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Prequels aren’t just for Star Wars. If a series about a detective is beloved by viewers, why not go back and explore the sleuth’s younger days? You get to see a favorite character in a new, dewier light, and it’s an excellent opportunity for period sets and costumes. It’s been done with venerable, opera-loving Inspector Morse in Endeavor.

Now, to my delight, there’s Prime Suspect: Tennison, a 3-episode series on the fledgling days of  Woman Police Constable (yes, that was the title) Jane Tennison, set in 1973 in Hackney, London.

It’s jarring to see Jane so vulnerable, so fresh, so up for it. Even in the first of the seven series of the original Prime Suspect, Detective Chief Inspector (better title by then) Tennison was worn down and fairly embittered. In Tennison, we see how she got that way. My one criticism is that the writers go much easier on the male officer characters than the original Prime Suspect did. In Tennison, the higher-ups do not show Jane much professional respect, but they are gentler to her in 1973 than they were 20 years later. Perhaps it’s because in those years she  became more of a threat to their status, or perhaps it’s just that this series is a bit more optimistic about human nature.

It’s a great series, and with only three episodes, it’s sized perfectly for a full, luxurious Lazy Sunday. There is bonus enjoyment if you are old enough to remember 1973, which is portrayed beautifully, without nostalgia or mockery.

Right now the show is streaming on PBS.

P.S. Don’t miss this bit on 70s fashion for Tennison. No spoilers.


  • Oh that was so, so good! I was also really interested in the different treatment of gender role stereotypes between the two series. I found the original Prime Suspect much harder to watch and couldn’t get through it. I like your assessment of the threat level! Perhaps I’ll give the original another try.

    • The original series has a level of suspense, bleakness and despair that are hard to watch, but make the character of Jane all the more compelling. You don’t get any of that crushing awfulness from Tennison, although it’s quite realistic. Some of the 7 storylines of the original series are worse than the others, for sure.

      • I loved the suspense, bleakness, and despair of the original, but some of the storylines hit my personal horror threshold so I never finished watching them all (that’s the point where I know I’m going to spend months/years shaking off the wrenching, intrusive memories of plots/characters/scenes that bubble up — no entertainment, no matter how well made, is worth tripping that wire in my brain),

        I always wished Prime Suspect had managed to make bleak, despairing, suspenseful detective drama without the forays into plot line luridity — there were enough series that treated relatively “mundane” murders as plenty horror-ful that I know it was possible. I would have liked to have watched more of Jane persevering (in spite of herself) and everybody being awful to each other.

        I shall have to research carefully to see if Tennison is on the watchable side of the horror threshold!

        I found Endeavour increasingly painful to watch as it went on, for a different reason: young Morse was so endearing, and I wanted a happy ending for him. But I knew what lay before him was the wounded, deeply lonely character of middle-aged Morse, who would eventually drink himself into an earlyish grave (spoilers! sorry!). In my head canon, the character from Endeavour exists in an alternate timeline (like the rebooted Star Trek movies), and a brighter future remains possible. Clearly I’m a bit too much of a softie for these shows!

      • I thought this one was pretty darned crushing myself. But I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I still loved it.

  • Highly recommended! I already watched it when it aired on PBS a few weeks ago. I think they did a good job of showing how this Jane could become 90s Jane.

    • I agree! And how nice for Stephanie Martini to be able to look forward to looking like Helen Mirren when she’s older!

  • Tennison is the doyenne of my fondness for police/detective shows.

    • Never been a greater one, in my book.

  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we were told at a WGBH pre-season screening (Kay, you’ve got world-class museums – Ann, you’ve got world-class music – and we have world-class television producers!) that there will be no more seasons of Tennison. When it was announced, the whole crowd loudly gasped. Apparently it’s too expensive to shoot. Gofundme, maybe? :_-(

    • That is seriously disappointing. How much harder coud it be than any other detective series? Our local PBS affiliate fills several night a week, and the whole of the pledge drives, with repeats of singers from the 60’s, many of whom are now dead, or worse yet, the very old and tired real thing. I would watch so much more PBS if there were more Tennisons. Perhaps another cable network will pick up on it?

      Meanwhile, it is interesting to google pictures of Helen Mirren when she was very young: The Tennison actress is a dead ringer!

    • Oh what terrible news! Aren’t they *all* expensive to shoot? I would love to see this character develop. Ah well. They are great producers and I’m sure they’ve got many other good things in store. We need our Lazy Sundays!

  • When I watched Tennison, I found the treatment of young women very true to the times. For the most part, we weren’t respected professionally – how could a young woman expect to do a job as well as a man? On the other hand, we were still very much thought of as the fairer sex and when the going got tough, men did tend to offer a bit more attention and concern than they would to a male counterpart. The general male machismo that women were clashing against as a society was skillfully woven into the story lines. I found Tennison to be a treat on many levels.

    • You are so right: that “fairer sex” notion was woven in very well. I also had the thought (disloyal to Jane), that, given how Jane’s life went, I can sympathize with her mother’s fretting.

      • I found myself worrying about her mother! Watching a child go down that path – particularly in those days – would have been awfully tough.

  • Just what I need. But those clothes – I think I had an all shades of brown outfit much like Jane’s. The skirt was wool, not suede.

    • The hottest/coolest outfit I ever owned was a brown suede dress with brown leather trim. Brown on brown for the win! This was the 1980s. Brown wasn’t black, and it wasn’t cobalt blue, but it still had some life in it.

  • Kay, and anyone else who may be interested, since I’m pretty sure you like British teevee, there’s a streaming channel called BritBox (I get it through Amazon) which is showing the 1969 Lord Kenneth Clark 13 part BBC series Civilization. What Lord Clark has to say in many of his descriptions and observations are apropos for the situation here in the US at the moment. And the quality of the picture is gorgeous.

  • Love this prequel! I agree with your assessment, particularly that her male colleagues were kinder and more evolved than what I remember from the time! Ruth Sheen (the “other” mother) is wonderful, as always!

    Oh, and I read the comment by Honeybee33 about the series being “too expensive to shoot” to my partner. My Jane’s cynical observation was “because it’s about a woman.” I’m afraid that I have to agree there may be some truth to that.

  • I just read that the reason this is being cancelled is that Lynda LaPlante, the creator of Jane Tennison, had a serious creative disagreement “serious row” with ITV.

  • Oooooh, lovely, and right when I’m heading into another marathon knitting session!

  • Prime lists six episodes. ????

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