by Parama Chaudhury
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You’d think that the increasing degree of specialization among TV crime shows had run its course: starting with the classics like NYPD Blue and Law and Order, we now have shows that focus on, among other parts of the crime and crime-fighting world, crime scene investigation, not to mention a whole show on military law and order. But no — TNT has come up with another show which touts itself as looking at a previously ignored aspect of the LA law and order scene. The Closer stars Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, who specializes in closing the deal on confessions. From the sound of it, I thought she was going to be both the good cop and the bad cop at the same time.
To some extent, that’s exactly what she does, partly because the rest of the police force seems to have decided to align themselves against her. Johnson is newly arrived from Atlanta, a point driven home by the opening sequence of Episode 2 which has her adrift among a sea of streets all called Mulholland something, and by her exaggerated drawl. The LAPD of this show is a bastion of male dominance, and the new chief’s aggressiveness does not go down well with many of her colleagues, including Captain Taylor, who heads the Robbery and Homicide Unit. The only person who seems to be solidly on Chief Johnson’s side is her right-hand man, Detective Sergeant Gabriel.
One of the things about this show that augurs well about this show is the ensemble acting. Sedgwick herself sometimes goes over the edge with her character’s eccentricities, but the rest of the cast, including Robert Gosset as Captain Taylor, Corey Reynolds as Sergeant Gabriel, and J.K. Simmons as Assistant Police Chief Will Pope provide able support. The interactions between Captain Taylor and Sergeant Gabriel are particularly interesting, since the Captain always seems to be hinting that he considers Gabriel a traitor. Pope has a romantic history with Johnson, so their relationship at the office is tempered by past remembrances. All in all, there seems to be potential for many interesting developments within the basic structure of the show, even if the weekly plots run dry.
The first couple of episodes throw a good light on the show’s claim to uniqueness. In Episode 2, a model is found dead in her bath, and all things seem to be pointing to her handsome movie star husband as the prime suspect in a potential murder. Establishing that is a murder, though, is not straightforward, since the pathology department takes weeks to get out any results. Chief Johnson’s dogged ways finally pay off, and an ingenious method of killing is uncovered. Unfortunately, the main suspect appears to have a solid alibi, which strangely enough, he seemed unwilling to talk about. Johnson’s interrogation skills are put on display as she does the rounds of hairdresser, make-up artist and all the other people that the victim visited before her murder. Her most important interviewee is of course the movie star, and it is here that the story gets interesting. There is a confession of sorts, which helps the police solve the case, but it is not exactly what you would expect. At the end, there is some amount of extra-legal justice, as the person who is guilty in spirit is punished, though without a jail sentence.
Beautiful dead women turn up again in Episode 3, only this time, they are Russian hookers. This story has the requisite amount of smuggling, drugs, illegitimacy and of course, prostitution, to make it perfect for primetime; though less interesting than the plot of Episode 2, the story line holds your attention well enough. As before, however, the final interrogation and the way in which the ultimate confession is obtained are more interesting than the rest of the story. Stories about the Russian mafia tend to follow a standard path, and there are few crime shows where these kinds of stories are personalized enough to raise them above the ordinary. The good thing about this episode, and about this series as a whole, is that Chief Johnson’s specialty - her way of interrogation - is what makes the story. So The Closer is aptly named, and at the end of the day, it seems to make sense to have another story about crime-fighting in big cities because this show manages to highlight its uniqueness pretty well.
So should you be staying up on Monday nights to watch The Closer? If you’re fond of whodunits, are appalled by the amount of gore on TV and would prefer to focus on human drama rather than car chases, then absolutely - Sedgwick’s accent can get a little annoying at times, and her self-righteous anger seems a little too by the book, but overall, this show is definitely worth your time.
Parama Chaudhury is a film critic and professor of economics living in New England.
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