What I’m Watching: Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect (NBC, Thursdays)

First and foremost, watch the original British Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren. That woman is a goddess for a reason. I watched the series over the summer and was blown away by how intensely it activated my emotions, mostly anger, toward the patriarchy. This program, along with its new American counterpart series on NBC, focuses on good police work — good woman’s police work specifically — and how tough it is to carry out in a hostile work environment.

The newer version stars Maria Bello as Jane Timony, a detective who’s a bit more rugged than the commanding-yet-reserved protagonist we find across the pond. And I tell you folks, I’m loving seeing Jane on my TV. I was raised on Hill Street Blues, Crime Story, Miami Vice, Law and Order, etc. If a primetime detective drama was on, school nights be damned, I was perched on a recliner at my father’s side sharing the slivered sections of an orange and tossing around theories on the case. I’m pretty passionate about my police procedurals to begin with, but it is so awesome to flip on the tube and see a WOMAN as the main character, the one with all the answers, the one who we root for. She is not a sidekick. She is the story.

Bello plays Timony, a soon(?)-to-be ex-smoker with a bitter balance of cockiness and frustration. She is just as good if not better than her male counterparts, all of whom care deeply for one another as fellow members of a hardcore uniformed boys’ club, and she has to fight for every freaking inch she can take to simply have a fair shot at a case and some semblance of authority. Where the British series made this discrimination more painfully palpable by drawing out the uncomfortable feelings between the department men and this woman to nearly unbearable lengths, the American series is a bit blunter in its approach. The same misogynist themes play out but aggressions come to a head much more quickly and audibly — per usual one can feel the network racing to hook the audience and not be too boring. And I do miss this slower pacing because it is precisely what stirred me into my rage. The everyday quality of the hatred really made prominent the daily discrimination that many women must feel at work. Exaggerating every millisecond of discomfort nicely showcased the abomination hidden in what could easily be seen as a normal work scene.

Even, so NBC appears like it will do right by Prime Suspect. Bello’s rough handed character is strong; her humor is sharp and sarcastically callous while remaining fitting to the program’s tone. If the writers keep her complicated, let her lose, capture her humanity, the show could match up to and perhaps surpass its inspiration. Do watch and give a good cop a chance.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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