I first encountered this series a few years ago when the final series aired on my local PBS station. I remember being impressed by it, and by Helen Mirren’s performance, so when I noticed all seven series (each consisting of two episode serial) were now streaming on Netflix, I decided to revisit the show. So far I’ve watched the first two series, and I have to say I’m impressed. Prime suspect is a powerful, relentless show that delivers a more realistic, unpredictable police procedural than most anything else out there.
In the first series we are quickly introduced to our protagonist, DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), who due in large part to her own tenacity is placed in command of an ongoing murder investigation after her predecessor died suddenly of a heart attack. Her new, male, subordinates are less than thrilled to have a female commanding officer, and several begin plotting to have her removed from the investigation. Tennison, however, is not easily bested: she begins swiftly asserting herself a tough but companionable leader, and gradually begins to earn her squad’s respect. Well, most of them anyway.
This show packs so much into each 105 minute episode that I could go on summarizing for another three paragraphs and only cover the first serial. Unlike other procedurals, where we only see our heroes at work, here we see the full picture of one woman’s life as a detective. In addition to the complex investigation storyline, we also watch Tennison’s dwindling personal life as she progressively fails to balance her work with her family.
I’m just going to say it: Helen Mirren is incredible as Jane Tenisson. She inhabits her role completely, bringing out the character’s complexity and humanity so well it’s hard not to lose yourself in her journey. And Zoë Wanamaker, who plays Moyra Henson, the domestic partner of the first series’ main suspect, is excellent. In fact, it’s hard to think of an actor or character in the entire show that wasn’t well done.isn’t the only talented actor in the mix.
Aside from the superb acting and writing, one of Prime Suspect’s greatest strengths is how effectively it conveys the sheer brutality and unpleasantness of murder. In most other shows, even grittier ones such ans CSI and Bones, the actual murders feel somehow less impactful than they should. It can be hard in those shows to feel any real emotional response to the sight of a decaying corpse, or even think of it as a person; not so in prime suspect. I can’t entirely tell why, whether it’s the camera work, the graphic imagery, the writing, or a some combination thereof, but when Prime Suspect shows you a body, you feel something. And by the time the story’s over, when they’ve finally caught the person responsible it’s not empty, as is so often the case with such shows as Law and Order. No, when Prime Suspect shows its hand and reveals the culprit they’re not just the suspect who happened to have actually done it, they’re a murderer, and you loathe them for it.
If, like me, you enjoy a good procedural, and the number of them on TV would suggest a lot of you do, then Prime Suspect is a must watch.