Sharon Gless's Rosie Return

Ms magazine, January/February 1991

Reading Molly Haskell in From Reverence to Rape lament the absence of female buddy films prompted producer Barney Rosenzweig to develop Cagney & Lacey. Following the series' demise, Rosenzweig has provided former Ms. Woman of the Year Sharon Gless with a new vehicle, The Trials of Rosie ONeill

No, Gless's new character doesn't reincarnate Chris Cagney. Not at all a Cagney who has gone to law school, Rosie has fallen down the economic ladder, not climbed it. Once safely ensconced in a corporate law practice and married to a fellow attorney, Patrick, she's now divorced and has a new job, as a public defender for the city of Los Angeles.

Rosie confronts many contradictions in her new life. She tries to hide her upper-class background by parking her Mercedes five blocks away from her office. The racial and ethnic contrasts in the public defenders' office some-times set Irish Catholic Rosie against her African American and Jewish colleagues. The scripts explore the clashing respect they leave for one another: one moment she instills her office mate in language that must have sparked viewer complaints, and the next she champions him, even though his profanity has topped hers.

And finally, Rosie experiences constant conflict in her personal life. The 44-year-old public defender still spars with a family who attempt to impose their choices on her-to the extent that her upper-crust mother insists on calling her Fiona, even though O'Neill prefers Rosie. She's a little too preoccupied with her ex-husband, and eats when miserable.

Despite Rosie's personal trials, she still succeeds in the courtroom. She never falls into the usual television stereotypes-sex goddess, humbling nincompoop, bitch, passive victim, or Madonna. Instead, she's a good lawyer, trying to combat racism, violence, and bigotry. Rosie is real and ideal; we identify with her, but also want to emulate her.

This play for grudging admiration and compassionate understanding might help Rosie's ratings in CBS's prime-time lineup. While ABC increases testosterone levels with Monday Night Football, Rosie closes the last hour of "women's night," which includes Murphy Brown and Designing Women. Following these sitcoms-one about a television anchor, the other about four interior design-ers-Rosie's situation serves as a reality check. Her life most authentically resembles our own high-wire acts.

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