By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
Relax, Helen Mirren fans. NBC's Prime Suspect (Thursdays 10 p.m./9 Central) is good. Not great, but good, and promising.
No, it won't erase memories of the British original, a brilliant series of TV movies and miniseries that featured Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in a career-defining role. Temperamentally it feels quite different. The premise hasn't just been relocated to New York City, it has been revamped for American broadcast network; that means shorter, punchier scenes, a faster-paced narrative and (in the pilot, at least) more reliance on physical jeopardy. The premiere's plot is standard-issue American cop show stuff — a mysterious and bloody home invasion/murder that the heroine's department thinks it's figured out, but that she considers unsolved — and it ends with a brutal action scene that owes more to gritty American action films than to modern English police procedurals. But if you can accept such changes — and if you can't, believe me, I understand — there's lots to like here, starting with Maria Bello's lead performance.
Bello, a former ER cast member who segued into tough, sexy supporting roles in The Cooler, A History of Violence and other films, is just right for this show's conception of its heroine, New York police detective Jane Timoney. She has to deal with some of the same issues that plagued Mirren's Jane and a couple of new ones. Tops on the list are institutional sexism, the pressure to maintain a "normal" home life (with a live-in boyfriend played by Kenny Johnson), and her family's proud history of NYPD service, which she desperately wants to honor and extend. But executive producers Alexandra Cunningham (Desperate Housewives) and Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) stay true to the original's spirit but don't beat themselves up trying to replicate every nuance. It's possible for viewers who've never seen a frame of the show's inspiration to jump right in and feel as though they're seeing a substantial new work, not a clone of something.
You can read the rest of Matt's piece here at Salon.
A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.