'Karen Sisco': Daddy's girl with a gun

Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino), the lead character in the ABC cop drama of the same name, is one of the fall season's more intriguing newcomers. She drinks hard, packs heat in a sexy ankle holster, shoots straight, wears Ray-Ban sunglasses, and is one of the biggest daddy's girls you'd ever want to meet.

I'm beginning to think this daddy's-girl theme might turn out to be one of the more culturally significant leitmotifs of the new season. Since the days of Bewitched and That Girl, television has consistently reacted in strange and symbolic ways to female empowerment in the larger culture, and I think we might have some of that going on here.

Forget the new young female characters who hear voices, like Joan in the new CBS drama Joan of Arcadia. Watch the ones who get their emotional and financial support from Dad long after they should have probably achieved greater independence.

In addition to Sisco, there's Alicia Silverstone's Kate Fox on NBC's Miss Match. She's a divorce lawyer who talks a lot about empowered women in the pilot, but works for her dad (Ryan O'Neal) and is highly dependent on him. At the end of the pilot, she walks away from her fiance but reconciles with Dad - and the narrative makes that seems like a good thing.

Las Vegas, another new NBC drama, features a young woman who is empowered largely by her good looks and sexual aggressiveness. But most of the good-looking young guys in Las Vegas are afraid to sleep with her because of her dad (James Caan), a former CIA operative now in charge of security for one of the city's largest casinos. She is totally under the influence of Dad.

But Karen Sisco is the most fascinating version of this narrative because it's oh-so Freudian and out there in the way it links guns and violence to sex and the female body. ABC's publicity has stressed how the series is adapted from the feature film Out of Sight (starring Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney), as well as based on characters created by crime writer Elmore Leonard. That's true. But the deeper wellsprings from which this character and series draw are French directors like Jean Luc Godard and such New Wave-influenced works as La Femme Nikita by way of Miami Vice.

Sisco is a U.S. marshal working on Miami's Gold Coast. With the stress on their role in apprehending fugitives wanted on federal warrants, federal marshals are made to seem like bounty hunters with nice offices, expense accounts and the power of the government on their side. And Sisco loves the job. As she tells a guy with whom she is sleeping in the pilot episode, she "likes catching the bad guys."

The pilot features Sisco: getting shot point-blank in the upper chest (she's wearing a bulletproof vest) during a raid; sleeping with a guy who the FBI thinks is a bank robber; getting drunk so that she can "remember" what happened on the night of the raid; and shooting point-blank in the chest a guy with whom she had slept just the night before. (Silly boy, thinking such intimacy would matter.)

And, yes, she is constantly calling Dad, a semi-retired private eye (Robert Forster) or stopping to meet him for a drink. The episode literally ends with her in Daddy's arms, while the soundtrack features a female vocalist singing the refrain "Turn me on."

That's way too Freudian for me to deal with. But let's try this: Notice in the pilot how the camera, wardrobes and the story line never let us forget the deep bullet bruise on Sisco's upper chest (from the shooting during the raid) - sexualizing the injured female body.

Notice also how every camera shot of a gun is almost immediately followed by some kind of shot of her lower body - ankles, legs and hips. When she shoots the guy with whom she slept, we go directly from the gun to a close-up of the blood darkening the prostrate boyfriend's shirt to a camera angle that places her foot, ankle and leg in the foreground of the next shot so that they are the first and pretty much the only things one sees.

Sisco strikes me as a male fantasy that has as much to do with power as it does sexuality. Her ultimate deference to Daddy is loaded with meaning both in terms of gender and generation.

Karen Sisco isn't a great drama. For one thing, much of the dialogue is too tough-guy wooden to believe.

But it's one new series that I will be keeping an eye on to see if it finds an audience. And if it does, then we can get to the best part of this conversation: We can start exploring what Sisco and such daddy's girls might have to say about us.

Karen Sisco premieres at 10 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).

Relatively bad

It's All Relative is all stereotype and the worst kind of sitcom superficiality in its treatment of gay identity. Two young people living in Boston (Reid Scott and Maggie Lawson) want to marry, but there's a problem with their families.

His parents are conservative, working-class and Catholic (Lenny Clarke and Harriet Sansom Harris). Her parents are two liberal, upscale, gay men (John Benjamin Hickey and Christopher Sieber). When the future in-laws meet, it's nothing but yelling, screaming, putdowns and insults.

ABC is stressing the resumes of the writers (Frasier) and executive producers (the feature film Chicago). But don't be fooled by that. It's All Relative only proves that even talented writers and producers can do really bad work.

It's All Relative airs at 8:30 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).

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