The TV Season's Biggest Disappointment

Today we mourn the loss of Prime Suspect.

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Every morning we address the important topic of something big, significant, funny, weird, etc. that happened while we were lying on the couch in front of the TV last night. Today we mourn the loss of Prime Suspect.

Everyone's always saying that we don't need any more cop shows (everyone, even people who live in the Amazon jungle, even the Inuits on Baffin Bay), mostly because for a while there there were just so many cop shows. And there still are, there are many shows about solving crimes, but these days they're all so gimmicky. There's the CSI franchise where everyone works in the science museum and carries guns even though they're just lab geeks. There are the Beautiful Mind shows, the ones where people are professional noticers or rememberers or deceivers. (That'd be The Mentalist, Unforgettable, and Psych.) These all have a tricky, otherworldly conceit, they don't traffic in realism the way that, say, the (oftentimes melodramatic, yes) Law & Order franchise did at its peak. Those were a different kind of cop show, and as weekly figure-'em-outs they were always welcome. The real-seeming ones were the best ones.

But as "The Circle Game" warns us, the seasons they go round and round and eventually even a noble stalwart series like Law & Order sputtered and died, leaving only its prurient younger sibling SVU to soldier on. And while that show has a new creative vigor about it lately, there is still a hole left in the gritty realism cop genre. Or there was. Or there will be? What we're trying to say is that probably the biggest disappointment of this pretty disappointing TV season is that more people didn't give NBC's recently canceled Prime Suspect a chance, as it was, based on excellent episodes like last night's, the cool, smart heir apparent to the police show throne.

The show, which Friday Night Lights visionary Peter Berg helped create, boasted (boasts? there are still a few episodes left to air) a great ear for the cadence and rhythms of real people-speak, while also infusing the dialogue with a nice, almost Elmore Leonardian amount of hard-boiled spark and snap. Some scenes, with Altman-esque overlapping dialogue and free-wandering camera work, really quite simply sing -- there's a surprising amount of actual artistry to the show. And we suppose there had to had to be to get the cast they got.

Sure Maria Bello's hat was a little annoying, but everything else about her presence on the show was so inviting, so oddly warm yet stern. The lady can act, she does naturalism really, uh, naturally, and when sparring with the terrific Brían F. O'Byrne as a prickly fellow detective or Aidan Quinn as everyone's boss, she was commanding without being showy. The show did (again, does?) ace ensemble work, the sign of actors who are comfortable with but challenged by each other. But they didn't leave anyone else out to dry, they always easily welcomed the necessary weekly parade of (well-cast) guest stars right into their whirring machine. It was a soothing show to watch, in a way, because everyone just seemed like such a professional. Sure some of the "Heyyyyyy" tough cop banter could get a little silly and overly strained sometimes, but that began to relax as the show progressed and likely would have been gone entirely by season's end. Ah well.

And yes, one could complain about the fact that such a deeply New York-set show was clearly filmed in Los Angeles, but that's a relatively minor gripe. They just tended to avoid exteriors, which worked well enough. Really there weren't many significant flaws to the show, so it's hard to say why exactly most people seemed not interested. The promos didn't do it justice, making it seem like an annoying "tough babe" banter-heavy silly thing, when it really wasn't. It's one of those shows, like Southland before it, that NBC is admirably smart enough to put on the air in the first place but then dumb enough to have no idea how to sell it. And while it would be nice for Prime Suspect to get the second life on cable that Southland did, that doesn't seem likely. So to the bin of lost TV detritus it will go, quickly forgotten (except by those professional rememberers).

It's a shame. What a crime.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.