My quest to find something remotely positive to write about this week led me to some interesting thoughts on the girlfriend from Quincy. Yes, Quincy, the show from the ’70’s starring Jack Klugman as a coroner who just can’t keep his hands off a good mystery. Not the sort of show I normally watch, but someone showed me a few episodes recently, and I noticed something.
Quincy has a girlfriend named Lee (Lynette Mettey). Her main function on the show is to be his girlfriend. The first thing to catch my attention was their no-strings, come-and-go-as-you-please ’70’s relationship, and I realize how little you see that on TV or in film since the ’80’s and the AIDS scare that momentarily changed how sexual relationships got presented. I’m not talking casual sex or swinging – I’m talking about the concept that you can have a positive, healthy relationship that’s not intended to lead to marriage. Seems like we’ve redefined “healthy” sexual relationships as only those that lead to marriage. But I’m going off on a tangent here, so I’ll get back to Lee.
I only watched a couple of episodes, but here’s what really got my attention. Quincy is all the time cancelling plans with Lee because he’s found a scrap of a clue the police are ignoring or whatever, and he’s got to dash off on a Quixotic quest to find out what really happened to some corpse. And does Lee pout? Throw things? Ask if he loves her anymore? No. She basically shrugs and says okey-dokey. Then Quincy desperately struggles to interpret her reactions as veiled anger. In a bored tone, she reminds him that they’re both busy people (she’s the oldest flight attendant for some airline or another, which gets the show more points from me, since that means she’s past her normal TV prime of, what, 16 or so?) and she really doesn’t mind.
He. Cannot. Take it.
He has to believe she’s so passionately involved with him that she’s hurt and angry when he cancels. His male ego – the same one that drives him to think he has to solve every crime in Los Angeles single-handedly – requires that Lee be upset to show she cares. So he calls her from work, asking over and over, “You’re sure you’re not mad? You’re mad, I can tell”. Then he hangs up and tells his associate how mad Lee was – how he could just tell.
And the show cuts back to a shot of Lee looking bored and deciding to read.
I’m so digging it. Normally, The Girlfriend exists mainly to pine away and throw dishes and generally show the depths of passion Our Leading Man can inspire in the weaker sex. Go, Leading Man! But in Quincy’s case, it’s making fun of him. Despite the good he does, the show portrays him as a self-important buffoon with delusions of grandeur. Which I also like – he’s not an entirely likeable character because he’s got normal, believable human flaws.
There are times when Lee gets dragged into Quincy’s work one way or another, and she offers opinions when she believes she’s seeing something everyone else is missing. Quincy generally doesn’t listen, but then he doesn’t listen to anyone. Ever. He’s Always Right. Except, you know, when it turns out Lee was. And that happens about as often as anyone else on the show is allowed to be right.
I did see one scene in which Quincy misled Lee about something, and she did take offense at that. Guess how much china got broken in the quarrel? None. Guess how many pillows were thrown? None. Guess how loud she yells at him? She doesn’t. She just tells him what she thinks of what he did. If you’ve been relying on TV for your ideas about how women fight with their lovers, this may come as a confusing shock for you. Feel free to take a few minutes, get a glass of water, and relax. The article will still be here when you get back.
I’ve been told that later on in the series, Quincy and Lee discover they really are crazy about each other, then she just sort of disappears from the show. Maybe that all deconstructs what I was seeing here; maybe it doesn’t. But at least in the few episodes I watched, I found something that could serve as a model for people who don’t want to make tired stereotypes the basis of TV relationships.