m not just talking about the characters’ sexual habits making them sex bunnies. I’m talking about the fact that, to play an ADA on L&O, you have to look unrealistically perfect. Claire’s hair was imperfect sometimes, and her makeup was very conservative, but Cary Lowell, Angie Harmon and the blond ADA whose name I don’t recall are all absolutely modelesque – perfect, flawless. Seriously: do you personally know ONE woman who looks like that, let alone three? Conversely, Chris Noth is quite physically flawed, yet still very appealing. And most of the other guys on the show aren’t even supposed to be nice-looking. How come a woman has to look like a model to get on this show, but a man doesn’t? And why are you surprised I’m complaining about this? :D

    Now, I would agree if you pointed out that Epatha is as much an exception to the beauty requirement as Eames, but her role tends to be smaller than the ADA Model Squad. And the camera certainly doesn’t follow her the same way it follows the ADA’s.

    It seemed somewhat… bitter, and not really well focused on ‘Thank god that there are at least SOME female performances that don’t revolve around being overdone on makeup.’

    Why should I “thank God” for something that should have been the case all along? I suppose I should “thank god” that men have kindly granted me the right to vote when there was never any reason to deny it to my gender in the first place? Should I bow down in gratitude that insurance companies finally started covering the birth control pill, when there was never a good reason for denying it (at least in cases like mine, where it was about cancer prevention rather than pregnancy prevention) in the first place?

    You barely slipped by the SVU woman, who is a real cop-to-cop comparison. (And didn’t mention the SVU lawyer, who dresses… almost exactly like Abbie or Serena.)

    That’s because I’ve never seen the lawyer, and really haven’t watched the show enough to assess the woman cop. I can’t stomack more than five minutes of the show, generally.

    It seemed a bit tangential and bitter and confusing to the point.

    You might not see it as tangential if you grew up seeing your gender marginalized so forcefully and thoroughly that you were in your teens before you comprehended just how few times you’d seen a character of your own gender that you could begin to relate to. And bitter? I might be bitter about women being held to different standards than men. I might be bitter that for male actors, screen presence is more important than looks, but for females it’s just the opposite. Why shouldn’t I be?

  5. scarlett says

    for what its worth, I also got the feeling from another article that you thought Dick Wolf was sexist and brought it female characters because someone had told him it was PC.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Well, I told the story of NBC allegedly forcing him to put women in, then I said I doubted that story was quite true, because since when do networks want female viewers? While I didn’t expressly spell out that my suspicion was more along the lines of NBC finally allowing women into the show rather than encouraging it, I’m not sure how my words could have come across as indicting Wolf, when it was HIS story that made him sound sexist, and I was casting doubt on his story.

    Next time I’ll try to be more clear.

  7. baskerville says

    I really like Olivia in SVU. She’s the reason I started watching it, and in my opinion, they have the most interesting (or maybe just ‘most fun’) cast. (Also, I am a total fanboy of BD Wong, who plays the physchologist.) Normal L&O always seemed kind of boring to me, and in CI . . . I can’t stand the guy charachter.

    But not to get too off-topic: I liked that Olivia ws tough, had short hair (the first episode I saw, she had very short hair, though its rather longer in earlier episodes) and was very believable. She also had great banter with her partner, and I liked that it was completely devoid of the sex undertone that seems to be requisite whenever a people of opposite genders work together. (Xfiles, how you let me down!)

    She looked tough.

    And since theres so much mention of hair: Its always bugged me the way so many women on CSI have this mane of loose hair as they crawl around a crime scene with rubber gloves, picking things up with tweezers. I think ‘crime scene contamination’.

    I apologize if any of this is way too off-topic.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    You’re not off-topic. :) I totally agree about CSI and the manes of hair. I guess the people making shows think we’ll just overlook those details in our enjoyment of the pretty, pretty hair, but for me, even a distractingly attractive guy doesn’t stop me from noticing things like that.

    Which is one reason I have such a high opinion of DaVinci’s Inquest (which is a Canadian show syndicated only on WGN in the States).

    From what little I’ve seen of SVU, Olivia seemed okay. Many things about the show – including the lead guy – just turn me off too much to watch it. The thing is, even when I like an actress and/or character, I’m still going to complain if she’s 10 times prettier and/or better coiffed than any woman I’ve ever known personally, unless the men on her show are in similar condition.

  9. Mecha says

    Yeah, that impression has come up before and it’s one I wish society didn’t pepetuate, because… well, it’s stupid. ^_^; It is a strange contrast to the ‘last girl’ theory and the way men-playing-females in MMOs in some ways (which _is_ off topic, but it’s a thought train that came to mind.)

