Warner Bros. // 2005 // 602 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // June 21st, 2006
"She can teach you a thing or two...about interrogation. I mean, don't pay any attention to the other stuff." -- Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons)
Now all murder suspects in Los Angeles are connected to Kevin Bacon, courtesy of his wife, Kyra Sedgwick.
There are many murders in Los Angeles, and many television shows to chronicle their investigations. But not all murders are equal. When there are special circumstances -- high profile killings that require rapid closure -- the LAPD turns to a new sort of detective. Her job is not to use forensics, and she usually hands the workaday investigative tasks to her team of able assistants. Her job is to extract a confession.
So don't be fooled by Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick). She will try to charm you, and if that doesn't work, she will threaten you. And you will talk. Count on that.
Ask not for whom this Southern belle tolls; she tolls for thee.
"We're handing too many of these celebrity murder cases to the DA with less than compelling evidence," acknowledges Chief Will Pope (a dialed-down J.K. Simmons, saving his bluster for the Spider-Man movies), who hires Brenda Johnson to head up the regrettably named Priority Murder Squad (consider how those initials look on letterhead). The rest of the LAPD is pissed off, but after disasters like OJ and Rampart corruption case, the police department needs a "closer," somebody who can push through the bureaucracy and nail cases as quickly and accurately as possible.
There is a particular sort of detective story that is really more about the detective than the case he or she is trying to solve. The outcome is never in doubt. In fact, you can figure out the formula for The Closer after a couple of episodes. First, Brenda stumbles her way through a crime scene, apologizing to everyone while snapping orders and establishing control. She delegates to her various generic minions: the tech guy (Michael Paul Chan), the young hotshot (Corey Reynolds), and so on. She runs interference with her boss and others while asking questions about her suspects. She calls in the prime suspect for interrogation while keeping the suspect's best friend or neighbor or some other helpful soul waiting. Then she swings around and produces surprise evidence that implicates the helper character, who eventually cracks and says something that passes for a confession. Oh, and along the way, she wins over another member of her team to her side.
Since the pattern is always the same, the focus of our attention is always on the "mystery" of the quirky detective. In this case, we have Chief Brenda Johnson. It seems a little incredible that this ditzy woman might have been trained by the CIA, perhaps because the show spends more time establishing Brenda as a character whose tough interrogation tactics and striking insights into human motivation ("I like to have the answers before I ask the questions," she quips) are balanced by a completely frazzled personal life. She has trouble with men (a past affair with Pope and current fling with FBI agent Jon Tenney); she is a borderline snack addict; she has no sense of direction. She affects an "aw shucks" Atlanta sweetie act, with a vaguely insincere "thank yeeew" to everyone whom she offends in her pushy manner or micro-manages into a lather.
One by one she wins over her snooty LA colleagues. Indeed, while Brenda's twitchy personality can get a little tiresome after a while (as do most "quirky" detectives when the show aggravates their idiosyncrasies too much for laughs), the show stays believable thanks to a cadre of able supporting actors, from G.W. Bailey (the Police Academy series) as the acerbic Provenza to Tony Denison (Crime Story) as the obstructionist Flynn (who, seemingly modeled after Bill Otley from the similarly gender-charged Prime Suspect, spends much of the season trying to block Brenda before becoming her staunch ally) to Robert Gossett as the territorial Captain Taylor.
The first 13-episode season of The Closer ran on cable's TNT as a highly publicized summer series and was quickly renewed thanks to strong critical response and solid ratings. The DVD set spreads the shows over four discs, peppered with a handful of deleted scenes. Some interviews with the cast, especially Sedgwick, would have been very welcome. Too bad. The audio sounds like a clearer mix than the original broadcast in which the music occasionally drowned out the on-set dialogue. Overall, nothing on the production side of these discs is really notable. The show is what counts here.
You may want to pace out your viewing of Season One's episodes over an extended period of time, rather than watch all of them at once. The Closer seems to work best one episode at a time. The disjointed storytelling, the often too-dark photography, and the overused shaky-cam can get frustrating. What keeps me coming back week after week during this show's television run (the second season just started on TNT) is the performance of Kyra Sedgwick. Brenda has a spontaneous, natural quality, and Sedgwick never allows the character to become caricature. Whether Brenda is manipulating a womanizing movie star (Brad Rowe) who might have murdered his wife with nicotine-laced hair conditioner or prying clues from an autistic boy (Bubba Lewis) who witnessed his father's execution, Sedgwick always manages to make Brenda Johnson's moves and manner a little surprising. Her performance seems more inspired by Peter Falk's quixotic Columbo than any current television detectives (even Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison, whom you would think might be an obvious model). Honestly, although I watched this show last summer, I had forgotten most of the plots but remembered a good deal of the little character bits in between. The trick to enjoying The Closer is to relish the juicy performances and tight dialogue and don't worry so much about the "trick" solutions that you can see coming a mile away. (You can also enjoy guest spots by the likes of Richard Roundtree and John De Lancie.)
While The Closer will not rank high on the list of the greatest detective shows, it is an entertaining hour. Kyra Sedgwick leads a fine ensemble cast, even if the plots are largely forgettable. And The Closer: The Complete First Season will win you over to Brenda Johnson's side quickly and decisively.
I wonder how the show will fare during its second season, now that most of the character tension played itself out in Season One. Will Brenda Johnson slide from quirky to abrasive without strong foils to play against? I hope not. Television has few enough watchable characters; I would hate to see The Closer become just another piece of filler.
The Closer is released to pursue more suspects. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2006 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 602 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site