Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pilot Season: Prime Suspect (Perfection. Just Don't Screw It Up.)

You're awesome.
I could lie and say that I have some amazing, complicated metric that determines the order in which I review these pilots, but the honest truth is that I generally just review whatever pops up first on hulu.  And with that, here’s today’s foray into randomization algorithms!


Let me start out by saying that I am not unbiased about this show and I never was.  I went into it wanting to like it, and I do.  So sue me.

Prime Suspect is actually a remake of a British show by the same name (shocker), which starred Helen Mirren as a take-no-prisoners lady cop detective.  It kickstarted her career into the spectacular stratosphere in which it now reigns, and was a nifty show to boot.  I didn’t catch much of it myself, it having aired in the mid-90s, when I was well into my “ignore everything that’s not Lord of the Rings” phase*, but I saw a few episodes.  I like what I’ve seen.

This new version is about Maria Bello as lady cop detective Jane Timoney working in (where else) NYPD Homicide.  She gets no respect from the “Beef Trust” of her male colleagues.  They openly accuse her of sleeping with her boss for the transfer, and refuse to give her cases.  She does not appreciate this, and shows them her lack of appreciation in a reasonably professional manner.  But she also swears at them sometimes.  It’s nice. 

Just a friendly disagreement about procedure.
The actual plot of the episode revolves around a rape and murder on the Upper East Side.  Jane is convinced that it is part of a string of rapes in the area, while the detectives actually working the case dismiss her and insist it’s a family friend.  When the lead detective on the case has a heart attack and dies, Jane immediately asks for lead on the case, which comes off as insensitive, rude, and utterly realistic.  She reveals to her father that she wanted to catch them off guard before they closed ranks again, because she knows she can do this case.  I liked that a lot.  It was realistic, and sad at the same time.

Jane has a better view on the murder, and is able to actually interview the only eye-witness to the killing (the victim’s small son) and get a sketch of the murderer.  She uses this to clear the family friend, who she’d investigated and discovered to be gay.  After some police work and a spectacular stroke of luck and good forward thinking, she gets a tip and they close in.  On the wrong address.

It's like a stock photo for "uncomfortable workplace".
They have to chase the murderer down, and Jane ends up getting the shit beat out of her in an alleyway.  Again, I appreciated that she really did go down hard.  She isn’t superwoman, and she is understandably smaller than some of the men she chases.  That’s why she has guns.  Anyway, the perp is taken in, and Jane gets to close the case.  She talks it over with some of the Beef Trust who still dislike her, and her success rate has done nothing to ease their ire.  In fact, it’s probably just exacerbated it.  And that’s fine by me.

There’s also a subplot wherein Jane and her (boyfriend? spouse? fiance? significant other of some kind) Matt attempt to appease Matt’s ex-wife in order to get her to allow their six year old son over for sleepovers.  Jane is a source of conflict, with her long hours and multiple guns, but eventually she is able to shut down the ex-wife and ensure that the son will come stay with them.  One gets the sense that the child really is safer with Jane than anywhere else he could possibly be, anyways.  The show ends on her smirk, and the knowledge that she doesn't care about making friends, she's just going to protect what's hers if it kills her.

And I loved it.

I think Maria Bello is spectacular in this role, and while I am aware of the complaints that the show was “American-ized”, by making the lead younger and more attractive, I reject them.  Jane might not be Helen Mirren’s age, but she’s no spring chicken.  She’s pushing forty, at best.  And as for attractive, Mirren has her there by a mile.  Jane seems to put on an armor of brute force and rage when she goes into work, and that is not attractive (except when it totally is).

You rock that scarf. You've earned it.
But the reason I like it most, and why I have a sneaking suspicion it will be my favorite pilot this year, is that I get it.  Jane Timoney is a person.  She just quit smoking, and she has cravings, and she is hacking up grossness when she runs, so she can’t run fast enough to catch a murderer, and that’s awesome.  She loves her boyfriend** but they fight and she yells and sometimes cries.  She keeps crazy hours and says things she shouldn’t, but she’s an amazing cop and she loves kids even if she doesn’t get them sometimes.  She’s inappropriate and rude and crass, and sometimes she does say the wrong thing to her boss, or imply that the dead man whose case she took was a moron, but she just wants to do her job.

I'm not saying that every woman on television has to be a badass lady cop, with more guns than she knows what to do with and severe nicotine cravings, but I do believe that every woman on television could learn from this example.  I don't care if she's Suzy Homemaker or a prostitute or a teenager in a glee club, what matters is that the character is fleshed out.  That she's real.  And that she's her own person.  If she isn't her own person, there had better be a story reason for it.  Because I refuse to believe that it is better for a story to have characters whose entire personalities can be summed up as "hot brunette" and "dancer".  No, this is better, and now that we've seen what real character development and agency can do for a story, I expect more.

So thank you, television, for Jane Timoney.  For giving us a woman who will take the crap in a man’s world, and isn’t a bitch about it, but does her job and does it well.  She loves her boyfriend, she loves her guns, and she cries sometimes when no one’s looking.  Thank you, just this once, for getting it right.

Don’t screw it up.

Or Jane will find you.

*Lasted until age 15.  Ask my parents, I’m sure they have fond memories.

**We’re going with boyfriend, even if it sounds juvenile, because I don’t think they’re married, and significant other is longer to type.

1 comment:

  1. Oh good. At least one pilot gets it right. And let's cross our fingers hoping that they don't screw up another British show.