    On the Wolf thing, I think we’ve got that clearish now, so I’m not gonna dwell on NBC’s being stupid. One of many who deserve a kick in the pants on the issues we’re probably gonna agree on in a second. ^^;

    Interesting. I and several women I’ve talked with felt stunned and betrayed when they suddenly tossed that in.

    If I were watching at the time with any continuity (and weren’t, what, 12?) I might have done the same. I didn’t say I ‘liked’ that or mean to imply that I saw it coming, I meant that, if someone gave me a list of ADAs and situations and asked me which one would be involved in a romantic subplot with the ADA, I’d say Clare, because she was single and reasonably feminie. To paint in broad stereotyping strokes, Jamie was committed to her daughter and all that mess, Abbie probably would have kicked him in the balls for asking, and Serena’s… lesbian. It only leaves Clare unless I was watching a soap opera. ^^; If she didn’t sleep with Jack it would have provided her contrasting view with a different weight. Since I _did_ watch it out of order, I do miss that ‘betrayal’ effecct, because I didn’t get to establish the characters as a continum.

    I thought Clare was considerably gutsier than the later ADA’s, except Cary Lowell’s character.

    Well, not to say Clare wasn’t gutsy, because you almost have to peg any woman in the boys club and who stands up to Stone or McCoy as having some real guts, but Jamie (Lowell’s char), for instance, had a family situation and really… well, didn’t like Jack too much at some points. And got to be a defense attourney against him at later points, whih is never a bad thing for punching his expectation of playing nice in the face. (I loved it when Robinette showed up again too. ;) Abbie was more of the ‘masculine’ stereotype, to get into the boys’ club. And not that I don’t think ‘real women don’t eat ribs’, but that joke (the one where Jack brings her a salad, with ribs for himself, and she takes them) was clearly meant to say, in perspecctive, that she kept up with the boys. And Serena… she’s got strengths, she’s got a lot of softness/bleeding heart, but she does look like that designer model, so that does sorta derease her apparent other merits, in this cocnversation. At the same time, she did go into a store and talk down a suspect with a gun, as one example as of her charater not being a wilter. That’s sorta where I get it from, to expand my statement. Maybe it’s time for me, and the betrayal of Clare’s character for you, that shifts everything around…

    But I’m not just talking about the characters’ sexual habits making them sex bunnies. I’m talking about the fact that, to play an ADA on L&O, you have to look unrealistically perfect. Claire’s hair was imperfect sometimes, and her makeup was very conservative, but Cary Lowell, Angie Harmon and the blond ADA whose name I don’t recall are all absolutely modelesque – perfect, flawless. Seriously: do you personally know ONE woman who looks like that, let alone three? Conversely, Chris Noth is quite physically flawed, yet still very appealing. And most of the other guys on the show aren’t even supposed to be nice-looking. How come a woman has to look like a model to get on this show, but a man doesn’t? And why are you surprised I’m complaining about this?

    Alright, now that I’ll get behind, as I will with most shows. You’ve brought up this ‘female actresses have to conform to a very narrow standard’ thing before, which, when perpetuated, pretty much makes all established actresses… well, inside the standard. Very, very true. It even makes me wonder if sometimes an actress is picked off of skill, and happens to bring along the package because she’s experienced (and people without good looks don’t get experience.) Maybe I’m being too nice to the casting process in my mental wondering. ^_^; (And yes, why not more male fanservice? Although Green’s not bad looking (although not on Noth’s or Bratt’s levels.))

    Why should I “thank God” for something that should have been the case all along? I suppose I should “thank god” that men have kindly granted me the right to vote when there was never any reason to deny it to my gender in the first place?

    And here’s what I get for being slightly facetious. Thank god was way too strong a language to use. No, there isn’t a reason to thank god, but saying… well, I’m not gonna try to rephrase your point about displaying realistic females, but praising it in L&O’s case… doesn’t quite mean attacking the rest of the series, does it? I mean, there’s a billion horrible examples of ‘stupidly pretty women’ (The King of Queens example you or someone brought up is a good one.) The birth control stuff… will just be forever fucking stupid for the companies to do.

    *chuckles* Pointed sarcasm. Toucche, Beta, touche. Why shouldn’t you be indeed. I don’t think I disagree with any of the big points you made. Just struck very strangely by the first part’s vicious anti-L&O bent. Prompting my defensiveness, maybe because I never (consciously) evaluated any of the DAs by their looks. It’s just never my first impulse. ^^;

    -Mecha

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