If you’ve read my last column about The Closer, you may have noticed that I’m a bit of a fanboy. I loved Brenda Lee Johnson and her team, spent years with her solving all kinds of crimes, watched her getting in trouble with the law herself and was moved when her father was diagnosed with cancer and her mother died (SPOILER ALERT). So while I was more than a little disappointed to hear that Kyra Sedgwick decided to leave the TV series to focus more on her career as a B-movie actor, I was also excited to see how they would continue the show without her.
The biggest difference (and maybe the biggest failure) is the new woman in charge, Captain Raydor. In season five she was introduced to The Closer as Brenda’s nemesis and constantly trying to throw a wrench in her gears. Even though her attitude towards the beloved Deputy Chief changed during the final season of the show in order to prepare the audience for the spin-off and it’s new main character, Raydor never became a very likeable person. But not only is her character lacking in charm, she is also lacking of competence. While it was Deputy Chief Johnson’s CIA training and sly wits that got almost everyone in her interview room to invoke their right to an attorney and confess the crime, with Captain Raydor the crime just… gets solved. This major change is also paid tribute in the title: The Closer became Major Crimes.
Another problem is the setting: it hasn’t been changed the tiniest bit, apart from the above-mentioned worsening by the switch in main characters. In fact, Major Crimes feels like a reboot of an award winning crime series that has gone up completely in smoke. When Raydor is taking over the male dominated major crimes division in the pilot, she is facing exactly the same difficulties as Brenda Lee Johnson did in the first episode of The Closer, only the new boss is lacking the charisma of big mouthed (and big lipped), chocolate-addicted Johnson, played by the formidable Kyra Sedgwick.
The final nail in the coffin of this once great crime show is a new character, which had already been introduced in the last episode of The Closer: Rusty Beck, a homeless male prostitute who was a material witness and later taken into care by Captain Raydor is so annoyingly stubborn I’ve wished the writers of the show would kill him off from the moment he was introduced.
So even though Lieutenant Provenza and the rest of the team still make funniest and most likeable crime unit in television, it’s their new boss, the lack of fresh ideas, and Rusty in particular that will hopefully lead to the cancellation of the show in order to make room for something really new and innovative.
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.