Knighthood might not be in the cards, but Maria Bello’s considerable charisma provides the strongest reason to watch “Prime Suspect,” a belated adaptation of the British miniseries that helped put the Dame in Helen Mirren. Following the original template with some fidelity but also including its own wrinkles, the show gets past the first hurdle by selling Bello’s Jane Timoney as a woman struggling to gain respect and acceptance in an old boy’s club of New York detectives. Surrounded by a solid supporting cast, it’s a workable if not quite prime piece of development.
Dismissed and denied cases by her condescending male colleagues, Jane doesn’t get much sympathy from her boss (Aidan Quinn), and is treated with open hostility by the likes of Irish cop Reg Duffy (Bryan O’Byrne, channeling Dennis Franz), especially when she seizes on a sudden and unexpected opening to seek advancement within their unit.
Her first case, meanwhile, involves a grisly home-invasion robbery and murder that left an understandably traumatized young boy behind as a witness. As directed by Peter Berg from Alexandra Cunningham’s adaptation, the whole exercise is gritty and spare, in keeping with a long history of NBC cop dramas.
Jane’s take-no-prisoners attitude causes even the few detectives who are relatively friendly to her situation to wonder about her drive. “Do you ever worry that someone might drop a house on you?” asks Det. Luisito Calderon (Kirk Acevedo) after she questions a witness.
An “ER” alum (thus returning to an old scheduling haunt) and indie film darling, Bello is the whole package as this character: Tough, demanding, yet still sexy and beautiful. Hell, she even looks good in a goofy hat.
There is also promise — series-wise, if not so much in the pilot, in her extended circle — which includes the always-welcome Peter Gerety as her dad.
Whether that’s enough — given there’s not much that’s distinctive about the premise, and a whole slew of crime-fighting females, such as “The Closer,” who came about after Mirren originated the role two decades ago — remains to be seen. NBC has said the gender politics will be dialed back going forward, which is logical given the show’s anachronistic aspects, but that only threatens to make this a more homogenized crime procedural — and put more weight on Bello’s shoulders.
Practically speaking, the series doesn’t figure to have a sizable lead-in from NBC’s comedies, but on the plus side faces two established dramas whose audience is pretty much locked in place, offering the possibility of sampling.
Throw in NBC’s tempered expectations for new 10 p.m. dramas in the post-Jay Leno experiment era, and that could bode well for “Prime Suspect” avoiding its own premature demise. If so, it’ll be because Bello is on the case.