September 30, 2011

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Prime Suspect”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on PRIME SUSPECT:  Detective Jane Timoney (Maria Bello) is newly appointed to an all-male homicide squad in Manhattan.  The other cops resent her, but she’s stubborn to the point of abrasiveness, and her brilliant skills and intuition for police work mean they won’t be able to get rid of her.  Meanwhile, she and her boyfriend try to navigate a committed relationship that includes his bitter ex-wife and young son.  

Episode 2:  There have been a few changes in Prime Suspect since the original version of the pilot.  Most visibly, the role of Jane’s boyfriend Matt is now played by Kenny Johnson, previously of Saving Grace and The Shield; his character is still an architect, but now an all-American one, as opposed to the original actor, the very  British Toby Stephens.  The tone of the show has also been fiddled with:  in the original pilot, Jane was practically facing a cabal of evil males who would barely speak to her, let alone pay any attention to her ideas on a case.  Now the misogyny has mostly been crystallized into the character of Duffy (Brian F. O’Byrne), who’s a terrible cop as well as a bad guy, and the other cops (including Aidan Quinn, as the head of the squad, and Kirk Acevedo) treat Jane with wary tolerance, if not acceptance.

Of course, all this begs a question which was true even in the pilot:  why is this show Prime Suspect?  It’s not as though the title is going to bring in throngs of US viewers.  The main attributes of the original British series, which was produced in 1991 (with many sequels thereafter)–apart of course from the very fine writing and the spectacular acting by Helen Mirren–were the extreme boorishness of the other cops, and Jane’s own self-destructiveness, which included heavy drinking, horribly ill-advised relationships, and outright flouting of the rules.  All of that has been minimized greatly for American network TV in 2011.  20 years later, even the recent British sequels have allowed Jane to be an accepted part of the force, and as to self-destructiveness, this Jane has a couple of glasses of scotch with her lovely boyfriend from time to time, and that’s about it.  All that’s left is a remarkably routine cop show.

On those terms, the new Prime Suspect is OK, in a CBS kind of way.  Bello is very strong as Jane, but the script of the second episode (by series re-developer Alexandra Cunningham, with direction by Jonas Pate) makes things far too easy for her.  A mother has been murdered and her young daughter taken, and since it’s Duffy’s turn in the rotation, he’s lead on the case.  As soon as he fixates on an ex-convict child molester as the killer, we know he’s dead wrong, and when he sends Jane out on routine interrogations, it’s obvious she’s going to hear and recognize the telling clue as to who the villain really is.  Late in the episode, when things briefly go dark as Jane tries to undo the damage Duffy’s done to the innocent man, there isn’t the kind of connection between Jane and this man that there should be, because this Jane doesn’t really have a dark side of her own (not even as much as Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda sometimes has on The Closer, let alone Mirren’s Jane).  Meanwhile we get another go-round of Jane spooking Matt’s stick figure of an ex-wife, just as in the pilot, and Jane’s lack of fondness for children is played for a laugh.

Aside from Bello (who does need to politely tell the costume people it’s time to ditch the silly hat), there’s nothing remotely exciting or distinctive about the new Prime Suspect.  It’s just a functional crime show, comfort food for a crowd that doesn’t want its sensibilities mussed in the least.
Original Verdict:  If Nothing Else Is On…
Pilot + 1:  Still Unmemorable

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."