The British have a way with police procedurals, as fans of the genre have known for decades. Not to say every British cop show is a masterpiece, but even the mediocre ones seem to have a certain something that even the greatest American entries can’t quite replicate.
“Prey,” a six-episode miniseries premiering Thursday on BBC America, is a near perfect blend of well-crafted characterizations within the context of a credibly gripping murder case. Actually, make that two gripping murder cases, as the series offers two separate story lines linked by location and by the dogged crime-solving presence of Detective Sgt. Susan Reinhardt (Rosie Cavaliero).
Reinhardt is far from a smooth operator in the Manchester Police Department. She’s recently split from her husband, but isn’t dealing well with it. In fact, when she’s not eating to smother her sadness over losing her ex, she’s stalking him.
Reinhardt is so perfectly nondescript that it takes us awhile to realize she’s not only the link between “Prey’s” two stories, but in fact a very good, albeit underappreciated, detective. As such, that makes her the lead character.
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In the first half of the miniseries, a detective in a neighboring community named Marcus Farrow (John Simm) is investigating the discovery of a murdered crime boss named Omer Hassan. But when he begins to make progress on the case, he goes to visit his two sons, who are living with his estranged wife, and finds one of the boys dead and his wife dying on the floor with a knife in her chest.
Farrow is quickly arrested for the murders, but escapes and begins searching for the real killers while the cops are chasing him.
Reinhardt is leading the charge, and initially believes Farrow has committed the murders because he’s jealous that his wife has a new boyfriend. No one has much confidence in Reinhardt’s abilities, but in her own dogged way, she knows what she’s doing.
“Prey’s” second part also involves a law officer on the run. This time it’s prison guard Dave Murdoch (Philip Glenister), whose pregnant daughter Lucy has been kidnapped by a nasty bit of business named Daniel Hope (James Burrows). Hope’s sister Jules (MyAnna Buring) is an inmate at Ravenshill Prison, where Murdoch works.
Once again, Sgt. Reinhardt is in pursuit, unsure at first of the reason for Murdoch’s sudden turn to the dark side but determined to bring him in.
In its own way, each story arc explores how decent, law-abiding – and, specifically, law-enforcing – humans can rush to the dark side when pushed by extraordinary events.
Lunt’s script is wonderfully naturalistic and almost flawless at every level. There’s a slight character-motivation hiccup in how Farrow reacts after finding his wife and sons in the blood-soaked apartment – what he does simply doesn’t make sense, no matter how much he’s in shock – but otherwise, Lunt knows that the secret to a good plot is good characterizations.
That’s especially true in the character of Reinhardt. Reminiscent of Janine Lewis in the older British mystery series “Blue Murder,” Reinhardt has a messy personal life, but she’s not Jane Tennison. She’s everywoman as a mid-level copper. Made to look and act like the kind of person who would fade into the wallpaper, Reinhardt is the unlikely center of our attention throughout the miniseries. That’s not only because of how Lunt has created the character, but also because Cavaliero takes commanding ownership of her as well.
“Prey” airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on BBC America