Who’s the American Helen Mirren?

NBC’s track record with adapting international series for American audiences has been rather hit or miss (Highs: The Office. Lows: Coupling. New Lows: Kath & Kim.) so the recent news that the peacock is set to adapt the groundbreaking UK drama series Prime Suspect is a bit…suspect.

Prime SuspectThe original ran in seven parts from 1991 to 2006 and starred Helen Mirren as lady-of-a-certain-age chief homicide detective Jane Tennison, a role that made waves when the series debuted as it was the first to feature a woman as the head of a murder investigation unit. A hit with critics, it earned Mirren two Emmy awards for lead actress in a miniseries and made her a household name in the US when it aired as part of PBS’s Mystery series.

With such a stellar pedigree, NBC should take measured steps to ensure that their Prime Suspect will have its own tone that sets it apart from workhorse Law & Order procedurals (no L&O: Across the Pond, thank you). The crux of the show’s success will be in casting the lead. Considering such an acclaimed and formidable actress originated the role, someone award-winning caliber must come on board to give the US version some clout in standing up (and out) to the plethora of other crime-centered dramas scattered around the dial, especially ones with strong female characters (NBC’s own Emmy-winning Mariska Hargitay, for example). American producers will no doubt want to sex up the role, which means skewing the age range down, considering the hesitancy to cast women over 40 in high-profile leads. This actress age-ism is a shame because, like a fine wine, the best only get better with time, and this kind of role demands someone who’s been around the block.

Jean Smart as Martha Logan on Day 5 of "24"Topping my “For Your Consideration” list would be Jean Smart. While most well-known for comedy – first gaining recognition on Designing Women, but racking up 3 Emmy wins in the last decade for her guest role on Frasier and one for supporting actress playing Christina Applegate’s martini-swilling mother on Samantha Who? – she’s also proven a knack for the dramatics, and earned rave reviews, with her portrayal of the president’s unstable, whistle-blowing wife on the fifth season of 24.

Opening the forum for discussion: Who else is an ideal contender to take up the American “Queen” of police mantle?

4 thoughts on “Who’s the American Helen Mirren?

  1. I love this game! Also, I love the L&O:Across the Pond reference.

    OK, so NBC has to think outside the box for this. And BTW, Prime Suspect is huge for lesbians, so that has to be considered.

    My number one choice would get NBC buzz and make me oh so happy:
    Phylicia Rashad. She would keep the show “groundbreaking,” and she’s so respected as an actor. Besides, Glenn Close is already busy doing this same role on F/X.

    Other options are Jessica Lange, Annette Bening (SWANKED!!), and heck, why not someone like Lupe Ontiveros or Queen Latifah? Seriously. All of those ladies are amazing actresses that would be welcome on my DVR and would be interesting choices.

    Sidebar: I found Series 1 so damn boring, I couldn’t stomach the idea of queuing up Nos. 2-7. Bring on Phylicia or Queen, and you know I’ll set my season pass. And hey, while I’m at it, US Network television: let’s consider the idea that 24 episodes aren’t always necessary to make a good season. That’s probably fodder for a different post….sorry!

  2. I enjoy your choices, JB. Of course the return of Claire Huxtable to the air (being the new Jenny Craig pitchlady doesn’t count) is always welcome, I just wonder if she might not be able to come across with the same cougar heat that Lady Helen seems to exude. Plus, can she pull off not being wholesome? It’s a tough call.

    Annette Bening would fare a little better in both respects, as would Jessica Lange, since their resumes are lousy with such roles. Even Queen could do it justice, but could she commit to network TV?

    And yes, your mention of US TV taking a big cue from the British serialized template is a heady subject and deserves a post of its own. All I have to say is this: HBO has adopted such a model and they’ve fared very well so far with that choice.

  3. Instead of cougaring up Claire H, which could be a downfall of a trend for actresses of a certain age, they could just make her a blousy drunk (Josh Groban on GLEE!!). Give her a faithful husband and keep them liquored up for arguments and throwing things and accidental shootings, etc.

  4. But if the original creators had a blousy drunk character in mind wouldn’t they have cast Brenda Bleythen?

    Oh my god the perfect casting just hit me – Allison Janney! Right under my nose every morning with West Wing repeats on Bravo. I know you want super groundbreaking, but this is American TV. Putting a 6′ tall, non-model actress in the lead is pretty outside the box for the H’wood PTB.

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