by Shannon Huebscher
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It is an age-old scenario - a woman is brought into a male dominated environment, her authority and experience are questioned, and then usually (or at least hopefully) the woman triumphs in the end. We’ve seen it in TV shows (from Rebecca on Cheers to any female contestant on Survivor) and in a plethora of movies, including Nine to Five with Dabney Coleman as the chauvinistic boss against his brave female counterparts of Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The Closer debuting on TNT follows this formula perfectly, but thankfully they have given it a breath of fresh air in the form of Kyra Sedgwick.
Sedgwick plays Brenda Johnson, a highly experienced investigator who hails from Atlanta and is thrust upon LAPD’s Priority and Murder Squad unit as the new deputy chief. Not only is she facing being uprooted from her previous job to the frenetic town of LA, but she is also a woman entering an office run entirely by men. The writers’ decision to have her first appearance to her new team happen at a murder scene was great - here is this short, blonde curly-haired woman with a thick Southern accent coming into a gruesome murder scene when one of her male co-workers Detective Andy Flynn is already there, working on the case. After Flynn speaks his mind about how he doesn’t feel she belongs there, Brenda shoots back,
“Well thank you for speaking your mind. Look I hate to pull rank on my first week but I think you best hand over your notes to Lt. Gabriel here, take a deep breath and go on back to your car.” Brenda doesn’t back down. She lets them know her new position and throws her rank quite mercilessly, of course creating some much anticipated heat from her counterparts.
What also helps this new drama is the intriguing storyline of this first murder. A woman is found dead and naked in the bedroom of a prominent computer company owner named Dr. Elliot Collier and what ensues during Brenda’s investigation of the case will surprise you - this was one ending that I won’t spoil (and that I admit that I did not see coming) and is worth watching unfold as the show airs…
A great facet of Brenda’s character that Sedgwick plays masterfully is her obsession with having something in her mouth. Now don’t take that the wrong way - within the first few scenes that we meet Brenda she is sucking on a mint. This act doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, but the fact that she consumes this mint after witnessing a bloody murder scene shows her nonchalance of the horrendous death. One would expect that because she’s a woman she’d react differently to the murder scene, perhaps show some emotion towards the victim. Instead she goes about her business doing her job, sucking away on a mint as if nothing had just happened. This isn’t a demonstration of her lack of emotion, but rather a clear indication that Brenda is serious about her career. As the show goes on she’s always eating something or eyeing something to eat - a great layer to her character.
With all of her strengths, it was disappointing to watch her character become sexualized with the introduction of Jon Tenney’s character of FBI Agent Fritz Howard. Brenda and Fritz worked together in the past and it was clear that his role in the show is not going to be as an important FBI Agent but rather as a love interest for Brenda - this was made clear when she asked him how his wife was doing and was informed that he wasn’t with his wife anymore. Also, the relationship with Assistant Police Chief Will Pope and Brenda proved to have sexual connotations as well - it wasn’t made explicitly clear that Brenda and Will had a romantic relationship, but we do learn that they worked together before her move to LA and it was hinted that they weren’t not always just co-workers. It’s not that Brenda’s character shouldn’t be allowed to be sexual (sexuality and power in women do not have to be mutually exclusive) but rather that it seems to lessen her strength of being an independent woman. It’s always a hope of mine to see that a strong woman has climbed her way up the corporate ladder without the abuse, either knowingly or unknowingly, of her femininity. If her romantic life had been brought into the show in later episodes, in a more natural fashion, it would have impressed me even more.
The Closer gets its name from a nickname that Asst. Police Chief Pope uses to describe Brenda - even though she may cause drama, she’s supremely gifted at what she does and can be guaranteed to solve a case. That’s precisely what she did in this first episode, and it seems TNT has closed the deal on an interesting new drama.
Shannon Huebscher is a film critic living in Chicago.
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