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NBC's 'Prime Suspect' Is an Applause-Worthy Encore
September 22, 2011  | By Ed Bark
prime-suspect-cast-maria-bello-nbc.jpgHow dare they try to do a new Prime Suspectseries without Helen Mirren as put-upon, hard-boiled London detective Jane Tennison?

Well, NBC takes that dare Thursday at 10 p.m. ET and does a very decent job of it, in a Manhattan-based version starring Pennsylvanian Maria Bello as tough-minded detective Jane Timoney.

Renaming her a bit doesn't seem all that necessary. Not that it's of any capital concern once Bello gets rolling. She's convincingly ambitious and resilient from the start, when her biggest adversary is the cigarette-smoking she's just given up.


We first see her jogging, coughing, spitting and chewing nicotine gum before having a set-to with a recalcitrant cab driver. Then it's on to the featured crime scene, which is thoroughly and graphically blood-soaked.

And of course the victim is a woman, because research tells the networks that viewers will be more "invested" in catching the perpetrator if his prey is considered more vulnerable or sympathetic. Unfortunately, the number of women murdered in the name of various crime shows -- added to the number of little girls kidnapped -- has long ago overstepped the boundaries of exploitation. Whatever the overall quality of Prime Suspect, it's same old/same old in that respect. The depictions of the corpses, as well as the descriptions of what's been done to them, should also be cause for concern. Unfortunately, though, there's no statute of limitations on this.

Back at the Prime Suspect cop shop, the resident boys club still considers Timoney the enemy. Rumors that she slept her way into a transfer have prompted some of the animosity. It still seems at least a little overplayed, though, even if Timoney has an ally in Lt. Kevin Sweeney (solid work by Aidan Quinn, at left in photo above). He's the department boss, trying to exercise a firm hand while also allowing his personal office to be an ad hoc bar where the men drink jumbo shots of straight liquor from cartoon-emblazoned jelly jars.

Timoney finds herself running in place until one of these guys drops dead from a heart attack. She brazenly lobbies for his cases, and pisses Sweeney off before he gives them to her.

The opening episode has been reworked from the original pilot to all but eliminate a side case involving a woman thrown from the roof of a building. Timoney instead turns her energies toward solving the serial rapist case (with colleague Kirk Acevedo, pictured below).


She sometimes wears a smallish fedora while working the street. From this perspective it's an odd distraction. But Kojak had his lollipops and Columbo his rumpled raincoat. So we'll see.

Timoney also lives with a guy named Matt (Kenny Johnson) and has time to visit her supportive pop, Desmond (Peter Gerety). The denouement in Thursday's opening episode leaves her strikingly bloodied for a woman detective. Her first question of a fellow cop: "Do you have a cigarette?"

Co-executive producer and pilot director Peter Berg brought Friday Night Lights to the small screen, so he's not afraid of TV adaptations. His drama series invariably look "authentic." And Prime Suspect is studiously gritty.

Bello's performance is the prime reason to watch, though. She's got the chops to succeed Mirren, even if she never surpasses her. The best new crime drama of the fall season doesn't necessarily have to be an original idea. It just has to have the right people in place.


Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com



karen said:

Even if you didn't like the original, this is a very disappointing crime drama. The sexism is old, old, old and the plot was, too.

Comment posted on September 23, 2011 12:49 PM

Jim said:

Didn't recognize Aidan Quinn, but it was a credible premiere and I agree that Bello has the chops.

Comment posted on September 26, 2011 4:50 PM

Brian Phillips said:

Just recently, I watched the original movie version of "In the Heat of the Night". It was groundbreaking for its time, because of the intelligent and attractive, non-comic lead performance of Sidney Poitier. Virgil Tibbs' character took no guff from anyone, regardless of color. As a young Black man, I reveled in his role.

Watching it again, I did rather notice that to make certain that the African-American character comes off OK, it seems that the screenwriter, like Phil Spector and his concept of the throwaway b-side, made almost all of the White characters unlikable or stupid. It seemed that they were worried that Tibbs would not be viewed favorably, unless the general I.Q. was lowered.

This version of "Prime Suspect" seems to have the same, should-be-irrational-in-this-day-and-age fear. I agree with Karen that the sexism is old, not because sexism has been miraculously purged from society (i.e, then-Senator Hillary Clinton had to deal with catcalls of "Iron my shirt!" on the 2008 campaign trail), but because of the need to make almost every male she works with a knuckle-dragging neanderthal. One needs to know why these fellows are cops, when almost every aspect of the case seems to have been sloppily handled until Superwoman bounds in. Can Bello not be a good cop among other good ones?

I don't quite agree about the PLOT being old; there aren't really any new plots, I will cop to the pilot not being horribly original in the telling of the story. There are loads of cliches: when you see a scene of familial bliss, you know someone's going to either die or lose something. There is the inevitable, "I've got to prove myself" scene(s), there is the Pyrrhic victory.

Bello did fine work, but this series will need to progress from the slang-heavy, unsubtle tone it currently takes.

Comment posted on September 29, 2011 6:54 AM
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