I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the American version of Prime Suspect is my favorite new hour-long show on network television. It may very well be the best new show premiering this Fall. It’s a smart, un-condescending cop show that is anchored by a fantastic performance by Maria Bello.
Bello more than earns her right to take over for the legendary Helen Mirren (star of the British original) in the reboot as Jane Timoney, a gruff and bitter New York City homicide detective who’s been passed over to work a high profile murder because she is a woman. Even though her lieutenant, another gruff “Noo Yawker” played by Aidan Quinn, is more interested in good police work than the genders of his squad members, it’s Jane’s fellow detectives who use their foul, overtly sexist notions to prevent her from advancing.
You’re probably saying, “But it’s 2011. Sexism is more subtle now than it was 20 years ago.” You’re right, when it comes to the average workplace. When talking about the police, the feds, military, etc., overt sexism is alive and well. Don’t let The Closer and other “cutesy” procedural shows fool you.
And what makes Prime Suspect a step above all other cop shows with female leads is that Jane doesn’t make things easier on herself. She is a very unpleasant person to be around. She drinks and smokes, is arrogant and rude, and — in some instances — is downright reckless (as evident in the scene where she cases a perp down the dark street without backup). You can see all of that on her face as well. A good question the show raises is whether or not the interaction between Jane and the men is a “chicken-and-egg” scenario. Yes, the squad hates her but is it because of her attitude? Do they use sexism to combat her? Or is her attitude as result of their sexism? Those questions makes the scenes that revolve around their clashes all the more organic and realistic. (Also helps that the pilot was directed by Mr. Friday Night Lights himself, Peter Berg, who’s very good at getting his actors who be as real as possible.)
Of course, Jane is also a very good cop. She comes from a long line of cops, which include her father (Peter Gerety, The Wire) Desmond, who is now retired. He’s her biggest supporter but also a realist. He knows about the glass ceiling she faces every day but advises her — as a mentor and not as a parent — to focus on the job first and foremost once she gets assigned to investigate a gruesome rape-and-murder at a ritzy Manhattan townhouse. She ultimate cracks the case but not in that a-ha House moment. She studies the crime scene. She studies the crime scene photos. She uses her gene-embedded instincts to deduce certain aspects. She is police.
To round Jane out as a person, we’re given a subplot where she and her boyfriend Matt (Kenny Johnson, The Shield) try to negotiate the custody of his young son with his ex-wife. It’s a harmless storyline that doesn’t bog down the pilot but in fact is a reminder that Jane is a member of the NYPD first, a person with her own life second. Her being a cop ultimately helps Matt get to spend some time with his kid because Jane (slyly) was able to gain access to his ex-wife’s and her new fiancee’s old criminal files. We get that the matter wouldn’t have resolved itself happily if Jane was managing a movie theatre or picking up garbage with a sanitation truck.
But again, all praise be Maria Bello. She makes Prime Suspect prime viewing (sorry for the pun). Don’t be surprised if she walks away with the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama next year.
RATING: 9 / 10
Watch the Prime Suspect Series Premiere Now (available temporarily):