Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky wonders if most of L.A.'s death row now has to update their Bacon Numbers.
Our reviews of The Closer: The Complete First Season (published June 21st, 2006), The Closer: The Complete Third Season (published June 25th, 2008), The Closer: The Complete Fourth Season (published May 26th, 2009), The Closer: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 18th, 2010), and The Closer: The Complete Sixth Season (published June 29th, 2011) are also available.
"Why is it you can never do your job without constantly complaining about everything?!"—Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) to Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick)
The toughest Southern belle in Los Angeles returns to solve more murders, sneak more snack cakes, and "thank yeeew" everybody in sight.
Facts of the Case
Thirteen more regular episodes, plus a double-length season finale make up The Closer: The Complete Second Season. Here's what Brenda Leigh and the Priority Homicide squad are up to this time:
• "Blue Blood": A cop's dead body is found in a warehouse, the apparent victim of a double-cross by a drug informant. The LAPD wants to declare him a hero and be done with the case. But Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) is sure the fatal shooting played out very differently from what everyone else wants to believe. Her investigation may turn the whole police force against her. (The cut included on this disc runs a bit longer than the usual television episode, since it was originally presented without commercials.)
• "Mom Duty": A juror mysteriously dies in the middle of a mob trial; Brenda's mother (Frances Sternhagen, acting like she wandered out of a Fannie Flagg novel) drops in for a visit; Brenda's FBI agent boyfriend Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) moves in. Will Brenda's nerves shatter?
• "Slippin'": Mom's still in town, but Brenda has a possible gang shooting on her hands. Worse, the gang shooting may not have involved a gang at all. One of the key elements of the series is to use all parts of Los Angeles, playing off of the class and racial complexity of the city: Brenda and her team find themselves solving crimes in the city's roughest neighborhoods and among its pampered elite. Crime can happen anywhere, and Brenda proves adept at interrogating a host of suspects.
• "Aftertaste": A hip restaurant and its temperamental chef are at the center of a brutal killing—the chef's own wife was stabbed after a gourmet meal. A good cook knows that the perfect knives are essential in the kitchen. But what is the perfect knife for a murder?
• "To Protect and Serve": Provenza (G.W. Bailey) and Flynn (Tony Denison) are heading to a Dodgers game on their day off. Too bad a dead woman is lying in Provenza's garage. But when they get back from the game, the body has disappeared. Brenda must test her team's loyalty by going off the books to solve the crime and save Provenza's career.
• "Out of Focus": L.A.'s celebrity culture comes under scrutiny when a sleazy photographer is killed while trying to snap some compromising photos. So why should we care if a paparazzo gets killed?
• "Head Over Heels": It is not every day that a human head is found in a dumpster. Even less frequent: the head once belonged to a porn star. This episode—with its severed body parts and references to the adult film industry—is an example of why this series is definitely not for kids.
• "Critical Missing": A Japanese mother and daughter are found in the water after an apparent suicide. Or does the husband know the truth? Since Asians are involved, resident technology expert Lt. Tao (Paul Michael Chan) gets more to do than usual here.
• "Heroic Measures": There are almost as many medical dramas as police procedurals on television. So why not a story about a child who dies under hospital care—and a mother who wants Brenda to get justice? Is the unctuous hospital director (Anthony Heald, best known as Hannibal Lecter's caretaker, Dr. Chilton) covering up a crime?
• "The Other Woman": The show ramps up the season's major running subplot, Will Pope's (J.K. Simmons) fractious divorce, by putting Brenda (who once had an affair with Pope) in the middle of the mess. Oh, and the Priority Homicide team investigates the murder of a meth addict.
• "Borderline": Brenda's tendency to piss off the rest of the LAPD comes into play here once again, as she gets in a fender bender on her way to a crime scene. Worse, the crime scene seems to have plenty of blood but no bodies.
• "No Good Deed": The Pope divorce saga continues, as Will's angry wife airs some dirty laundry in the squad room. Meanwhile, Brenda checks out the murder of a teenaged witness involved in the appeal of a death-row inmate.
• "Overkill": In what was originally billed as the season finale, Brenda and Fritz clash over the death of an FBI agent and an upcoming mob trial. The episode ends in a cliffhanger: the Priority Homicide team is threatened with break-up after a violent scene in the squad room.
• "Serving the King": This two-parter aired several months after the season cliffhanger (and I recall that it was billed as a "season premiere," although TNT seems to have backed off that claim, since the actual third season did not premiere until the following summer). After a four-month suspension, Brenda teams up with her former CIA boss (William Daniels) in a terrorism case, while Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett) mismanages Priority Homicide.
