Prime Suspect: Misses the Mark

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012
Prime Suspect
Lost in translation: The American version of Prime Suspect misses the mark.

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REVIEW: United States television network NBC reportedly paid a small fortune for the rights to remake Prime Suspect, the classic TV movie series starring Helen Mirren.

The mystery, after seeing last night's resultant American drama on TV One, is why it would waste money like that.

It has barely five minutes' similarity with the original Lynda La Plante concept. This doesn't mean it's a bad show. It's very watchable, but it's just another by-the-numbers hour-long murder mystery with a sassy cop hero.

It has nothing of the allure of the original and, worse, it's so cartoonishly Noo Yawk-accented that you could almost suspect it of being an NYPD Blue parody.

Jane Timoney, like Mirren's prototype, Jane Tennison, is a senior police officer whose sexist male colleagues dislike and marginalise her. Maria Bello plays her with the requisite driven tactlessness. But she is too conventionally beautiful and fresh-faced to carry the intended freight of a woman whose complex inner life is dangerously subjugated to her job.

Mirren's Jane was febrile and sinewy, practically bursting out of the screen with neuroticism. Bello's is just clever and tough, not even complicated so far.

To be fair, she fights and smokes all too convincingly. You don't want to make this officer angry. But there's no latent drink problem and no man nagging her about her workaholism, so no underlying sorrow, regrets, secret vulnerability or demons.

Her bloke seems decently happy to have her around, and so he should, for she's an appealing character.

Her swaggering male colleagues underestimate her out of jealousy as much as misogyny, and when she, in one similarity to the original, muscles in on the murder investigation of a newly deceased male officer, hostility only intensifies.

She then commits the cardinal sin of solving the crime, but gets no credit for catching the criminal and nearly dying in the attempt.

There's a nice byplay with her boyfriend's overprotective ex-wife over parental visits.

But the big disappointment of Prime Suspect is that there is no prime suspect. There's a crime each episode that gets solved, so the original concept's rich mix of slow-burning mystery, cat-and-mouse psychology and hostile collegial graft is missing.

As good as it is, this Prime Suspect is no better than all those other quality American hour-long thrillers on TV.

One to watch

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Downton Abbey, Prime Wring out the hankies. The writers of this pacey costume drama are wrapping up the childbirth tragedy and moving onto a new cliffhanger: Can Bates finally beat the rap?

- © Fairfax NZ News

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