Pilot rapid-fire review: Prime Suspect

The next couple weeks are going to be insane. There are so many new series debuting and unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day for me to write about television while balancing my “real” life. You know, the one I spend on Twitter. ANYWAY, I’m going to try to touch on each new series once it airs a pilot, but these posts probably won’t be too long or too in-depth unless they really need to be. And if certain things debut together, I’ll probably talk about them together.

I haven’t seen the British version of Prime Suspect. I know that it is a very well-respected drama that starred Helen Mirren. I also know that Helen Mirren is awesome and she won a bunch of awards for the part. Therefore, I come into the NBC version of Prime Suspect that is apparently nothing like the “real” Prime Suspect with no previous emotional connections or predispositions. I am willing to judge this series on its own merits and really don’t care how it stacks up against the original, not only because I haven’t seen that one, but also because so much time has passed and enough things get lost in translation anyway that I’m pretty sure the two aren’t really alike.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really help NBC’s Prime Suspect at all. The expectation is that this series will show and explore the impact detective work has on a person, that somehow, it will find some territory to mine that hasn’t already been mined and provide the audience with a substantial character-based police drama. I think that Prime Suspect has the capability to do those kinds of things, especially with this cast, but that kind of series and those kinds of stories aren’t really present in this pilot.

Well, let me take that back. This pilot is interested in examining the impact of detective work on a person’s psyche. However, the pilot does this by emphasizing the fact that, wait for it, Jane is a woman. And being a female detective in a tough New York precinct is almost impossible for a woman. You know, because it’s such a boys club. Because all the detectives are men. And as a woman, that isn’t good. Get it?

The male-female dynamic is apparently lifted from the original series and let me tell you, these beats sure feel like they came right out of 1991. They might have been too on the nose for that time even. I’ll always advocate for television series to interact with the complexity of gender roles and relations in our society; however, this is not a good representative of that kind of storytelling. There’s a difference between a “tough” road that is surely still facing women in all corners of the American workplace and the flat-out disgusting harassment and verbal warfare that is on display here.

The male characters, which there are approximately 92, all played by someone who you probably know, recognize or even like, are all pretty terrible to Jane throughout these opening 43 minutes. She doesn’t do anything to deserve it except be tough-as-nails. She makes smart deductions at crime scenes, she’s ready for responsibility and she ultimately busts her ass and risks her physical well-being to catch the criminal. At nearly every turn, there is a male detective right there with her while she does these things. Yet, nothing changes. She’s an intruder and that vagina just isn’t going to work for them. They might as well have told Jane to go back to the kitchen or take some time off to get pregnant (and hell, they might have, I lost interest during some of the group harassment sessions). I get that the pilot is trying to show us how tough Jane is by placing her in situations where 529 male detectives tower over her while saying some truly ridiculous and awful things to her. It’s a short-hand into this world and this culture, one that probably exists in a much lesser fashion today, but it’s just way too much. None of the male characters resonate and the only reason I can remember any of them is because they’re played by the likes of Kirk Acevedo, Aidan Quinn and Brian O’Bryne.

The people behind this version of Prime Suspect said all the right things at press tour recently. They pointed out the obvious flaws in rampant sexism and harassment in the pilot and have vowed to turn the series into something more subtle and complex in future episodes. If that happens, great. Maria Bello is pretty darn good in the lead role. She’s no Helen Mirren, but she brings a certain attitude and edge to the performance that makes her an engaging centerpiece to the story. Plus, this pilot looks damn good with Pete Berg’s direction and shooting style. With a more intelligent series around her, this could be a solid series that I could see many people enjoying.

But I don’t really understand why Prime Suspect had to start this way? If the writers and producers are so aware of the issues with the pilot, why did they include those glaringly clear problematic elements in said pilot to begin with? Perhaps NBC asked for a more direct remake of the Mirren version or perhaps the writers and producers saw the error of their ways after cutting together this episode. If it’s the latter, I’m just a bit worried. Admitting you have a problem is a fine step, but fixing that problem is a whole new challenge. And this pilot’s biggest issues aren’t so easy to fix. Dropping all the sexism is a good move, but then what’s the real hook to the series? If everyone gets along, isn’t this just a typical American procedural? The tension between Jane and her fellow detectives should still be there, but it just needs toned down. I’m curious to see how far it is toned down and what that does to Prime Suspect as a whole.

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