Sometimes she is coarse and indiscreet. "She sometimes forgets there are other people in the world," bemoans Chief Pope. But nobody can put away a case like Brenda Leigh Johnson. Murder trials are expensive. So why not just cut straight through to the heart of the matter? Get a confession from the killer and wrap the case in a neat package. For that, you need a closer. And that closer needs a team that can work every inch of the case, so that their leader can walk into the interrogation room with enough ammunition to walk out with a suspect willing to admit to anything.
Much of the first season of TNT's surprise hit The Closer saw Brenda consolidating her team, slowly gaining the loyalty of even the most cynical detectives. It also saw a few too many scenes in which Brenda's downtime was played for laughs. Over the course of the second season, many of the sillier character quirks—Brenda's poor sense of direction, her obsession with snack foods, her tendency to exaggerate her accent in order to throw off opponents through cutesy mannerisms—became less prominent. (I have noticed these comic relief elements are almost entirely absent so far in the show's third season, which is running as I write this.)
While The Closer does not dwell too much on personal subplots, usually stretching them out and offering no more than a few minutes of distraction per episode, there are some noticeable changes afoot in Brenda's life. Brenda's boyfriend, FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), moves in with her. Brenda's superior officer and former flame Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) suffers through a brutal divorce—and starts awkwardly flirting with Brenda. Brenda's rivalry with fellow cop Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett) has certainly not gone away either, and Taylor makes it his business to trip up Brenda whenever possible.
But while Brenda's personal life is given its due, the supporting members of Brenda's team still get used in a fairly piecemeal fashion. We learn very little about what makes most of them tick, other than a small moment here or there. Any given episode may spotlight only one character's particular strengths. For example, if they travel to gang territory, suddenly Detective Sanchez (Raymond Cruz) gets more than a couple of lines. If departmental politics is involved, we get the indispensable Sergeant Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) offering advice. The notable exception is G.W. Bailey's gruff veteran Provenza, whose interplay with the increasingly sardonic Flynn (Tony Denison) inspires many of the show's best comic scenes. Clearly the show's creators are well aware of the chemistry between Bailey and Denison, since "To Protect and Serve" was written to spotlight them.
Overall, the show has clearly found its groove. Some of my criticisms of the first season—the overuse of documentary style, the overly predictable plots—have been fixed. Sedgwick's performance is probably even better this time around: she wears Brenda like her own skin. Her first season was good enough to score her an Emmy nomination (and a Golden Globe win). Even when the procedural aspects of the show lag, The Closer is always worth watching for Sedgwick's brittle, vulnerable, and often brilliant detective. Even better, Sedgwick's ace performance makes everyone else on set bring out their strongest performances as well. The timing of the supporting cast is sharp enough to etch glass. You believe that this is a team; for all their teasing and resentments, they have all become better detectives because of Brenda—and they trust her implicitly even when they roll their eyes at her antics. Like any procedural, the story structure is familiar from episode to episode: Brenda arrives at the crime scene and barks orders, the team picks through the evidence and suspects, somebody says something offhand that inspires Brenda, who then lays her trap for the prime suspect in the interrogation room.
Extras consist of deleted scenes for most episodes, a short blooper reel (which includes some surreal moments where Sedgwick breaks character and drops the Southern accent), and a featurette called "Breaking Down The Closer." This last piece is a solid overview of the series, beginning with creator James Duff's mandate from TNT to create "a companion piece for Law and Order"—and the revelation that Brenda was based on his own personality. Kyra Sedgwick's husband Kevin Bacon offered to stay home with the kids so she could work on the series. We also learn from James Duff the secret behind Brenda's air of civility, that "'thank you' is the all-purpose curse word in the South." Indeed, most of this featurette focuses on Brenda and Sedgwick's performance, with only cursory glances at the other characters. Good stuff, but next time around, can we get some more love for the supporting cast, guys? How about getting some of them together for a commentary track or two?
My fear after the first season—that Brenda's quirks would become annoying as the show progressed—turned out to be unfounded, as Sedgwick and the show's writers have wisely toned down the wackiness as Brenda has become more settled in her life in Los Angeles. The supporting cast has found its rhythm, and the stories hold together reasonably well. As enjoyable as the first season of The Closer was, I find the second season even stronger. The magic of the series has always been in the performance of Kyra Sedgwick and the chemistry of the show's ensemble cast. Both are so finely tuned in The Closer: The Complete Second Season that you might wonder how the third season could even match, much less exceed, one of the best procedurals currently on American television. So far, I've only seen a few episodes of this latest season, but I look forward to seeing how close it gets. And I hope L.A. piles up enough high-profile murders to keep Brenda Leigh Johnson and her team hard at work for a long time to come.
I confess! Put me in a room with Brenda, and I'll tell everything! I'm guilty!
The Closer: The Complete Second Season is acquitted, however.
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