The TNT crime drama The Closer ends this year after seven seasons, and I'm really going to miss it. I almost never watch it, but I'm going to miss it all the same.
That's not intended as a snarky dig at a fine show. It's just an acknowledgment that there are only so many hours in the day, even for a TV addict. I don't know about you, but for me, there have to be some B-list shows that only get viewed during late-night bouts of insomnia and long days of suffering from cold or flu.
So while The Closer and Monk and USA's Law & Order: Criminal Intent aren't must-sees like AMC's Breaking Bad or NBC's Community and Parks and Recreation, thank the gods of crime drama they exist.
My "B-listers" are likely rated as such by association with their genre (crime), which can get tedious. That's especially true of the grim, sadistic, gory stuff (I'm looking at you, Criminal Minds) and the cutesy, silly crap (raising my middle-finger bone to Fox's Bones).
My three "good" examples stand above that pack thanks to effective humor (all save Law & Order: Criminal Intent), a strong ensemble cast and characters, and a strong lead actor.
My favorite is definitely The Closer, starring Emmy winner Kyra Sedgwick as LA Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, a strong Southern gal who "closes" murder cases with her enormous will and talent to crack suspects in the interrogation room.
She typically starts off sweet as a Georgia peach. But when a suspect makes even the smallest slip, our heroine smells blood, and her shark's teeth start a-chompin'. Before long, there's a signed confession on the table, and Brenda strides confidently out of the interview room, ready for the next chump.
With acknowledged inspiration from Helen Mirren in the British series Prime Suspect, Sedgwick has created a great character over the years. Brenda is neurotically addicted to sweets; she's deadly afraid of disapproval from her traditionalist parents; and she's a tough, effective boss at work who rarely loses her cool.
In scenes with her hubby, FBI Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), she's vulnerable and sexy, and she sure looks terrific in her undies during their bedroom scene together in the July 11 season premiere at 9 p.m. But she can be tough with "Fritzie," especially when the agenda of the FBI conflicts with that of the LAPD, as it often does. She's used to it: Brenda has to deal with a lot of political BS at her job, which is really working her nerves as Season 7 begins. The Major Crimes unit she leads is under a possible threat of extinction due to a restructuring plan.
If that's not bad enough, she's got top brass scrutinizing her unorthodox methods, thanks to a lawsuit against the department in which she figures big.
That already sours her newfound friendship with former two-season nemesis Capt. Sharon Raydor (the great Mary McDonnell of Battlestar Galactica, who's reportedly set to star in a spin-off called Major Crimes after this series ends).
Given the diversity of the squad room and the LA gangs they often deal with, the subject of race underpins a lot of The Closer's episodes, especially the season opener, called "Unknown Trouble."
When TV shows portray ethnic gangs and rap culture, the potential for wince-inducing racial stereotypes looms big, and the writers of The Closer deal with such awkwardness by having some of the detective characters clear some air—or sometimes not—during heated discussions.
When Major Crimes detectives start trying to pin a murdered rapper as a gangbanger with comments like "nine times out of 10, Chief, 'rap' means 'gangs,'" Brenda's African-American right-hand man, Det. Sgt. David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds), testily defends the victim, whose parents go to his church. It's the sort of role he often finds himself playing at his job, much to his annoyance. But, it must be said, the episode itself seems rather outdated—isn't it a bit late to do a "gangsta rap" episode with a thuggish Suge Knight type of character as the main suspect?
The director at least tries to have fun by spoofing a typically dumb (but catchy) thug-rap video and song. As it plays during the show's opening credits, Brenda does a sexy slo-mo walk through the crime scene with the camera at leg level and her high-heeled feet encased in blue plastic for keeping the scene clean—a video within a video.
As annoyingly quaint as some aspects of the episode are, the setup for workplace battles to come will keep fans sticking around for another 21 or so hours of quality entertainment this summer. So, happy retirement, Brenda, and I look forward to us growing old together someday when you're in perpetual syndication. I probably won't look too cute in my undies by then, but thanks to the miracle of TV, you forever will.