PBS is the HBO of the cable-less household: Epic mini-series, eclectic documentaries, and if you stay up late enough, naked people you unfortunately can’t un-see. When I heard that NBC was remaking Prime Suspect, a show that I had seen thanks to PBS’s Mystery, I thought that HBO was finally going to make its way to network TV. After the frank and gritty police stories of The Wire, I pictured the new Jane Tennyson as a female McNulty working a single case over a full season of TV, battling to find the killer while balancing her patronizing colleagues’ bitter subterfuge, her crumbling personal life, and her consuming alcoholism.
Instead I got a hat. And an attitude.
This show is not the Prime Suspect I remembered. While Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennyson quickly overcame the sexist attitudes she faced from her colleagues by proving herself to be an excellent detective and supportive leader, Maria Bello’s Jane Timony eye rolls her way through her precinct’s squad of misogynist stock characters. What struck me most about this Prime Suspect is that the show, much like Jane’s fedora and cravat, is simply trying too hard. The Jane I remembered was effortlessly tough; she certainly didn’t need to pull her weapon on a rude cabbie to prove that she’s not one to be messed with.
The show has definitely improved since its pilot, but it’s still strange to see Jane Timony’s colleagues’ over-the-top sexism when there have been so many strong female detectives since Jane Tennyson on television. Homicide’s Kay Howard, Law & Order’s Anita Van Buren, The Wire’s Kima Greggs, The Shield’s Claudette Wyms, and NCIS’s Ziva David are all tough female law enforcement officers who were police, not women, first. If only Jane could meet up with one of NYPD’s best female police officers currently on NBC’s duty roster, she’d learn that you don’t have to act tough to be taken seriously. You just have to be good at your job.
Olivia Benson of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is very good at her job. A crusader for justice from Day 1, Olivia is proof that you don’t have to act like a man to be respected by one.
So Jane, meet Olivia. She’s smart, tough, and a good detective, just like you. But unlike you, she doesn’t have to cop an attitude to prove it.