Wednesday, August 02, 2006

TV Review: The Closer

Once again, it's Summer Shows I'm TiVo-ing week! Today: She's a Southern-fried cop living in the wild, savage lands of drama on TNT!

#4 The Closer
Genre: Crime Drama
Channel: TNT
Season: 1 on DVD, 2 currently airing

Let me preface by saying that if you like ensemble detective stories with compelling lead characters and empowering female heroes --- and really, who doesn't? --- then you can do no better than Helen Mirren's excellent Prime Suspect series of telefilms, rentable in all their forms. The premise is that Helen Mirren's character is brought in to take over a close-knit squad of detectives to solve high-profile cases, all the while trying to balance pressure from the top vs. an "old boys club" mentality from her employees vs. a personal life. It's wonderful.

No doubt someone at TNT has seen Prime Suspect, because the premise of The Closer is exactly the same. Only picture a Southern-fried Helen Mirren* in the form of Kyra Sedgwick (not an altogether unattractive proposition in itself), a squad that's a rainbow coalition of multi-culti pandering, and it's set in L.A.

And it works really well.

The "mysteries" --- I use that term loosely because there aren't any real mindbenders (remember, this is a TNT original) --- are reasonably interesting, and each episode is digestible in and of itself, which means you can pretty much not have to worry about watching them out of order. I like that.

The real meat of the show is the interaction between Sedgwick and her squad of C-List character actors, clearly making the most of being on a hit show. The don't all like one another, which is funny (and there's a surprising amount of humor in the show), but they've learned to respect Sedgwick's quirky Brenda Lee Johnson despite their misgivings about her methods.

In fact, now that I think about it, there hasn't been a show this riddled with cliches that I've liked this much in a long time.

Take a look at the squad. You've got:

1) The Black guy
2) The Mexican guy
3) The Chinese guy
4) The female
5) The senior citizen**
6) The crusty veteran

Did we miss anyone? Anyone? I'll bet anyone 20 bucks right now that next season sees the introduction next season of the Jewish guy, the Rookie, or the Gay guy. Seriously.

Which would actually be a shame --- not because I have anything against Jews, rookies, or gays, of course, but because over the course of 1 1/2 seasons the current cast has already become like a comfortable family that bickers nonstop but still pulls together when there's a job to do. And that's a real testament to good writing and good characterization and good acting.

And when you've got those 3 things, you're inclined to forgive the cliches and the stuff that might otherwise annoy you.

Of course, this wouldn't be a TNT Original Series if it didn't have a gimmick, and the gimmick here is that they call Brenda Lee "the closer" because she's such a darn good interrogator. They make a point to end each episode with a confession that she manages to get out of the suspect, even when she doesn't have all the evidence to back it up. It's very Columbo-esque, for what that's worth.

So, The Closer has more than enough familiar elements to ease new viewers in, but the quality of the cast and writing is also more than enough to set this one apart. You'll know after one episode whether this one's right for you.

(Side Note: Seriously, if you haven't seen it though, go out right damn now and rent Prime Suspect 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I mean it.)

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Law & Order (who are probably watching the 18 episodes a day on TNT already anyway), Columbo, Barney Miller... you get the picture.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: People who watch mystery shows for the actual mysteries, people who can't stand strong, chirpy Southern accents (my Mom has one, so I'm inured to the effects), people who nod off to sleep at the thought of yet ANOTHER hour-long crime drama.

AV Rating: 4/5. It's perfect summertime comfort food, to keep us cool while we wait for new episodes of CSI, L&O: Special Victims Unit, or, um, CSI.

* -- What's the over/under on this post being Google-ranked first for the phrase "Southern-fried Helen Mirren"?

** -- The senior citizen is played by G.W. Bailey, who you'll recognize as the Lt. Harris, the wacky antagonist from the Police Academy movies. I will now light myself on fire for having remembered that.


Blogger Sara J said...

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there...I've tried this show and I can't stand it. I can't even stand the commericals. It's not the accent, it's that I cannot believe for a second that she is successful in this job.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Oh, see, I figured as soon as I heard "Ex-CIA interrogator is installed as chief of Super High Profile L.A. Murder Squad in a TNT Original Series" that absolutely none of it was going to be believable in a real-world sense in the least. :-)

And yes, the constant hounding us with commercials for the damn thing are annoying; currently in second place with the commercials for the Gawd-awful Saved.

5:54 AM  
Blogger joncormier said...

I've heard good things about this series as well, but having just finished 99% of Robbie Coltrane's Cracker series, it sounds a bit similar.

Still that wouldn't be a bad thing since Cracker is probably one of the best TV series I've ever watched. I'm told the American version of Cracker is everything you'd expect and more when trying to adapt British mini-series.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

Her accent makes her sound just like my girlfriend's mother. I watched three minutes one night. If it was the most brilliant mystery written since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died, titled "Jake is the King of All Things Awesome," and the Tivo description said, "Watch this episode and get twelve blowjobs from beautiful, firm-breasted college girls whose names you don't even have to remember," I still would have turned it off.

10:26 PM  

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