Television networks will take any advantage they can get when it comes to launching a new television series. Sometimes they'll look to a well-known actor as their promotional hook, but other times it's a familiar title.
With remakes, networks see the potential for a built-in audience of newcomers and fans of the older show. It's the reason "Charlie's Angels" and "Prime Suspect" are both back in new forms this week.
Of course, with remakes there is always the danger that old fans will balk at efforts to "re-imagine" a TV series they loved in the past. Will fans of the PBS British import "Prime Suspect," starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennyson, take to NBC's "Prime Suspect" (10 p.m. EDT Thursday), starring Maria Bello as Jane Timoney?
In terms of format, it's a different show. Rather than following one case for multiple episodes, the American "Prime Suspect" is more procedural, with one case per episode. But it also takes time to explore the lives of its characters, especially Jane in the pilot episode.
Viewers meet her father (Peter Gerety, "Homicide") and her boyfriend (Kenny Johnson, "The Shield") and his ex-wife, whom Jane puts in her place in a fantastic dinner scene that closes the episode. It was this scene that convinced me to stick with "Prime Suspect" for a few episodes.
Much of the first half of the premiere feels stale and anachronistic, particularly the blatant discrimination Jane faces from male colleagues. Wouldn't it be more subtle and insidious rather than in-her-face, particularly in the present day? These scenes feel too on-the-nose. Same goes for the fedora Jane frequently sports; it's overly self-conscious and gimmicky.
But "Prime Suspect" improves as the hour goes on. The guys' attitude toward Jane evolves. One cop, played by Kirk Acevedo ("Oz"), wonders aloud, "Do you ever worry someone might drop a house on you?" Yes, he's calling her a witch, but in a more playful manner that's more believable than an earlier scene where the guys outright accuse her of sleeping her way into her new job.
As Jane, Bello brings a crusty dedication to the role that serves her well. She's only slightly younger than Mirren was when she originated the role in 1991, and Bello is not afraid to allow herself to look tired and worn, a necessary trait for the character.
While there's some creative impetus for remaking "Prime Suspect" with a new cast, ABC's "Charlie's Angels" (8 p.m. Thursday) feels like a cynical ratings grab. After all, the franchise is being rebooted solely because it has name recognition, not because there was some clamoring for more after the 1970s TV series and two big-screen movies in 2000 and 2003.
Drew Barrymore, one of the stars of the movies, serves as an executive producer on ABC's new "Charlie's Angels," along with Leonard Goldberg, who worked on the original "Charlie's Angels" TV show. The showrunners are Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who did an excellent job re-imagining the Superman myth in the early years of "Smallville," but they have less raw material to work with when it comes to "Charlie's Angels."
Thursday's premiere episode introduces the Angels: a thief (Rachael Taylor), a former Miami cop (Annie Ilonzeh) and a street racer (Minka Kelly, "Friday Night Lights"). They work alongside Bosley (Ramon Rodriguez), a reformed tax fraud/computer hacker, and take their marching orders from Charlie, a disembodied voice ABC had yet to cast as of Tuesday morning (cutting it a little close, eh?).
The premiere episode begins with the rescue of a child from human traffickers and continues with a twist and then more investigation to get at the root of the child-abduction scheme.
Along the way there's one amusing visual gag involving a guy who looks like the old Bosley -- rotund, balding -- and the new Bosley, who is young and hunky. But many of the references to the "Angels" mythology, such as it is, sound like this:
"We don't exactly play by the rules, either," says the former cop, Gloria.
"Yeah, we're Angels, not saints," says blond former thief Abby.
Hey, with a name like "Charlie's Angels," at least viewers have a pretty good idea of what they're going to get: action, attractive women and gorgeous locations -- but not much else.