Prime Suspect (Thursdays at 10:00 on NBC)
Prime Suspect is the kind of show that I liked but will probably never watch again. There are plenty of reasons to tune in, but it would just piss me off to the point of not being able to enjoy myself. This show awoke the gender-studies student within me and annoyed him to the point of possibly losing a viewer.
Maria Bello is Det. Jane Timoney, a hard-edged woman who just transfered New York City precincts. Her new stomping grounds are inhabited by a group of whiskey-drinking misogynists, and she must fight for the respect she deserves in the old boys' club she's found herself in.
I won't take away credit where it's due: the performances are universally fantastic. Maria Bello makes a great stonecold detective. She's got a great air about her, one that immediately demands the respect and attention of the viewer. So it's a wonder to us when she doesn't get the same from the men on screen, lead by brilliant performances from Aidan Quinn as the precinct's lietenant-in-charge and Brian O'Byrne as the most misogynistic of all the men and Jane's (seemingly) primary enemy. Peter Berg's (Friday Night Lights) direction is appropriately gritty, but he (and the actors) just can't completely save a weak effort from producer/developer/writer Alexandra Cunningham (Desperate Housewives).
The crime-of-the-week (because, yes, this is yet another standard procedural) is uninteresting and uninvolving. A woman is (graphically) raped and murdered in front of her two kids, so Jane must find the man after being handed the case following the sudden death of its lead detective. The biggest fault with this case is that since it occurs in an episode when characters and situations are just being established, it takes the backseat. Consequently, it comes across as an afterthought.
But that's not why I don't know if I can continue watching Prime Suspect. It's because the whole thing tries to come off as somewhat "feminist," but ends up going in the opposite direction. It's great to see Jane as a tough woman, working a job that typifies traditional masculinity. But the overt and exaggerated misogyny she faces is borderline offensive. The men of her precinct sit around all day drinking whiskey while a murder case goes unsolved; they often discuss how Jane got to be a detective, suggesting she slept with everyone she could to get where she is. Are we supposed to believe that every policeman in New York thinks of women as objects? That if a woman is somewhat successful (come on, she's a detective; it's not like she's even their boss) she must be a whore? Or a heartless opportunist? The way the women on this show are treated is just ridiculous. Jane is berated for doing her job by her lieutenant. She's berated by her boyfriend's ex, and the mother of his child whom Jane wants to spend time at her apartment, for not being feminine enough. She's berated by the men in her precinct for doing things her own way. It's a constant bashing of this main character that gets old by the end of the first episode. Because Jane, despite her tough-as-nails character, never fights back. She takes it all. At the episode's end when O'Byrne's Det. Duffy tells Jane that his position will not be threatened by a woman, she just looks at him and buys him a cup of coffee. Add to the fact that the only other heavily featured female character was brutally murdered, and you have an hour that turns into a feminist's worst nightmare. We're supposed to believe this takes place in present day, but it feels so dated by all of this unbelievable woman-hating and female silence. I'd like to think a woman like Jane Timoney would stand up and beat the shit out of Duffy, or tell her boss to shove it after solving the case he was reluctant to give her in the first place.
Prime Suspect just feels exploitative in every way. It's exploiting the reputation of the original British series starring Helen Mirren (which I've never seen but have read has almost nothing in common with this remake). It's exploiting the talents of its cast. And it's exploiting women. Perhaps tune in once or twice for the stunning performances, but there's no reason to get invested in this one.