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An Arresting Development

It's no mystery: In their roles as crime fighters, these actresses take command.

June 04, 2008|Irene Lacher | Special to The Times

WOMEN detectives are probably getting a better ride in the realm of fiction than they are in police departments. They've been rocking popular culture since Clarice Dyke debuted in an eponymous novel in 1883 and, at this point, most crime procedural dramas on television know better than to cruise for ratings without women on the force.

All the major networks plus TNT have prime-time crime shows with women either carrying the hour or sharing the spotlight with a male partner. All of NBC's hardy "Law & Order" spinoffs feature coed crime teams, and the original version even has a woman, Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), telling the guys what to do.

The female crime fighter has evolved into such an honored staple of television that several at a time can often be found in Emmy's list of five dramatic actress nominees in any given year. Indeed, Kyra Sedgwick, whose career has surged with her role as LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson on TNT's "The Closer," says her character resonates with audiences because "she's what every woman would like to be -- someone who doesn't apologize for her power."

Of course, women who make a living carrying a gun or hanging around others who do are sometimes a wee bit complicated, and that goes double for their small-screen counterparts. But, for better or worse, even fictional girls will be girls, with all the peculiarly female neuroses that come along with that. Who knew eating disorders could be so entertaining?

So here, over the next few pages, is a bevy of lady crime stoppers on television, with a guide to things about them that keep audiences coming back for more.

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WOMEN WITH BADGES

Emily Deschanel / Dr. Temperance Brennan

Show: "Bones" (10 p.m. Tuesdays on TNT)

Back story: Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The FBI's Homicide Investigations Unit calls her in to look for clues in a victim's bones when the body is in such rough shape that the agency can't identify it without help.

Time in the trenches: Three seasons

Closet skeleton: A skeleton, of course. The show isn't called "Shoes."

Glam factor: Favors such eye-catching accessories as chunky jewelry and cleavage

Personal life: Sexual tension with hunky Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz).

Why perps should be afraid of her: "I don't think people realize there's a field called forensic anthropology, so perps think they can get away with crimes they can't," Deschanel says. "They don't realize that a skeleton can give us clues about how a person lived and how they were killed."

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Mariska Hargitay/ Det. Olivia Benson

Show: "Law & Order: SVU" (10 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC)

Back story: Benson works in the New York Police Department's Special Victims Unit, which investigates sexually based crimes, including rape and pedophilia. She was drawn to the unit because she identifies with the victims all too well.

Time in the trenches: Nine seasons

Secret weapon: Her passion for her job

Closet skeleton: She's the daughter of rape

Glam factor: Cool coifs

Personal life: Short-lived relationships, often with journalists

Why perps should be afraid of her: "Because that's a bullet in her pocket, not lipstick. Olivia Benson was a child born of her mother's rape," Hargitay says. "Every strand of her DNA knows the horror and shame of sexual assault and every breath in her body is dedicated to eradicating it. She is obsessed and fearless -- that's a bad combo if you happen to be a perp."

Awards: 2006 Emmy for outstanding actress in a drama plus three other Emmy noms, a 2005 Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild nominations and a Gracie Allen Award for American Women in Radio and Television

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Patricia Arquette / Allison Dubois

Show: "Medium" (10 p.m. Mondays on NBC)

Back story: She's a mother of three who used her psychic abilities to help the Phoenix district attorney's office solve violent crimes that have stymied investigators. When she was publicly exposed at the end of the third season, she went freelance.

Time in the trenches: Four seasons

Secret weapon: She sees dead people

Closet skeleton: She solves crimes using a skill some people don't believe exists

Glam factor: Too busy being a supermom for that

Personal life: (Usually) happily married to her supportive husband, aerospace engineer Joe (Jake Weber).

Why perps should be afraid of her: "My character can see what they are hiding from everybody else," Arquette says. "My character has X-ray eyes, a very helpful superpower."

Awards: 2005 Emmy for outstanding actress in a drama series plus another Emmy nod, three Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild award nominations

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Sarah Shahi / Dani Reese

Show: "Life" (10 p.m. Fridays on NBC)

Back story: She metaphorically drew the short straw in a partner assignment landing with Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis), who spent 12 years in jail framed for a crime he didn't commit. She's skeptical of her quirky partner but he's growing on her.

Time in the trenches: One season

Closet skeleton: Dad is a dirty cop

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