February 17, 2011
American "Prime Suspect"
I didn't even know that NBC was remaking "Prime Suspect", the British cop-drama show that ran sporadically over 7 seasons from 1991 to 2006. This was the show that starred Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, one of my favorite TV characters of all time, and was the first time I saw Helen Mirren in anything.
In the first season, Tennison faces hostility from her all-male department when she's brought in to lead a tricky murder investigation. She's also got a lot of personal problems that develop over the seasons as she rises through the ranks, like alcoholism. Plus it's Helen Mirren. She absolutely owns this role, and even though now she's a big movie star who probably won't be doing television anymore, it's still some of the best stuff she's ever done.
So now NBC has cast Maria Bello to play Tennison in the remake. I like her, and she's one hard working actress: she'll regularly do 3 or 4 movies a year, including both indie movies like The Cooler and A History of Violence (which both feature somewhat controversial sex scenes,) and mainstream aging manchild romps like Grown Ups. She's good at playing smart and tough and damaged, and she's beautiful. And she's the right age--mid-40's, though she really doesn't look it. But imagining her as Jane Tennison means comparing her to Helen Mirren, and that's always going to be an unfair fight.
Not that I can think of anyone better. If I had to cast an American Jane Tennison, all I could come up with is Jodie Foster, or maybe if it were being made 10 years from now, Hilary Swank. Neither of whom seem to be doing a lot of TV these days.
A lot has changed since the early '90's in the world of female TV cops: now we have "CSI", "The Closer", "Criminal Minds", and a few of the "Law & Order"s which all have women investigators. As the AV Club says, the new version of "Prime Suspect" will be set in "a New York precinct dominated by men, which exists in an alternate universe not currently flooded with television shows about tough female detectives who tend to routinely make fools of the men who believe they dominate their precincts."
Maria Bello's got an uphill battle, but if she brings some of that boozy, funny, cynical, hard-driving attitude that she had in Thank You For Smoking, when she played the alcohol industry lobbyist and spokesperson for the Moderation Council, she'll be great.
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