Prime Suspect (UK)

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Prime Suspect (UK) TV Poster Image
Flawed-but-forceful female lead is a tough act to follow.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series takes a realistic stance when it comes to its characters, the crimes they investigate, and the grim, untidy world in which they live, touching on sexism, racism, pedophilia, child prostitution, and drugs. That said, justice is a major theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jane is a strong female role model who rises to a leadership role in a male-dominated profession, commanding colleagues who'd like to see her fail. But her own demons -- including alcoholism -- make for a murky personal life.

Violence

Crime scenes and autopsies are highly realistic, with visible blood and closeups of wounds. Some of the crimes -- such as sexual abuse of children or rape -- gives the series a dark, disturbing tone.

Sex

The main character sleeps with several partners over the course of the series and at one point decides to have an abortion. Nudity includes visible breasts and nipples but is typically in a clinical setting, such as an autopsy or crime scene.

Language

Audible terms include "hell," "damn," and "balls."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character drinks heavily and chain smokes, and her alcoholism is a recurring theme, although it isn't typically the focus.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Prime Suspect centers on a no-nonsense female detective who is dedicated to her job but largely neglects her personal life and anyone who happens to be in it. In one episode, she elects to have an abortion. She also struggles with alcoholism, which, although it isn't a major focus of the show, ultimately plays an important role in the end of the series. Prime Suspect is renowned for its realism, including gritty crime and autopsy scenes with visible blood and occasional nudity, as well as cases that touch on racism, child pornography, and rape, among other tense topics. There's also some low-level swearing ("hell," "damn"), but, overall, the series is understated rather than gratuitous.

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What's the story?

Comprising seven serials that aired between 1991 and 2006, the BAFTA- and Emmy-winning PRIME SUSPECT centers on the life and career of Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), one of the first female detective chief inspectors in Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service, who is devoted to her job -- at times, to her detriment. In spite of rampant on-the-job sexism, Jane eventually rises to the rank of detective superintendent but wages a series-long battle with her own personal demons while solving some of the city's most baffling crimes.

Is it any good?

If you consider yourself a connoisseur of crime dramas, you'd best add this series to your playlist. We all know Helen Mirren can act. But her portrayal of a no-nonsense police detective with a complex personal backstory is widely considered a masterwork, particularly since the seven Prime Suspect serials were filmed over such a long time span with significant gaps in between.

Aside from its obvious ties to the Americanized Prime Suspect (starring Maria Bello as Jane Timoney, a New York City homicide detective), this award-winning British series also heavily influenced The Closer (even though Kyra Sedgewick's Brenda Johnson opts for sugar instead of booze and cigarettes). What's more, it continues to remind us of the value of strong storytelling and excellent acting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sexism in the workplace and whether Prime Suspect's portrayal of the problem holds up to present-day realities. How does Jane cope with the sexism she encounters on the job? What are some more positive strategies for overcoming it?

  • How does the original Prime Suspect differ from the newer version adapted for American audiences? What changes were made to the plot and characters, and why?

  • How has Prime Suspect influenced other series about female crime-solvers? What qualities made Jane such a celebrated character, particularly among actors?

TV details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love drama and strong female characters

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