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Prime Suspect: Maria Bello Could Do Better

To understand my disappointment with Prime Suspect, you have to understand how much I was looking forward to this series. It’s a gritty, NBC procedural starring the incomparable Maria Bello—where could it possibly go wrong? As it turns out, all over the place. While Prime Suspect’s pilot was far from the worst we've seen in this very mixed fall season, it’s so unimpressive that it might not merit repeat viewing. At the very least, that’s a shame.

At worst, it’s embarrassing. How did Prime Suspect’s first episode, which aired Thursday night, so thoroughly fail to live up to my expectations? My main issue is that, despite being promoted as an innovative reboot of the original British series, Prime Suspect is a completely predictable assemblage of police procedural tropes. Opening shot of the female detective running? Check. Use of a song by The Black Keys? Check. (Two of them!) Red herring suspect? Sexism in the office? Children who saw too much? It’s all there. I could go on, but you get the idea: There is nothing new about Prime Suspect, aside from the casting of Maria Bello. And frankly, she could do much better.

The character of Jane Timoney is perhaps the biggest cliché of them all: She’s a tough-as-nails detective who has to work extra hard to earn the respect of her male colleagues. She prioritizes her job above everything else. Oh, and even though she seems like a total hard-ass, she still crumbles in the privacy of her boyfriend’s arms.

It’s not just obvious—it’s insulting. For most of Prime Suspect’s pilot, Jane was merely unlikeable, but once she started crying, she turned into a stereotype. While she seems like a strong, assertive woman, she still just needs to be held sometimes. It’s gross, and the climactic scene made it even worse. Jane was getting the crap beat out of her by a suspect, until the male detectives showed up and fought him off. She’s not exactly the damsel in distress, but she might as well be.

Here’s the thing: It’s important for TV characters to be somewhat sympathetic. The rare exception, Dr. House, works because Hugh Laurie is so charming when he’s mean. Jane isn’t funny or even bitter in a particularly interesting way—she’s just kind of awful. You know what? Rushing into your boss’s office to ask for the job of an officer who died a few hours ago is a dick move. It doesn’t show impressive backbone or drive, and it made Jane look uncaring. But it was even worse to see her collapse in tears after her co-workers were mean to her, because now she has two frustrating character types to contend with: soulless career cop and delicate flower. There is a middle ground to be explored, and characters with a believable balance of positive and negative qualities are far more interesting and relatable.

I say “believable” because so little of Prime Suspect is. The bloody crime scene at the beginning suggested this will be a dark, unflinching series. Everything that came after it was heavy-handed enough to be on par with the weakest episodes of Law & Order: SVU. The writing is just too obvious, particularly the ham-fisted conversations about men versus women. I’m certain sexism still exists in police departments—I think it would be naïve to say otherwise—but there are subtler ways to portray it. Loudly suggesting Jane slept her way to the top at every turn is just silly.

Maybe Prime Suspect will find a more original voice, and a better way to showcase Bello, who deserves to be playing a character with more complexity. I can’t say I feel very confident after watching the promo for the rest of the season, which includes the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me line, “For Jane, it’s not about making friends.” I can’t wait to find out what happens when homicide detectives stop being polite—and start getting real.

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Why is the show taking so long to start a 2nd season ?

They put crap on once they ran the 1st season in place of. I am not going watch the Mentalist-the competition. Maria does need to lose that foolish hat she wares.Also I don't know why they had to make her father Irish. Maria certainly doesn't look Irish. I am sure that she is of Italian background which is fine. I like the chemistry between her co-worker detective-Can't think of his name- Byrne or O' Byrn. Tall lanky guy who is balding. Now please start new shows or I am going to continue to go to bed at 9:00. It's like the show Moonlight. A great show about Vampires,but it got canned after 1 season - O'Laughlin from Hawaii 5-0-The Aussie native who does a brilliant American accent
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What a bad review! The show has problems. It's formulaic but Bello brings complexities to Timony that make her a unique character on television. How many 40 something actresses have leads on TV dramas?
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I disagree with you assessment. Maria Bello is not only wonderful in the role, she is believable. Again the presumption that crying makes you weak in infuriating. Perhaps if men let loose every now and then they wouldn't find the need to kill, rape and start wars. She is human not super human. I happen to love this show. More than anything else that networks have tried to force feed its audience, this one is an easy pick. You cant ask for better than Bello, better than that disaster they tried - CHASE, which thankfully went away. There is still gender bias in the police force, believe it or not and what I love about this show is that Bello's character doen not look like she just stepped out of the make-up wagon. She is real, gritty and smart. And one thing they cannot take away from her is her smarts. LOVE IT!!!
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NBC has yet another great show. Obviously you know nothing about great TV shows. Maybe it's people like you who get great shows cancelled like LIFE. But, with our luck, maybe NBC will cancel this awesome show also, due to your reviews.
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Louis Peitzman is a pretty poor judge of talent and obviously has no idea whatsoever what real police do or act like. After serving 33 years as a detective in a major city I can say this show is well directed and Maria Bello nails her character in every way! The other characters are authentic as well. So Mr. Peitzman, please save your blog skills to rate breakfast cereal, or pizza! You're nowhere near being in the league of rating a good TV cop show!
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I loved the show. I love Maria Bello. I came away feeling satisfied.

