Without offering any scientific proof, I believe it’s safe to say that crime shows – along with soap operas – are TV’s main support system. Just take a look at German broadcasts: Tatort (English: Crime Scene, first screened in 1970) is the longest running television series in German speaking countries. For generations, it’s been a sort of ritual all over Germany, Switzerland and Austria to gather in front of the TV on Sunday evening and watch the newest episode with its opening sequence that hasn’t changed since day one. You could almost make a science out of the many different inspectors in each city, including their predecessors and successors; a huge family tree with lots of branches, with some characters germinating new spin-offs, like cult figure Schimanski. A little later, but still back in the 70s, Der Alte (The Old Fox) was created, and then Ein Fall für Zwei, (A Case for Two), both of which, yes, are still running.
When it comes to American crime shows, Columbo dominated our screens for quite some time. Originally created for NBC in 1968, ten seasons with nearly 70 episodes have been produced and screened in an almost infinite loop. It was Peter Falk as Columbo who left his clumsy mark on the show and made it the success it became. There were many unconventional ideas, but the most important was the setting. Unlike other crime series, which put the ‘whodunnit’ element into the center of the story, the viewer was given the advantage of being present during the murder at the beginning of almost every episode. Another crucial point that made the show so fun was to observe this messy, unshaven and most unorthodox detective on his way to convict the criminal subjects in his “uhh, sorry, but there is one more thing …” style. Weirdly, although viewers become really familiar with him after some time, you never get to know his first name or to see his wife.
In this respect, Columbo is the total opposite of my favorite crime show of the last few years: The Closer. Even though the world of TV has been flooded with countless crime shows in the last century – from all the tech-heavy CSIs and their many copycats, through to Cold Case and Bones – there has been only one outstanding show in my opinion and I’ve been following it for the last seven years until it came to a part-happy, part-sad ending last Monday.
Created for and first screened on TNT on June 13, 2005, The Closer has one big difference compared to most other crime shows: it’s a woman who leads the investigation, solves the cases and gets the confessions. Played by the formidable Kyra Sedgwick, Deputy Chief of Los Angeles Police Department Brenda Leigh Johnson is put in a tough spot when she is transferred from Atlanta to take over the Priority Homicide Division in L.A. But being the outsider from rural Georgia who faces all kinds of sexism and mistrust from a male dominated department isn’t the only problem for the CIA-trained Deputy. It’s the common history she shares with her boss, Chief of Police William Pope, that troubles her most and leads to a lot of backbiting inside the division. Borrowing an expression from Facebook: it’s complicated. But that doesn’t keep Brenda Johnson from getting one conviction after another, and, as part of her success, gaining the trust of her team.
Apart from the setting and award-winning Kyra Sedgwick (she’s won an Emmy and a Golden Globe, along with nominations for all kinds of awards from both the latter as well as the Screen Actors Guild) it’s first and foremost the dark humor that makes the show so outstanding. You wouldn’t believe what the characters in The Closer, especially the duo of Lt. Provenza and Lt. Flynn are capable of saying, particularly if you know that TNT is part of Turner Broadcasting System.
Last Monday the last of 109 episodes aired, leaving me in desperate need of a new crime show to follow. I’m already excited.
Published August 22, 2012.