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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Prime Suspect: “Regrets, I’ve Had A Few”

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Two weeks later, Prime Suspect is back with a brand new opening credit sequence, about 80 percent less of the overbearing music cues, and 100 percent less of the boring boyfriend and his psycho ex-wife, not to mention the obnoxiously fake radio announcements and the oh-so-divisive hat. This somehow adds up to a good 50 percent improvement overall. I wish I could say that it’s ready to earn an ‘A,’ but even with the improvement, the show is still holding steady in the high ‘B’ range. The main thing it lacks is an overarching theme. With the most distracting elements out of the way, that lacuna at the show’s heart is the main thing actively preventing it from being a first-rate cop show. Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon wrote the show off last week for this very reason, and he might be right to do so. This episode, however, suggests that if the creators of Prime Suspect could figure out how to create an overall arc, they would have a first-rate cop show on their hands. That’s a tall order, but it’s not insurmountable. While this episode drops many of the worst elements, it was fearless about throwing in those little weird, warm, and human moments that make workplace drama interesting. It’s that fearlessness about being weird that leads me to believe that Prime Suspect could still become great.

The episode opens on a confrontation between the police and members of a Latin community that is reminiscent of the original Prime Suspect’s series two. The community is angry because a dead girl has been found in the park near the neighborhood. This neighborhood is, incidentally, where Detective Velerio grew up. Timoney and Duffy head off to see the body, a young girl who was both strangled and had her throat cut. Duffy makes a joke about the killer having both a belt and suspenders, which sounds a bit like a nod to the best line in Once Upon A Time In The West. The body is naked but covered in week-old flowers, and I briefly feared that this episode was going to introduce a serial killer. Meanwhile back at the stand-off, Timoney and Duffy returned just as a loud young lady and a middle-age guy rushed the police line. They claim to be the girl’s friend and father, respectively. The police stopped them easily, but Duffy was pelted with a tomato and cursed by an older Latin lady. Literally. She put a curse on him. After a few mishaps, Velerio will later take him to a bruja to lift the curse. To be fair, the episode treats this as a lark. 

After the detectives positively identify the girl and chat with the medical examiner about the cause of death, Timoney learns from the girl’s mother that the father, who was actually the stepfather, has disappeared. The loud girl who was with him at the confrontation says that the deceased oversaw members of a local gang giving someone a beatdown. Although the plot plays with both of these angles for a while, as well as the remote possibility that the girl was murdered by a homeless man, the mystery is the least interesting aspect of the show. All of these leads seem like the red herrings they are, and there’s pretty much only one other person who is not in the regular cast, although he is in the far background through most of the show. It is no surprise when he turns out to be the perp, though.

The real pleasure, however, is in the human moments, as I mentioned above. Denied the manpower that she believes she needs to canvass the park, Timoney goes to someone we haven’t seen before: Deputy Chief of Patrol Costello, who is played by Peter Berg. Berg is, of course, a producer and showrunner for Prime Suspect, and he might also be the only person who could buy that a guy who looks like Peter Berg could have had an affair with a woman who looks like Maria Bello. For indeed, as it turns out, Costello and Timoney once had a fling, despite the fact that he is married and she is played by Maria Bello. He is eager to impress her, though, and he gives her the manpower to sweep the park. Later he will also betray vital information to the media in return for an unnamed favor in a scene that seems like a pale echo of the political machinations of The Wire. Given how poorly Friday Night Lights fared when it drew from The Wire, let us hope that Prime Suspect does not go down that particular rabbit hole. Peter Berg does some things very well. Being David Simon is not one of them.

Other nice moments included the gang member running into a church and begging for sanctuary before the police dragged him out in cuffs. Augie’s moment of quoting Lawrence Of Arabia along with one homeless man, who he then immediately confuses with another homeless man, was also quite lovely. Duffy and Velerio chatting about why Velerio lives in the East Village was good, as was the way they solved the mystery of the padiddle. Peter Gerety’s slight Irish accent was new, I think, but not too annoying. On the other hand, I’m not sure why there were two footchases in the episode. The first was a bit tense, but when the second guy ran, it seemed one too many. Duffy accusing Timoney of sabotaging her own case by giving information to the media struck me as false, too, but for the most part, the moments of the show were well-written and well-executed. As always, it remains to be seen if Prime Suspect can become more than that, but the evidence suggests that it is within reach.

Stray observations:

  • Pardon me for requesting that they dumb-down this element of the show, but would it kill the writers to have someone use Detective Velerio’s name occasionally so that I don’t have to look it up on IMDB every week?
  • “Where do you get a tomato in the middle of November?”
  • “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a car commercial about a mom safely shepherding her kids to hockey games?  What? I guess those new teeth aren’t going to pay for themselves.
  • “What you cannot enforce, do not command.” Attributed to Sophocles on Lt. Sweeney’s blackboard.
  • “Now watch yourselves! Some of these guys are packing out-of-season produce!"
  • Ending with “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”: never a bad move.