Ok, nobody actually says this to me, but if they did, until recently, I probably would’ve answered: “At least one strong woman character, intelligent plots, preferably a crime drama.”
From the previews, the new ABC/Canwest show Rookie Blue would seem to fit those conditions. But boy did the pilot episode, which aired Thursday, fall flat on the intelligent plot front.
**caution: spoilers ahead**
In case you hadn’t seen the previews, Rookie Blue follows a group of rookie police officers as they start on the force in an unnamed city (it’s shot in Toronto). The main character is Andy McNally, played by Missy Peregrym. She starts out her first day on the job making a huge mistake, for which she gets called a “Bambi” by a male superior. When she tries to fix it, he calls her a “Girl Guide”.
Because if there’s one thing we want in a role model for girls its the willingness to suck up sexist criticism from condescending men in the workplace.
Then there’s the writing, which is pretty weak. Entertainment Weekly notes one of Peregrym’s worst lines: “[A suspect] is out there…with a gun!”
But in spite of that I could’ve given it another shot were it not for the ream of stereotypes they’ve used to create the female characters. For starters hey’ve got the devious blonde (Rookie Gail Peck) and the sporty and earnest brunette (McNally). In the department of racial stereotypes, the African-Canadian (American?) character Rookie Traci Nash (Eunuka Okuma) is described on the Global website as a “tough-talking party girl and [single] mother to a six-year-old son.”
Believe it or not, even that representation was more subtle than the appalling portrayal of a transgendered woman.
The scene starts when Rookies Gail Peck and Dov Epstein are asked to deal with a woman who’s been arrested for stealing drugs. In the process of interviewing her, Peck finds out that she’s transgendered. Peck goes to talk to Epstein, convinced that he’s now the one who should search the suspect.
“She’s a chick!” he protests.
“No, she’s not a chick, she’s a man!” retorts Peck.
“I’m not a man, I’m transgendered,” the woman interrupts politely. Epstein then asks her what that even means, like she’s some kind of freak. He tells her she’s either a “chick” or a “dude” and whichever one she is determines which one of the rookies searches her. At that point, the rookies’ supervisor steps in, grabs the woman’s driver’s license and notes that it states the sex as “M”.
“I forgot to change it,” the woman protests lamely as the supervisor hands the latex gloves to Epstein for the search.
Where do I even start?
First, there’s the fact that when we have so few representations of trans individuals in pop culture, Rookie Blue had to go ahead and make their first one, in the first half of the show, a criminal and a drug addict. Many trans people face discrimination partially due to these types of images that stereotype them as deviant.
Second, there’s the whole idea that you’re either a chick or a dude and that any questioning of that binary makes you a freak. As soon as the rookies aren’t sure of the suspect’s gender they challenge her, with Epstein demanding she pick a gender so they know what to do with her. And instead of any acknowlegement that maybe the problem is with the police procedures, as they’ve tried to do on other shows like SVU, it seems like the Rookie Blue writers decided to let the audience off the hook by having the supervisor defer to the driver’s license.
Third, it’s disturbing, but I actually think the writers thought this was a funny scene. It seemed like the point was to show Epstein, in particular, having to endure an uncomfortable and embarassing situation. There was absolutely zero acknowledgement of the humiliation that might be faced by a trans woman being searched by a cisgender male police officer simply because her ID hadn’t kept up with the police manual.
The scene wasn’t funny, nor was it entertaining or necessary to the plot. The only purpose it served was to perpetuate transphobia.
So sorry, Rookie Blue, but next Thursday night if I’m bored, I’m going to read a book.