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Sensitive drama shows cop series at its very best. This `Cagney & Lacey' will impress non-fans

Cagney & Lacey: Don't I Know You? CBS, tomorrow, 10-11 p.m. Stars: Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly. Writer: Kathryn Ford. Director: Sharron Miller. ``Tonight's `Cagney & Lacey' deals with the crime of rape and its consequences in a realistic manner'' warns the legend at the beginning of this first episode of the series in its new Tuesday time slot. What follows is a prime example of what has made ``Cagney & Lacey'' one of the best-written, best-acted, most thought-provoking series ever aired on network television.

``Don't I Know You?'' concerns a case of acquaintance rape. It is handled with skill, sensitivity, and, above all, compassion.

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Chris Cagney (Sharon Gless) is raped by a handsome, charming broker after a casual date. She submits because he threatens her life.

With the support of her partner, Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daley), she is determined to bring the culprit to justice, despite the complexities of the case, complexities that rape victims usually face, whatever the circumstances.

These include the indignities of the investigation, the reluctance of both police officials and society to accept ``date rape'' as something not encouraged by the woman, and the insensitivity of just about everybody in her life, especially the men in her squad.

There is not one extraneous word in the subtly crafted script by Kathryn Ford. ``Thank God you aren't hurt,'' says a man in Cagney's life, trying to be sympathetic. ``I was raped. I am hurt,'' she replies quietly, heartbreakingly, as she discovers that she is reacting to the violation of her body as a human being not merely as a police officer.

``Don't I Know You?'' avoids graphic sexual explicitness but doesn't hesitate to probe in detail the normal emotional reactions to such a situation. The script refuses to focus on the ultimate, clich'ed courtroom battle, instead concentrating insistently on the psychological issues facing the victim.

The marvelous woman-to-woman relationship of Cagney with Lacey and Cagney's brave battle to maintain her self-esteem are handled with the kind of impeccable performances seldom seen in weekly series. Both performances seem certain to elicit Emmy nominations once again. They reflect perfectly both the delicate and gutsy aspects of this passionate show.

Viewers who have an aversion to cop shows and have avoided ``Cagney & Lacey'' up till now owe it to themselves to watch this superb segment. It may be near the last chance, since the series appears to be finishing up its final season on television.

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Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

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