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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
PRIME SUSPECT (NBC)
(written by Alexandra Cunningham; directed by Peter Berg; TRT: )
The network's description: "Based on the critically acclaimed British television series of the same name, "Prime Suspect" has been redeveloped for American audiences by writer Alexandra Cunningham ("Desperate Housewives," "NYPD Blue"), director Peter Berg (NBC's "Friday Night Lights") -- and stars Maria Bello ("A History of Violence") as tough-as-nails Detective Jane Timoney. Timoney finds that being a homicide detective in New York City is tough enough and having to contend with a male-dominated police department to get respect makes it that much tougher. She's an outsider who has just transferred to a new precinct dominated by an impenetrable clique of a boys' club.
Timoney has her own vices too -- with a questionable past -- and she tends to be forceful, rude and reckless. But she's also a brilliant cop who keeps her eye on one thing: the prime suspect. Also starring are Aidan Quinn ("Unknown"), Brian O'Byrne ("Flash Forward"), Tim Griffin ("Star Trek"), Kirk Acevedo ("Fringe"), Joe Nieves ("How I Met Your Mother"), Damon Gupton ("The Last Airbender") and Peter Gerety ("Blue Bloods"). "Prime Suspect" is produced by Universal Media Studios, ITV and Film 44. Cunningham is the executive producer/writer along with executive producer/director Berg and executive producers Sarah Aubrey, Julie Meldal-Johnson, Paul Buccieri and Lynda LaPlante."
What did they leave out? Jane's boyfriend in the pilot, played by Toby Stephens, is being recast.
The plot in a nutshell: Jane Timoney (Maria Bello) isn't your typical detective with the NYPD. While most of her peers are concerned with evacuating their bowels, singing birthday wishes to their daughters and sharing a drink or two with the captain (Aidan Quinn), Jane's radar for the job is always up. And while the typical cop would get frustrated with an overly difficult witness or not bother with sweet talking potential lookouts, Jane finds a way to get the knuckleheads of the world to play ball. Unfortunately she's also a woman. Said facet, despite her obvious skills, makes her persona non grata in the station house as she's constantly left out of the loop and frozen out of cases. "She's one of us until it suits her not to be," barks Jake Keating (Jason Beghe), one such cop.
An unexpected confluence of events however sees Jane tasked with a high profile case involving a brutal rape/murder of a mother in front of her two children in the Upper East Side. Her leadership however is met with resistance by her fellow detectives - the openly bitter Reg Duffy (Brian O'Byrne), the reluctantly game Luisito Calderon (Kirk Acevedo), the secretly impressed Eddie Gautier (Joe Nieves), among others - at every turn. They see the easy culprit in a family friend who was conveniently the first on the scene while she thinks it may be tied to an ongoing series in the nearby neighborhood. Not surprisingly her attempts to discount the former ruffles their feathers even further. Ultimately, her instincts prove to be right and Jane is on her way to carving her own niche in the precinct, much to some of its members' chagrins.
What works: Bello brings an interesting energy to Jane that elevates the show beyond its anachronisms, which we'll come back to in a second. Sure she's the prototypical tough gal cop but there's a smart edge to her that proves to be a lot of fun. Whether it's making them faux deputies or arranging their statements to look like demo tapes, Jane continues to find amusing ways - both comedic and dramatic - to manipulate witnesses. They're tactics that not only make her a better detective than her peers but also more entertaining to watch. One hopes the series will continue to explore said path as it progresses...
What doesn't: ...and hopefully leave behind the sexist cloud that covers the pilot. Duffy and company's attitudes feel painfully dated and forced, as if they've been transported from the original 1991 mini-series rather than exist in present day. I'm sure these types of characters exist in 2011 but to have an entire station full of them borders on science fiction. It doesn't help that their cartoonish snarling at Jane is accompanied with keystone-esque incompetence for the job. The guys are all lazy and looking for shortcuts whereas Jane - gasp! - actually thinks. The dichotomy is so black and white you'd think it was a live action Sherwin-Williams paint swatch.
I was also disappointed to see how little of Jane's character is unpacked in the pilot. We never quite see what motivates her to be a detective other than the obvious boilerplate: she worships her dad (Peter Gerety) and frustrates her live-in boyfriend (Toby Stephens). Considering how cleverly she handles her job, I was hoping to see a more compelling insight into what makes her tick. I was likewise surprised with how limply the central cases resolves itself: rather than being ground out by Jane's smarts, most of it hinges on blind luck or being the fruit of innocuous trees. All in all, there's a gumption to "Prime Suspect" at work under the surface that hasn't quite blossomed.
The bottom line: Here's hoping it does.