Who would want to watch a show where, in the pilot, the female protagonist gets beaten in an alley until she’s bloody? You’re probably assuming that she was a victim of a crime. On the contrary. Maria Bello plays Jane Timoney, a police officer in New York City, and in the aforementioned scene she’s the one who chases down a prime suspect, corners him and tackles him to the ground. A bloody brawl ensues, but she wins, and while lying bleeding on the street asks the first officer on the scene for a cigarette.
Prime Suspect is a reboot of the famed British show (named by Time as “one of the 100 best TV shows of all time”), starring Helen Mirren as cool-but-troubled Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. Bello is by no means Mirren, but she brings a strong and commanding presence to the part. The original series ran intermittently from 1991 through 2006; it will be interesting to see if the U.S. counterpart builds a following strong enough to make the comparisons fade.
We see cop shows and action films where male heroes are frequently punched in the face and beaten to the ground before they triumphantly rise up and defeat the bad guys, but rarely do we see women in that role. Perhaps Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films), Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay in her fearless performances on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) … and who else? Angelina Jolie has definitely played her share of female badass roles, but never without a figure-flattering outfit and expertly applied makeup–with maybe a smudge of something on her forehead to make her look “authentic.” Is that her fault? No, it’s her image. Looking sexy while kicking ass is her thing. It’s just not real.
Maria Bello’s character Jane is almost shockingly real. She doesn’t wear makeup. Or, rather, she wears “no-makeup” makeup, but either way, it’s pretty amazing to see an actress willingly eschew makeup (unless she’s shooting for an Oscar for looking “ordinary” or even “ugly”–I’m talking about you, Charlize Theron). Timoney has her own sense of style, which basically is functional-but-no-nonsense clothes (and that jaunty fedora she cocks on her head.) In Prime Suspect, Bello, perhaps best known for her intense sex scenes in films such as A History of Violence and The Cooler, doesn’t give a shit if you want to fuck her.
The first half of the show’s first episode, which airs tonight, sticks by the theme of the female character seeking respect from the boys’ club. That’s nothing new. But Timoney makes a decision halfway through the series that defines her character, and one that would turn a lot of people against her (this is not a spoiler, I promise). Remember the character of Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy before she got all … muted? For those who don’t, Meredith was originally sharp-tongued, cynical, headstrong and confident. That’s who Timoney reminds me of.
Unlike its British progenitor, which followed a single case over a number of episodes, the American Prime Suspect seems like it will follow the Law & Order formula of focusing each hour on a new case … and a prime suspect. But I have no doubt that Bello will make it really, really interesting.
TOP: Promotional poster for Prime Suspect.