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October 13, 2015

EXCLUSIVE Video and Five Reasons You Should Be Watching 'Prime Suspect'

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 27th 2011 9:00AM
The day the promising pilot for 'Prime Suspect' (10PM ET Thursday, NBC) aired, I said I was going to delay reviewing until I'd seen more of the cop drama. As we all know from bitter experience, sometimes "promising" shows turn labored and hackneyed by the time the third episode airs (if not before).

That's absolutely not the case with the excellent 'Prime Suspect,' which is one of the best new dramas of the fall. (Showtime's 'Homeland,' which was renewed for a second season Wednesday, is the best, but 'Prime Suspect' certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence.)

I'm writing now to urge you to watch the struggling NBC drama, and not just because ubiquitous guest star Mark Sheppard will be appearing in the show's ninth episode and I want 'Prime Suspect' to stay on the air until then (and beyond).

Your time is valuable, so I'll try to make this short and sweet. Here are the reasons you should be watching 'Prime Suspect':

1. Maria Bello is giving a fierce and compelling performance.

Bello's crackling energy and intelligence made the pilot work, and she's the main reason it's possible to consider the NBC show on its own terms and not endlessly compare it to the great British original. Still, like the UK's Jane Tennison, Bello's Jane Timoney is driven and abrasive, and the show does an outstanding job of not backing away from the character's harsher qualities while helping you understand why she's so good at her job.

Bello has one of the most intense stares in the business; it's as if Timoney is willing people to be honest, and it's that devotion to digging up the truth that makes Timoney not just bearable but admirable. She's obsessed and occasionally unpleasant, but she's not even remotely full of herself. She cares about the victims but not in an overt, sentimental way, which would be deadly to the show's lived-in atmosphere and down-to-earth feel.

Bello gives the character a defined moral center without making her predictable or trite, and she makes Timoney's cluelessness about how she comes off realistic and occasionally funny. It's not often that television goes to the trouble of creating female characters that are as complicated and unpredictable as the best male characters, but showrunner Alexandra Cunningham and Bello have clearly put a lot of effort into making Timoney into one of prime-time's most intriguing fictional creations.

2. The show has an ace supporting cast.

One of the weakest elements of the pilot was the ludicrous level of sexism that Timoney faced from her male colleagues. Bias and boys-club atmospheres are obviously still problems that women face in any number of professions, but the 'Suspect' guys were so awful and Jane was so constantly wronged that the dynamic among the characters verged on cartoonish.

I'm glad to say that that element of the show, as the producers promised it would be, has been toned down, and the skilled supporting actors -- Brían F. O'Byrne, Kirk Acevedo, Damon Gupton and Tim Griffin -- are getting to do more than just make life difficult for a lady cop. It's not as if the problem of departmental sexism has gone away, but it's been given more layers and more ambiguity, which is all to the good. To me, it's more interesting to watch a show in which a driven character faces problems that may be the result of both institutional biases and her own flaws rather than a show about one person's victimization.

Even though the show is still in its early days, the squad members have begun to coalesce into interesting figures in their own rights. If I have one complaint, it's that I'd like to see more of Aidan Quinn, who plays Timoney's boss. He and Bello have such palpable rapport and he has so much range that it'd be nice if he got more to do.

The following exclusive clip, which comes from next week's episode, offers proof not just of Quinn's deftness but of how watchable and believable this crew is:

3. You miss the good eras of 'Law & Order' and you realize there's absolutely nothing wrong with a solidly made cop show.

We're inundated with so many bad or derivative crime shows, and we see so many formerly good cop franchises hit rough patches (Exhibit A: 'Law & Order: LA'), that it's easy to get cynical about the genre and write off the whole category. Yet it's unwise to do that and 'Prime Suspect' is all the proof you need. A good interrogation scene is still a thing of beauty no matter what decade we're in, and it's to the writers' credit that the cases on 'Prime Suspect' don't feel like something you've seen a hundred times before on a show that begins with a "thunk-thunk." Yes, there's life in the old warhorse yet.

By the way, it was wise of the producers not to make Timoney a supercop: Sometimes she's wrong, which is weirdly refreshing. She's not a good cop because she has uncanny insights that always turn out to be right (and that would obviously get boring fast). She's a good cop because she's tenacious and hard-working, and her gut instincts do on occasion serve her well (but they occasionally mislead her too).

4. The show has a wily sense of humor.

If any of the above makes you think the show is a chore to watch, then I've clearly done a terrible job of singing its praises. So here's my last-ditch attempt to reel you in: 'Prime Suspect' has an entertainingly sly sense of humor (a recent scene set in the apartment of a crazy cat lady was comedy gold). Thanks in part to the show's frisky shooting style, 'Prime Suspect' is light on its feet and nimble enough to take advantage of comedy opportunities when they arise. The show doesn't overdo it, but wouldn't be a New York City cop show if the detectives didn't goof around a little and give each other a hard time with welcome frequency.

