Did 'The Closer' set up 'Major Crimes' to fail?
The Closer closed out Kyra Sedgwick’s involvement in the series on Monday night, installing Mary McDonnell in her place, in a “new” series, Major Crimes. While I have no inside information about how McDonnell was originally cast in The Closer, I’m led to think, based on the premiere episode that aired after the Closer finale, that she was never intended to be the new star of the show. Because the new show is, I believe, an inevitable disappointment for hardcore Closer fans. As for those of us who are Mary McDonnell fans? Ambivalence reigns!
First of all, the exit of Sedgwick’s Brenda Leigh Johnson. (This is your SPOILER ALERT.)
The Closer series finale brought closure to Deputy Chief Johnson’s career, as she faced off with her long-running arch-nemesis, the serial rapist Philip Stroh (Billy Burke). Then Johnson abruptly accepted a new job (something like chief of bureau of investigations L.A. liason officer in the D.A.’s office — it sounded like the longest-titled cushy job possible) and lit out, munching a signature bit of junk food. Over the years, The Closer had become a light-comedy crime show with heavy-handed humor performed not just by Sedgwick but also the supporting cast that has migrated over to Major Crimes, especially G.W. Bailey, whose slow burns have become endless fuming, and, only by contrast to a lesser extent, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz, and Phillip P. Keene. (I’ve always found it interesting that Denison and Chan are veterans of two, need I say superior, Michael Mann TV shows, Crime Story and Robbery Homicide Division — indeed, many of Chan’s gestures and body language when he enters a crime scene strongly echo his moves in RHD, and I’d bet that’s where he picked up those good habits, from Mann’s heavily-researched series.)
In previous guest-star turns, McDonnell’s Captain Sharon Raydor has clashed with Johnson and her crew, with her maddeningly (to them) methodical, by-the-book manner. Me, I’ve always found Raydor’s serene assurance a palliative to the twitchy eccentricity of Emmy Award-winning Segwick’s Johnson. (As she proved on Battlestar Galactica, nobody does soothing sensibleness better than McDonnell.)
Major Crimes went out of its way to announce, in one character’s words, “we’re changing the focus of [the] major crimes [unit]” — that is, from a viewer’s vantage point, from an emphasis on the case-closing interrogation (Johnson’s trademark speciality, from whence the earlier series got its title) to, as a lawyer phrased it in Major Crimes‘ first hour, a “new deal-making paradigm that [Raydor] wants to put in place.” Me, I like this approach — it’s closer to being the TV equivalent of a police procedural novel crossed with a legal thriller, if well-done. Unfortunately, the first Major Crimes suffered from obviousness and snail’s-pace plotting.
In other words, slow-and-steady (and by-the-book) wins the race… but not necessarily the hearts of viewers. Major Crimes is engineered to be as sober as Raydor’s dark horn-rim glasses, whereas The Closer was as bright and lively as Johnson’s trench coats and candy wrappers. The new show tried to start something in Raydor’s personal life, with her taking in homeless Rusty, but, boy, does that dynamic look dull. I am rooting for Mary McDonnell to succeed on television once again. But she needs a better vehicle than this. She needs, deserves, a series at least as clever and complex as, say, The Good Wife. Because I have some doubt that, a few weeks in, she and TNT are going to succeed with this good new boss.