When the UK version of Prime Suspect aired 20 years ago, gender equality was in a very different place both in the real world and on television. Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison, no doubt, paved the way for the now, very common, presence of female cops on television, from Mariska Hargitay on Law Order: Special Victims Unit to Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer. Where then, does that leave this adaptation of the decades-old trailblazing British miniseries?
Tennison has been re-imagined as Jane Timoney (Maria Bello), a New York City homicide detective struggling to do her job in a male-dominated precinct, while also balancing work with her personal life. While it's true that Jane's fellow cops discriminate against her based on her gender, she doesn't make things easy for them to like her. Perhaps one of Jane's most attractive qualities as a character is how rough she is around the edges. She's fairly insensitive and brash and very unapologetic. She is, however, also a really good cop.
Evaluating the Prime Suspect pilot is tricky thing because, one of its greatest flaws is something the showrunner has promised will change in future episodes. During the summer press tour, Alexandra Cunningham (Desperate Housewives) promised that the sexism perpetrated by Jane's colleagues—which is insanely cartoonish in the pilot—will take a more subtle tone going forward to reflect the state of gender inequality in 2011. The schoolyard bully nature of Jane's fellow cops in the first hour of the show make the scenes in the precinct pretty unbearable and it's hard to ignore them just because Cunningham claims it will change. The show does shine, however, in a domestic subplot where Jane and her boyfriend Matt (Kenny Johnson) negotiate household tweaks with his ex-wife in order to get his son come and stay with them. These scenes, moreso than the ones where Jane's in cop mode, give us a greater sense of who our heroine actually is and why we should care about her.
Prime Suspect has some major kinks to work out of its pilot, but if it can get over that hump, it will prove a wonderful showcase of the fabulous Maria Bello's talents.
Prime Suspect premieres 9pm on NBC.