5. The hat.

I like it! Few accessories have engendered more negative online commentary than the snappy headgear that Timoney wears. I think it's fetching, but even if you don't like the hat, give the show a chance. She doesn't always wear the hat, it's worth noting, and you may well find that the smart writing and good acting make up for any problems resulting from your chapeau aversion.

Isn't that enough for you? Well, if not, how about peek at the show's upcoming guest stars and story lines. Spoilers ahoy, obviously:

Sheppard, who works so much that I have long joked he's the beneficiary of the Mark Sheppard Full Employment Act, will play character named Blackjack in episode 9. Blackjack is the head of the Westies, a New York crime gang (a representative for NBC said the air date of Sheppard's episode had not yet been determined).

In Thursday's episode of the show, Timoney and the squad work the case of a woman who was found dead in a park, and Timoney and her father (Peter Gerety) celebrate an important anniversary together. In the Nov. 3 outing, Duffy (O'Byrne) tries to pass of a dud case to Timony (as we saw above), but she gets drawn in to a case that leads the team to suspect a porn magnate.

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This show is absolutely FANTASTIC. I'm not a tv or film critic, just a 55 year old gal who enjoys a darn good tv show that is intelligent and entertaining and has some lighthearted, playful humor. I can't understand why this show isn't being recognized for the brilliant writing and acting. Each character is so unique, and have such potential for fascinating development as time passes. I love the playful banter between the detectives. Maria Bello is by far a force of her own. How awesome it is to see her run with this character and claim it fully, this beautiful, powerful, competent, confident , real, approachable woman. I hope all of the cast know they have loyal fans out here who will be so disappointed if this show is cancelled. Thank you for doing such a great job, you are so appreciated. Peace, Robin

December 09 2011 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been keeping up with the episodes online, but I was talking with friends about this show today... and sadly, we all were so completely turned off by every single male cop in this show that we didn't really care if the show lives or dies. The "tone down" is too little, too late to save it either. This show still has virtually no likable characters. I'm fine with drama and flaws and making people human, but NBC has given me a whole show full of cops that I would never, ever want investigating crime in my neighborhood.

November 18 2011 at 11:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bello is excellent and the show is a hit. Folks who appreciate realism will enjoy it; those who want fluff will not. I get tired of good shows being cut; who do I get a vote to keep my shows on the air?

November 15 2011 at 12:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Like aboleyn I was surprised by how much I liked Prime Suspect. I love the realism and down-to-earthness of Jane, and like everyone else, how she is NOT supercop. It makes the other cast members (who are awesome) not look like idiots and leave you wondering why they bother having a police force if one person is always right (ahem, the Mentalist).

Also love the camaraderie that is slowly developing between all of the characters and the chemistry that everyone has, despite who they are paired up with that week. Really really hope the show is not cancelled because I look forward to it every week!

November 02 2011 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched the first episode of Prime Suspect expecting to change the channel at every commercial break...it never happened. I just couldn't do it- it was too good!

My husband and I have been huge fans of SVU, Criminal Minds, and NCIS forever, but all three are getting to be unbearable to watch. This show started just in time! I love how downright believable it is. Like MRyan said, it's refreshing to see that she's not an expert in every single situation that comes up (ehhem, rain man in Criminal Intent) and she is wrong sometimes, but doesn't give up and gets the bad guy in the end. If you saw last night's episode, I told my hubby that the reason I'll keep watching is b/c of scenes like the one where the guys (sorry, don't quite have their names down yet) are driving around looking for a suspect and one is watching the gps instead of lookin out the window and they have a lil tiff back-n-forth. Realistic. A bit silly. I love it.

October 28 2011 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good show. Started out a little rough, but has improved. Hope TPB will hang in there with it.

Oh, and I may be one of the very few fans of Secret Circle. Guilty pleasure or something, but I do enjoy the show. I forget the lead's name but happy to see her get a new gig after Life Unexpected. SC is lightweight and not destine for longevity, but I enjoy it just like I enjoy hanging out in the Hamptons with the Royal Pains people. Candy without calories I guess.

October 28 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After the pilot, I had been ready to give this show up, but then I gave it a second chance, and now I quite like it, a lot. I echo the person that "hate[s] that stupid hat," but otherwise M. Bello as Jane is indeed very entertaining (she reminds me of The Closer quirkiness of early days, but obviously K. Sedgwick's character is slightly different). The other characters are also a hoot, especially in concert with (when they interact with) Jane.

October 27 2011 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ross M Gould

I freaking love Maria Bello! Since her appearance at the end of Season 3 of "ER"

October 27 2011 at 4:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like this show! I like the way Jane holds her own against the biased men in her dept. Love their comments and how she responds. I hate that stupid hat! But, everyone should give this a chance- really very good. Loved the restaurant scene with ex-wife and how Jane put her in her place.
Tune in, girls.

October 27 2011 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched it and it was "meh." What condemns it in my view is that it is wretched bastardization of a really great British program. Maria Bello is good, but she's no Helen Mirren. If they had named it anything else it would be a tier B watch for me. But as it is, I'll pass.

October 27 2011 at 12:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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