She eats junk food, neglects her fiancé, treats her partner like dirt, disappoints her son and keeps apologizing to the family of a murdered girl whose killer she's trying to catch. Steely-eyed, lock-jawed and mesmerizing, minimalist actress Mireille Enos co-stars with rainy Seattle's incessant downpour to drive the action as detective Sarah Linden in AMC's crime drama The Killing.
Adapted from a Danish miniseries by Veena Sud, who produced CBS's Cold Case adventures for finely-chiseled star Kathryn Morris, The Killing offers Linden as direct descendant to television's most impressive female crime fighter - Chief Inspector DCI Jane Tennison. Portrayed by Helen Mirren in BBC series Prime Suspect, the alcoholic Tennison dominated a bullpen full of macho underlings through the exercise of sheer willpower and intellectual superiority.
We've seen the flawed protagonist on TV a million times before, but the tightly wound Tennison, created by Linda La Plante, set a new standard for fierce female crime fighters.
Watching the detectives on HBO's The Wire, Shakima "Kima" Greggs (Sonja Sohns) played it close to bullet-proof vest as the Baltimore police department's resident lesbian hard-ass. Baltimore also hatched Homicide's tomboy detective sergeant Kay Howard, portrayed by a swaggering Melissa Leo years before she won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Murder She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) and filmdom's Fargo mom-cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) used girlie guile to their advantage but in the wake of Cagney and Lacey's double-barreled blast of working class feminism, toughness trumped folksiness for most fictional female detectives. The X-Files' Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) created the template for the no-frills FBI sleuth now personified in FOX's excellent Fringe by stern Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv).
NBC's upcoming version of Prime Suspect raises hope that complex, credible women detectives will continue to flourish on primetime. However, the inauspicious trailer featuring close-ups of Maria Bello running wind sprints is grounds for concern. Memo to Big American Network: Please don't screw up Prime Suspect. Helen Mirren never once leaped an alley fence or tackled a serial killer. The most exciting action usually takes place inside our heroes' heads. Need proof? Watch The Killing.
The Killing airs 10 pm / 9 Central on Sundays.
Prime Suspect debuts on NBC this fall.