Judge Daryl Loomis and his loose cannon ways always frustrate his editors.
Our reviews of Prime Suspect 1 (published January 19th, 2004), Prime Suspect 2 And 3 (published June 1st, 2004), Prime Suspect 4 And 5 (published June 7th, 2004), Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness (published August 11th, 2004), and Prime Suspect: Complete Collection (published August 19th, 2010) are also available.
"I like to be called the Governor or the Boss. I don't like Ma'am…I'm not the bloody queen."
Cop dramas have been popular throughout the history of television, but for more than a decade now, you can't throw a cat at a TV schedule without hitting a police procedural. People can't get enough of them; the genre dominates prime time television and, for good or for bad, new ones arrive every season. Quality varies greatly show to show, but all of them owe a bit of debt to the BBC's original version of Prime Suspect. Debuting in 1991 and starring the great Helen Mirren (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) in an iconic role, this show had a large hand in defining the tone and style of the modern procedural, and the complete collection is now available on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
Series 1: When the head of a murder investigation has a heart attack, DCI Jane Tennison (Mirren) is given the lead on the case. Female detectives are rare, though, so Tennison has to deal with her misogynist coworkers while trying to find the man torturing and killing young women.
Series 2: A body turns up in an African neighborhood and Tennison is assigned to the investigation, but her efforts are hindered by the racial tensions that come to the surface because of the case.
Series 3: A young male prostitute is murdered in an apartment before the place is torched. Tennison, now working the Vice beat, begins her investigation, only to discover a widespread child pornography ring with connections to her own police force.
Series 4: The Lost Child: The murder of a young girl causes Tennison, now promoted to Detective Superintendent, to suspect a convicted child molester, now out of prison and living with a woman and her two young daughters, who have no idea of the man's past.
Series 4: Inner Circles: A couple of speed freaks break into a nice house to ransack it and have a little fun. But when the neighborhood watch guys show up to take vengeance, they discover the apparent sex murder of a prominent businessman. Tennison's investigation indicates a setup, though, that reaches the top of the food chain.
Series 4: The Scent of Darkness: A new murder recalls a case from Tennison's past, leading others to question her zealous pursuit of the man in prison for the crimes. She knows she put the right man away, though, and goes on a quest to discover who this copycat really is.
Series 5: Now in Manchester, Tennison is working on solving a murder that she suspects was committed by "The Street" (Steven Mackintosh, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), a local hoodlum. He, though, is conducting his own investigation of the killing, which involves torture and his two crazy dogs.
Series 6: A Serbian refugee from the genocide is found murdered, but not before making a call to her sister claiming to have seen "The Devil" on the street. Tennison traces this link to a pair of war criminals who have assimilated themselves in the country, but who now want to make sure that the last people who witnessed their actions are silenced.
Series 7: Only weeks from retirement and a drunken mess, Tennison takes on one last case. A schoolgirl is found dead and the illusions of her sweetness are destroyed. As Tennison tries to manage her life and her illness, she becomes more emotionally involved in this case than any before in her career.
Prime Suspect isn't a television series in the traditional sense; it's more of a collection of movies strung out over seven years of television, but they're so interconnected that it's impossible for me to think of them as completely separate entities. Aside from one season, the format stood as one three-hour movie per season, split into two episodes. The one season that deviates from this, the fourth, presents three standalone episodes at about a hundred minutes apiece. That season doesn't really work so well as a result, but I'll get to that.
The first three years of Prime Suspect are absolutely superb television, some of the best of its kind ever to air. Mirren comes out of the gate running, instantly making Tennison her own and turning it into a one of a kind character. She wasn't the first tough female cop to come down the block, but as the head of the investigation and the unquestioned star of the show, she was a category unto herself.
The first season, that is the main focus, Mirren dealing with a bunch of old school detectives who can't handle working with, let alone for, a woman. She has to fight tooth-and-nail for respect from coworkers and suspects alike, finally gaining it by her solid police work and no nonsense attitude. They have to accept it whether they like it or not; she's just that damn good.
Series 2 and 3 keep with mixing of social commentary and violent crime, going with race relations and homophobia, respectively. These two years maintain the standard of excellence established in the first year, and continue the format, as well. These are three years of ultra-compelling television that are really hard to beat.
Series 4 takes Prime Suspect down a different road, delivering three separate stories over three movies, including a reprisal of the first year's case. This is far more conventional television and, though the individual episodes are strong enough, they don't reach the level of depth and complexity that previous years showed.
In Series 5, it takes another turn, going back to the two-episode, single story format, but moving the action from London to Manchester. That's a minor difference, really, because the quality is back up to snuff, but it was clear that the show had started running out of legs.
For that reason, Prime Suspect took a hiatus in 1996, returning to glory in 2003 with a new drama and nothing lost over the years. Mirren slips right back into the role and the supporting cast, new as it basically is every time out, is excellent. The plot here was probably my favorite of the bunch, with its war crimes backstory, forged identities, and moral ambiguity.
They made one more go around three years later for the final series, which was heavily lauded but I found a little bit underwhelming. It's more about Tennison's alcoholism, retirement, and search or redemption than it is about the crime. That's certainly there, of course, and a cut about what is normally seen on television, but given the heights of the first three and the previous series, I always hoped it would end on a bang. I can't fault the show, though; that's just the way things work out sometimes.
Prime Suspect is phenomenal programming, one of the best police procedurals you'll ever see. They go a little bit overboard with the salacious cases, especially the over-reliance on sex crimes, but that's a small price to pay for otherwise such deep, complex, and affecting television. I never saw the American remake, but I hope it at least tried to replicate this level of quality, though I have a hard time believing it did. No matter, I have all that I need right here: twenty hours of some of the best television available.
Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection comes to Blu-ray from Acorn Media in a nice looking, single box set that is the hi-def upgrade to the DVD set they released back in 2010. They claim some amount of remastering has been done and the episodes do look good. Understandably, the image quality gets better as the years go on, and they all sport solid 1.78:1/1080p transfers. All except the first episode of Series 4; for some strange reason, it has a 1.33:1/1080p transfer and looks considerably worse than the rest. Otherwise, the only problems with the image come from the inherent limitations of the source materials. The first few seasons are a little rough at times, but by the end, it looks like any other new show. The DTS-HD 2.0 sound mix is just fine, though nothing special. It's consistently sharp throughout the series, with good dialog and no background noise, but the dynamic range is very limited.
Extras are brief, with only a pair of featurettes, one each for Series 6 and 7, across the entire set. The first one runs about 23 minutes and focuses on that particular storyline. The second is nearly an hour and is more about the widespread focus and impact of the show. Both heavily feature Mirren and the rest of the cast and are good enough, but for a set this large, I would have hoped for more.
Prime Suspect is undoubtedly one of the great shows of its era and an example for all police procedurals to follow. The question, though, is whether the Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection is worth the Blu-ray upgrade. As happy as I am to now have this in my collection, I can't really see much reason for people who already have the DVDs to upgrade. If you don't have them, then by all means, this is the set to own. With the lack of new extras and a minimal technical upgrade, everyone else can keep what they have.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
• IMDb: Prime Suspect: Series 1
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