You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Prime Suspect: Tennison’ on PBS Masterpiece

Stefanie Martini, Sam Reid, Blake Harrison, Jessica Gunning, Alun Armstrong.
If the idea of a “Prime Suspect” prequel filled you with dread, well, you were right to be nervous.

The generally leaden “Prime Suspect: Tennison” isn’t all that great by the standards of recent U.K. crime dramas such as “Broadchurch” and “Happy Valley.” It suffers even more when compared with the heyday of the original “Prime Suspect,” which began a generally excellent 15-year run in the early ’90s.

The original incarnation of “Prime Suspect,” which starred Helen Mirren as London cop Jane Tennison, often demonstrated a welcome flexibility. Each season of the show was as long as or short as it needed to be in order to tell a crisp, suspenseful story heavy on the kind of character development that the best Brit crime shows are known for. “Tennison” is nowhere near as nimble. Installments runs past the 80-minute mark in order to tell a meandering, unexceptional story that could have used far more ruthless pruning and honing.

A bigger problem is the casting of Stefanie Martini in the lead role. The writing does her no favors — it’s obvious and superficial throughout — but Martini brings nothing but a wide-eyed innocence and a bland, earnest tentativeness to the role. Obviously, Tennison would be much different in 1973, at the start of her career, which is when this incarnation of the show is set. But this version of the character is so lacking in complexity that she might as well have parachuted in from one of the lackluster eras in the “Law & Order” shared universe.

Given the chance to fill out the details of Tennison’s early days, this program goes the obvious route almost every time. Her family members, when they appear, are generally depicted as one-dimensional, class-conscious nags who just want Jane to get married and settle down. Most of Jane’s colleagues are similarly uninteresting, and a flirtation with her boss never really gains much traction.

Simply put, “Tennison” never establishes a reason for its own existence. It was quite easy for the viewer to infer everything he or she needed to know about the character from the most engaging seasons of the Mirren vehicle. It was obvious that the routine sexism of the London police force had left its mark on the cagey, driven detective, and merely showing instances of that kind of bias in operation in the early ’70s does nothing to advance the viewers’ understanding of the character’s depths. And when “Tennison” moves away from its title character to focus on a turgid heist plot among London gangsters, it becomes even less interesting.

Though the prequel is rooted in a series that helped define a certain kind of textured, ambiguous U.K. crime drama, almost everyone in “Tennison” behaves in a predictable way, and the main murder investigation is notably short on exciting twists and turns. The soundtrack — heavy on bands like Pink Floyd and Roxy Music — is the best thing about the drama.

The original “Prime Suspect” is on Hulu, and watching — or re-watching — Mirren construct the building blocks of that TV legend would be a better use of one’s time than trying to stick with this muddled, hesitant and unnecessary backstory.

TV Review: 'Prime Suspect: Tennison' on PBS Masterpiece

Drama; 6 episodes (2 viewed); PBS, Sun. June 25, 10 p.m. 90 MIN.

Crew: Executive producers, Rebecca Eaton, Camilla Campbell, Robert Wulff-Cochrane.

Cast: Stefanie Martini, Sam Reid, Blake Harrison, Jessica Gunning, Alun Armstrong.

More TV

  • Supergirl -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths:

    'Crisis on Infinite Earths' Recap: A 'Titans' Cameo and a Fallen Hero

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One,” the premiere of the 2019 “Arrowverse” crossover. Bringing “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to the small screen has been years in the making, so it’s no surprise the epic five-part crossover kicked off with plenty of action on Sunday night [...]

  • Supergirl -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths:

    'Arrowverse' Team on 'Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One' Loss and Crossover Stakes (SPOILERS)

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One,” the premiere of the 2019 “Arrowverse” crossover event on the CW. The “Arrowverse” “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover kicked off with a bang: Oliver Queen aka the Green Arrow’s (Stephen Amell) death. With “Crisis” finally here, Harbinger (Audrey Marie [...]

  • Caroll Spinney & The Grouch36th Annual

    Caroll Spinney: Henson Family, 'Sesame Street' Colleagues Salute Muppet Performer

    Caroll Spinney, the puppet performer behind “Sesame Street’s” indelible Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, was remembered by friends and colleagues as a gifted artist who dedicated his professional life to the show’s mission of educating pre-schoolers. Spinney died Sunday at his home in Connecticut at the age of 85. He limned the Big Bird [...]

  • Rene Auberjonois at the International Myeloma

    René Auberjonois, 'Star Trek' and 'Boston Legal' Actor, Dies at 79

    René Auberjonois, best known for his roles in “Boston Legal” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” died at his home in Los Angeles due to metastatic lung cancer. He was 79. His son Rèmy-Luc confirmed the news to the Associated Press. Auberjonois was a prolific television actor, appearing as Paul Lewiston in 71 episodes of [...]

  • Caroll Spinney, with "Oscar the Grouch,"

    Caroll Spinney, Puppeteer Behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, Dies at 85

    Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 49 years at “Sesame Street,” died Sunday in Connecticut after living with dystonia. He was 85. Sesame Workshop announced his death, calling him an “artistic genius” whose “legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending.” Spinney’s death [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content