Shot of gray interrogation room. Suspect sits in chair. Maria Bello enters. “Now Mr. Hull, I’m going to ask you once again, where were you between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. of last night?” Suspect turns head to side, mumbles something about being in bed. Another detective enters. With a raspy New York accent (an accent that every cop but Bello seems to have), he says, “Detective Timoney, this is my case. I told you to go to the apartment and do some useless activity.” The two detectives have a stare-down. She says something sharp and leaves. Cut to overhead shots of New York over rock music. “Prime Suspect” logo appears on screen.
Thursdays at 10 p.m.
This, for better or for worse, is what you’re getting with NBC’s new drama “Prime Suspect.” For one hour every week, Maria Bello (“E.R.”) plays connect-the-dots down the alleys and back streets of New York, chasing murderers and kidnappers along the way. She has quite a lot on her plate, but luckily, she’s up to the challenge.
Realistically, if you’re watching this show, it’s for Maria Bello. As Detective Timoney, with her “take-no-crap” attitude and deep empathy, she is honestly likeable, sauntering through her scenes with the sharpness of an experienced actor. In one scene in the pilot, a little boy who watched his mother’s murder says, “I would kill that man.” Bello’s response, “I would help you,” is powerful in its justice and understanding. She doesn’t stay detached from the crime; she becomes involved in a very personal way. Combined with her methodological approach to catching criminals, this “heart” creates an effective character.
The problem with “Prime Suspect” is not Bello; it’s what surrounds her. Her co-workers are so entrenched in sameness (raspy voices, crew cuts, gray suits) that after two episodes, no watchers could honestly recite more than two of their names. And even if they could, they would be stretching to give more than one distinguishing trait. The scenes are perpetually gray (it’s always not sunny in New York, apparently) — the only splash of color is the red of blood stains.
Surprisingly, the suspects themselves contain some amount of depth. In the second episode, a major suspect of the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl is a “cured” child molester trying to set his life straight. His interactions with Bello, and the questions these interactions ask of both of her and the audience, are not so easily solved as “shoot the bad guy,” “bad guy goes to jail.” Can a child molester be cured? Would you judge him by present actions, or past ones? His final scene with the star is powerful and makes us question the methods used by police.
Still, she can’t do it all. In one scene, Bello chases a rapist down an alley. Then suddenly, he turns and attacks her. Her aura of invincibility is shattered as she is beaten by the criminal, her face a bloody unrecognizable mess. As he strangles her, we realize she can’t do everything by herself; she needs support from those around her. In the show, the other officers rescue her just in time. The question is: Will these same characters become the kind that can help her carry the show and keep us watching?
Does television need more cop shows? Probably not. But, if “Prime Suspect” can keep giving audiences Maria Bello while developing the world around her, there seems to be no reason why it won’t find some amount of success.