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Series / Prime Suspect

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"Don't call me ma'am, I'm not the bloody queen!"

A British Police Procedural series starring Helen Mirren, which originally aired on ITV in seven series between 1991 and 2006.

Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Jane Tennison (Mirren) is a straight-laced London Metropolitan Police officer who has been passed over time and time again for promotion due to her lack of penis. When another DCI dies while investigating the murder of a prostitute, Tennison takes her chance. However things take a turn for the bizarre when the body in the prostitute's room isn't actually the prostitute and the real hooker is nowhere to be found. But solving the case won't be the difficult part — it will be getting the men in her department to stop trying to sabotage her.

Written by crime novelist Lynda La Plante and one of the first police dramas to star a female in the lead role, the first season mostly deals with sexism in the workplace. However over time the program slowly evolved to tackle other issues from institutional racism to sexual perversion. Running themes also include Tennison's growing dependence on alcohol and her attempts to juggle her working and personal lives. It won three Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries (and a Best Actress trophy for Mirren) as well as Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Peabodys.

A U.S. remake, set in New York City and starring Maria Bello, aired on NBC for half a season (201112). A Prequel, Prime Suspect 1973 (broadcast in the U.S. as Prime Suspect: Tennison), began in 2017, showing a 22-year-old WPC Tennison (Stefanie Martini) starting her career in the even more sexist police force of The '70s.

Tropes used:

  • Acquitted Too Late: Inverted with Campbell Lafferty in Errors of Judgement, who is ignored and released after he attempts to turn himself in, resulting in his murder by The Street.
  • The Alcoholic: Tennison.
  • The Atoner: Bill Otley owns up to his bad behavior as part of his AA recovery, and counsels Tennison on her own drinking.
  • Back for the Dead: Sgt. Bill Otley.
  • Big Bad Friend: DCS Ballinger in Series 5.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In series 1, Tennison feels like she's nailed the prime suspect — George Marlow — as a serial killer and yet, despite the evidence and a confession, the very last moment shows him in court pleading "Not Guilty" to all charges. We eventually learn that he was convicted, however.
  • Compressed Vice: Averted with Jane's alcoholism. Even in the first series, she drinks alone.
  • Constructive Body Disposal: "Operation Nadine" kicks off when the new resident of a home has the concrete slabs covering his garden dug up and the workmen discover the skeletal remains of a teenage girl buried underneath. It leads Inspector Tennison onto the path of a twisted Serial Rapist, who killed one of his victims six years previously and then had the house's former resident help him pave over her to cover it up.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: In series seven, averted with Bill Otley's death.
  • Da Chief: A rare example of a series with this character as the protagonist. Tennison also has to deal with various higher-ups.
  • Defective Detective
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Mentioned in Season One when Jane interviews the fellow prostitute friends of one of the victims, who are not pleased that their friend's murder was given little attention at the time because of her profession.
  • Downer Ending: Sure, Jane solves her last case and earns the gratitude of Sallie's parents but she's lost everyone in the world who's ever cared about her: both her parents are dead; she's alienated herself from her sister and her niece; Otley gets murdered in front of her; and Penny turns out to be Sallie's killer.
  • Drunk Driver: Penny accuses Jane of being drunk when she has a near-miss, though it's possible that Jane was under the limit and distracted because she was enjoying Penny's company.
  • Everybody Smokes: It's the 90s. Of course they do.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Crimewatch pops up as Crime Night occasionally. They might have been able to make use of the real thing had it not belonged to The Other Side. (Crime Night is portrayed in-universe as an ITV programme.)
    • The Day Centre in Soho that keeps popping up in Series 3 was probably based on the Real Life charity, Streetwise Youth, which operated in the area in The '90s. (It has since been absorbed into the much larger Terrence Higgins Trust, due to funding problems.)
  • Finding Judas: In Series 5, Jane suspects someone in her team is leaking information to The Street. Suspicion falls initially on DI Devanney, whose Disappeared Dad is a career criminal. It turns out to be her boss who was doing it for his idea of the greater good.
  • Friend to All Children: Tennison's very good with young victims/witnesses.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted by Jane.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: The first season's graphic shots of rotting and mutilated corpses were very extreme for the time, although by a couple of decades later they were standard practice in gritty crime shows.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: In Series 7, what little we see of Penny's mum is of her moping or topping up her wine glass. Her dad is otherwise preoccupied by his affair with her best friend.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Tennison plays this game in Series 5.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jane and Penny in Series 7. Progresses to Like a Daughter to Me. It doesn't last.
  • Irregular Series: Aired one series per year from 1991-96 (skipping 1994) then the final two series aired in 2003 and 2006, respectively.
  • Meaningful Name: Vera in Series 3. Her name comes from the Latin word for "truth". Not only does she know the truth about Connie's murder, her name is an expression of her true self.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: In Series 4, it is suggested that the Marlow case was an example of this.This idea is subsequently quashed by the end of the series.
  • Mistaken for Racist: When Jane's boss brings in Robert Oswalde, a Black officer, to work on her team on a case in a minority-majority community, she sets him to the task of looking up missing persons rather than going out into the field to work with said community. DI Burkin interprets this as "keeping our coloured friend in his place". When Bob challenges her about being made to do office grunt work, she says that she put him on it because she didn't want him to be treated as a token. He points out that he would much prefer to be given the work best suited to his rank and experience.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Particularly in the first season, the men working under Jane constantly blame her for screwing up, overlooking vital information and collaring the wrong people after doing their best to deliberately sabotage her efforts.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In series 1, Sargeant Otley sends Jane to Surrey on a wild goose chase just to waste her time... and Jane ends up identifying the victim, gaining her first lead in the case.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: DI Frank Burkin, who is disparaging towards the Black British, but is still a professional colleague of Jane's.
  • Serial Killer: The first season begins with the murder of a prostitute. Then it turns out they misidentified the body and the real prostitute is missing. Then they find her decomposed body, killed in the same way as the first victim. Then older cases start looking suspiciously familiar...
  • Shoot the Dog: The Street in Series 5. Literally.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Pretty much everyone smokes.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Jane drunkenly grooving to Stay Awhile in her old room. When Penny does the same thing later, the record she chooses is In The Middle of Nowhere.
  • Title Drop: Pretty much every episode: "S/he is our prime suspect."
  • To Absent Friends: Jane, her sister and her niece head to the pub across the road from the crematorium after her dad's funeral. It's not very convivial; Jane compares it to a reunion of East End villains.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Remade in 2011 by NBC, starring Maria Bello as Jane Timoney. Was widely expected to suck by fans of the original; the pilot, however, indicates that it may be one of the more effective British-to-American translations of modern television, mostly via not trying to be its predecessor. It only lasted a year.
  • War Is Hell: Jane's dad was an ambulance driver during the war, and was one of the first on the scene at Belsen after its liberation. After all the terrible things he saw, he wanted nothing more to do with the evil of the world. Jane on other hand, chose to involve herself in it, which was probably why her father could never be completely supportive of her career choice even though he was proud of her.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: At the beginning of the final series, a drunken Tennison picks up a man at a bar, only to wake up the next morning alone and with a nasty bruise.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Vera calls Tennison out for pretending not to be a transbigot in order to get information from her.
    "You were only pretending to like me."
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: A variation. Jane isn't a parent, but her boyfriend from the first season exists solely to get exasperated with her for staying too late at work. He eventually leaves her because of this.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Penny becomes this.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: The first episode has the main officers almost wrap up a case in the first twenty minutes. That is until the first DCI topples over.