TV Review - Prime Suspect and Unforgettable

If you didn't have enough women on TV solving crimes and mysteries, there are now two new ones for you to try. For years, we've had Mariska Hargitay in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Recently, we've had Emily Deschanel in Bones, Stana Katic in Castle, Anna Torv in Fringe, Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer and Dana Delany in Body of Proof.

Unforgettable stars Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) as a former, New York cop named Carrie Wells. Carrie volunteers as a nurse in Manhattan. She takes particular care for an elderly woman who clearly has Alzheimer's. It's heartbreaking to learn that the elderly woman is actually Carrie's mother.

While her mom is losing her memory, Carrie has a super memory. She has a condition called hyperthymesia. It's basically like a photographic memory to the nth degree. Not only can she recall every single detail of every thing she sees, hears, tastes, touches and feels, but she also never forgets anything.

There's only one exception. Carrie has a traumatic event in her past involving her sister Rachel. She was there. She witnessed it, but she can't remember what exactly happened. It's the one thing her super memory can't bring up. Until it can, Carrie decides to go work for the NYPD solving murders and other crimes.

Obviously, she uses her super memory to help her do this, but so far, the way it's been used, her ability hasn't really given her a leg up. Based on a short story by John Robert Lennon, it seems as if her ability was conceived to be useful in one particular situation, but stretching it out for an entire series may not be all that compelling and really turns her super memory into a gimmick or cheap trick.

Adapted by Ed Redlich and John Belucci and directed by Niels Arden Oplev (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Carrie is able to relive her memories by stepping into them as if they were a holodeck simulation. Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will get that reference. She's able to be an outside-observer, literally watching herself and walking around in the memory. The producers of Smallville also did this in the penultimate or final season of that show, so it's not really an original effect and the producers here don't really add anything more exciting.

Carrie is pulled into the NYPD again because of an old friend named Al Burns, played by Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck). The reason he's able to do so is because she lived below the initial crime scene and because she in fact discovered the victim. She's able to find the killer because she just happens to be close by to have seen him and not recognized it. Thankfully, her super memory brings it up in the nick of time, meaning the episode's climax.

Yet, this is a coincidence that can't be utilized all the time. Even in other instances, when she uses her super memory, she again doesn't do anything that any other detective couldn't. The stuff she derives could have easily been derived by another cop with only a little bit more leg work. Her ability is a short cut, but not that great a short cut.

Prime Suspect is yet another remake of a British TV series, one that starred Helen Mirren. That's already one mark against it, but I feel that so far the show has redeemed itself and even in ways stood out against the deluge of cop shows already on the air.

Maria Bello (A History of Violence and The Cooler) is brilliant as Jane Timoney. She seems to be the only woman in her homicide department and her presence there perturbs her male co-workers. A couple of the guys in fact don't respect her. The pilot and initial episodes seem to be Timoney proving herself to these men that she's just as capable. This doesn't mean that she doesn't make mistakes or get blindsided, but whereas the men are at times comfortable in their jobs making them at times lax, Timoney is always on the ball, always about the job, always pushing.

This is essentially a good quality, but, it pits her against the men. When a fellow detective dies and two seconds later she's asking for his job, the people around her really don't appreciate it. She's a no-nonsense kind of girl. This makes her perhaps appear a little insensitive, but she's not.

The second episode entitled "Carnivorous Sheep" has Timoney defending a pedophile. Her chief antagonist in the force is Detective Reg Duffy, played by BrĂ­an F. O'Byrne. His fierceness and zealous prejudice makes him pursue the pedophile, regardless of the evidence pointing toward his innocence. When the pedophile's life is ruined, Duffy doesn't care. He has no sympathy whereas Timoney does.

By no means, do I want to imply that because she's a woman, she's soft and delicate and will always err on the side of thinking suspects are innocent. She follows the evidence, but her senses seem more attune than some of the guys who have been there just as long if not longer. I would put her senses over Poppy Montgomery's character in Unforgettable.

But, unlike Montgomery's character, Timoney's problems are more grounded and in general is more interesting a person. A lot of that interest comes from the interactions that Timoney has not only on the job but in her personal life. Kenny Johnson (The Shield and Saving Grace) plays Matt Web, a contractor and Timoney's boyfriend. Matt has a toddler son named Owen from a previous relationship. Matt is in the process of negotiating custody and visitation, but it's an uneasy negotiation because Owen's mother is neurotic and crazy. Watching Timoney deal with Owen's mother and just the situation in general is sheer fun. Again, Timoney is no-nonsense. She's respectful, but even she has her breaking points.

Another mark against this show is that it is yet another police procedural. The steps of which are rather predictable, but the writers do a good job of mixing things up and highlighting things with that procedural that perhaps aren't highlighted in other shows. For example, in the third episode "Great Guy, Yet: Dead," Timoney tries to debunk a suspect's alibi by running from where his alibi is to the crime scene and then timing herself. Whereas another show might have accomplished this in one edit, the show here actually has her and her fellow detectives run the tiring distance.

The writers and producers of this show also highlight the sexual politics or interpersonal dynamics within Timoney's department in a way that is not necessarily new but feels fresh or at least energetic. We also get something that is rarely seen from even all these women and that's Timoney being sexual. With the exception of Deschanel whose character in Bones got pregnant, it's hard to believe that any of these women cops are having sex or have lives outside the work.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 10PM on CBS.

Prime Suspect.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 10PM on NBC.


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