Keep up the great acting and writing!

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I agree with the article. Too many sexist comments where the writers could have been more subtle and made their point much better. I love Maria Bello but it seems she is playing this character just like Mary McCormack's character Mary Shannon in In Plain Sight [Maria is a detective and Mary is a Marshall...only difference.]



I am hoping that the series gets better but only time will tell. I usually watch The Mentalist at that time anyway but would watch it on Hulu or if they repeat it on the weekend or another night, which some networks do.



I wish the series luck...it's going to need it,
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In a few words.... I liked it :)
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Are American networks so lacking in originality that they must keep trying to re-make British series -- with the remakes almost invariably much worse than the shows that inspired them? I think I just answered my own question. I invite you to avoid this clunker, and watch the original British "Prime Suspect". And see just how good television can be.
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The premiere left a little to be desired but it gave us an introduction into Bello's character's life both personal and professional. She has c*** to deal with in both and she's not just some cold hearted b****. She has to remain professional at work even when she would prefer not to but it's when she's not at work that we saw she does have feelings. I liked how tough she can be, I liked the humour, and I liked the overall tone of the show. It has good potential. In the end, however, this first episode really was about giving us background on Bello and the people who don't like her. The next 6 or so episodes should give us more if things are anything like they used to be. It takes about 6-8 episodes for any TV series to really begin moving these days and that's why it's so annoying when a show gets canceled before a show hits its stride. I like the show from what I can see it becoming but it needs to show me more.
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Wow. I'm surprised. I am the exact opposite. I was not looking forward to this series at all. The previews had me cringing about another extremely-tough no-feelings female cop drama - I think THAT is what is so overdone now.



I was presently surprised by the pilot. I thought the moment where she cries was genius. That's what sold me. It proved to me that she IS a girl. I'm a little sick of the idea that a woman who is tough wouldn't still be a "girl" every once and a while.



Also, having worked in a field that is populated 97% by males, I found the attitude of the men towards her a little overdone, but not unbelievable.



Also, at the end the fact that she had to be "rescued" at the end didn't make her seem defenceless to me it was refreshing because I was expecting the typical tough-girl-beats-crap-out-of-guy-twice-her-size thing, but instead seemed a little more real than the fact that no girl cop on tv ever seems to meet a guy who can do any damage to her.
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Out of everything I think I found the chase scene to be the most interesting. I say this because of the hostility toward Bello's character. Yet here she was chasing a perp alone and then he ends up beating here pretty badly. I wondered *if* the guys would hang back a bit or whether they'd dive right in and save her. In the end, it appeared they did the right thing and protected a fellow cop. Also we didn't see anything thrown in her face about her getting beat up and being female. I actually expected to see that. Nonetheless, I found this specific scene to be the most interesting.
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Hmm, I haven't seen this one yet. But you review makes me want to watch it. Because like you Louis I was kind of looking forward to this one. Maybe not as much as you, but I thought it was going to be quality TV worth watching. Now I guess I have to watch it to confirm your analysis.
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I thought the pilot was mediocre at best! I do recomend "The Protector" if you are seeking a great lead female detective!!
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I love the Protector but read it's not being renewed for another season.
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Lose the STUPID hat. Bad hook!! Got my interest, but needs better direction.
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Oh yes the hat has to go. I thought I was watching "white Collar" for a split second.
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That's a bit of a shame. The original had the "going to get the dead cop's work" scene, but there it really worked because you always got this feeling that Jane is trying really hard and not being allowed to succeed, so when she steps over the line it's an ambiguous moment, not a nasty one.



Also, big mistake making her a hot trendy lady. For all her class, Helen Mirren was at her best with the character when she looked just messy, puffing on a wet cigarette over a full ashtray, looking sweaty and tired. Soooo not quite Maria Bello in a hat and an ironic trenchcoat/vest combo, then.
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Wow was it the same pilot we all watched?

I thought the acting was pretty awesome! The script was darn strong and the ole boy network just a tad overdone.Otherwise A DARN GOOD EPI.

