Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Prime Suspect'
Maria Bello anchors what could be a solid police procedural
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]
Show: "Prime Suspect" (NBC)
The Pitch: "We keep threatening to remake 'Prime Suspect.' This time, it's actually gonna happen."
Quick Response: The first and most important thing that has to be said regarding "Prime Suspect" is that I was neither annoyed by nor enamored of the Trilby hat worn by Maria Bello's Jane Timoney. I think it's probably notable that so many people are obsessing over something as silly as a hat in "Prime Suspect." Ultimately, it turns out that the NBC "Prime Suspect" is neither a disgrace to all things Helen Mirren-related, nor is it a vindication of the years spent attempting to transplant this property Stateside. For the positive feelings that the NBC "Prime Suspect" engenders, much credit must go to Maria Bello, who isn't Helen Mirren, but is certainly an assertive and watchable leading lady by most any other standard. Bello's tough and a little funny and when she unravels, especially at the end of the pilot, she's quite outstanding. Once you accept that filling Mirren's shoes was always going to be an impossible standard and acknowledge that remake creator Alexandra Cunningham didn't even give Bello's character the "Jane Tennison" name, any negative comparison would be pointless and petty. Bello is very good here. That's what matters. Also boosting the "Prime Suspect" pilot is Peter Berg's direction, which nails the obligatory grit and texture of the New York City setting, but doesn't set such an insurmountable standard that future directors will be unable to replicate the look. Working against "Prime Suspect" is the superfluousness of a brand name that really isn't going to be meaningful for anywhere near enough viewers for it to possibly make a difference (though NBC may welcome a healthy PBS-sized viewer influx in a way that a network like CBS probably wouldn't). The pilot leans heavily (and heavy-handedly) on squad-room sexism and practically makes all of the characters around Timoney into irredeemable misogynists, but the producers have already said that's not going to be a central conflict moving forward. [That's part of why there's no point in critiquing the supporting performances by folks like Brian F. O'Byrne, Kirk Acevedo and Aidan Quinn. I suspect they'll be different characters by Week 2.] So "Prime Suspect" is just a police procedural with troubled female detective at the center, which doesn't require or invite any mandatory associations with an Emmy-winning PBS property. And Timoney isn't even *that* troubled. She's reckless. She's quitting smoking. She's not opposed to drinking. She's political. But she's not so bad. So the struggle for Cunningham and Berg going forward won't be living up to the "Prime Suspect" brand, but being distinctive enough to be worth the effort at all. As it stands, "Prime Suspect" could become indistinguishable from something like CBS' forgettable "Unforgettable," which wouldn't do the brand or the talent involved any justice. As it stands, the "Prime Suspect" pilot is a notch above the "Unforgettable" pilot, but the gap isn't as big as it probably should be.
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