I liked Person of Interest ,BUT this was way better done....and believable.
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the acting is bad ,the story is worst
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Not every office you encounter has rampant sexism these days. Why does Hollywood always work in cliches?



Poor Maria, I like her but noone can compete with Helen Mirren. It's not possible to look avoid looking inferior.
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why do people on this site generally hate whats on tv?



personally i thought the show was pretty good and will be checking out the next episode.
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Because most of what's premiered in the last two weeks was total crap.



Not everybody is as gullible and lowbrow as you are.
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Yeah, because only a genius on the level of someone like Saschabuschkh would be qualified to shoot his mouth off anonymously online about something as important as a TV show. Internet comment sections are only here for the super sophisticated. Stop bugging the Important Folks here with your gullible and lowbrow approval of things. The internet is for bitching and sniping in a safe environment that makes us feel smarter and more superior than we do in our sad little real lives. If you want go around being pleasant about things that don't really matter, go talk to some real people and leave us alone with our smug certainty that we're better than you.
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love how your mind works - great input!

Your comment does make me feel smarter and better than those other guys!
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Dang. That was pretty awesome.
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That might be a tad harsh.
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Once again North American television taking a UK series and making it worse. Watch the amazing Helen Mirren in the UK version and then tell me what you think.
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Agree with this review. The hat was ludicrous. And so was the sexist office that seemed like something I'd watch in the 80's.
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Pretty much agree with this review
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i liked it, turned out a lot better than person of interest
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I am really like it. Prime Suspect is awesome. I am not give up and must watch on Prime Suspect in next week.
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I really enjoyed the gritty atmosphere and Maria Bello Performance. I Hope NBC will just this show become authentic, complex, and ambitious crime drama. There obviously none on Broadcast. Only 3 exceptional ones on cable such as Justified, South land, and The Closer. NBC need let the Law and order Franchise die and Make way for complex crime drama.
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I agree with the exceptional cable shows comment regarding The Closer & Justified but I never watched Southland.



I watch a lot of television and am quite particular about what I watch. I cannot just watch anything. I hate the reality television shows and think they are just the networks trying to cram crap down our throats! I tried to watch the Kardashians on Sunday...just to see what others were talking about. OMG! I wanted to pull out my hair listening to them backstabbing each other, nit-picking at each other and being so superficial! When Kim went nuts because she lost her $75,000 earring and was crying, the only redeeming thing that happened is her fiance saying to her that he doesn't own anything that he couldn't afford to lose and not be so materialistic. If losing that $75,000 earring is going to make you ruin your vacation in Bora Bora, you should not have taken them with you and worn them swimming!



Okay, my rant is over. I had to turn the station after that. I couldn't take it. I think I lost 10 IQ points watching that for an hour!
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I really wanted to like the show but it was just too much of the same old thing. It was a very typical formula and frankly it's getting boring. The nicest thing I can say is it's not the worst new crime drama.
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For some reason, television has a tough time portraying a strong female lead. They always have to give her a vulnerable side, who needs the comforting arms of a strong man. Because we all know, deep down, all a woman really wants is the love of a good man - Give me a break. Mario Bello's character is a dual walking stereotype, and guess what? She's emotionally conflicted. What a surprise. It's shows like this which purport that women can be just as hard-nosed, and tough as any man, while perpetuating every stereotype they claim to disprove. Prime Suspect = Feminism - 1.
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It seems like so often they think "strong woman"="super tomboyish, cold, lacking in social skills but making up for it in willingness to throw a punch." Like they try SO hard to say "our protagonist is a Strong Woman," that they make her a caricature instead of a real person.
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Well said.
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About the scene where she gets the crap beat out of her. Of course she could've gotten a few in on a normal day, if not for the fact that she's in terrible condition from smoking as seen in the opening (with all that caughing). That's what really made the scene for me. That she's NOT superwoman. I also liked how her male partners came to her rescue in such a strong way, basicly telling the dirtbag to not mess with the NYPD (even if it's a woman). At that moment they weren't just a bunch of detectives not getting along but a squad.
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I really wanted to like it, and I'm not giving up on it just yet, but it was disappointing.
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I have to agree. On two occasions I nearly stopped watching and at the end wished I did. Unoriginal, full of clichs and the silly panama hat just makes it worse. Not sure why it is even called Prime Suspect as the only thing it has in common with the far more superior British series is a police officer called Jane.
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I love Maria Bello, but casting her as the lead in Prime Suspect perhaps was not the best move. In my opinion, PS seems like a generic version of In Plain Sight, starring Mary McCormack. Maybe, Im just being bias because they resemble but both characters have a similar personality.
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