Just what the world needs, another crime drama set in a big city. It seems that you can't turn the channel without bumping into another cops-n-robbers show. To tell you the truth, I'm getting a little burned out on the genre, which is why I didn't watch The Closer when it first aired on TNT. My wife wasn't nearly so jaded however and she quickly fell in love with the show, though no amount of prodding on her part could get me to watch it. When the first season became available on DVD however, I thought I'd give it a try. Much to my surprise the show quickly became a favorite with intriguing life-like characters, interesting mysteries, and exceptionally strong endings. After watching the first couple of shows I became a convert. It's easy to see why people were calling it the best new program of 2005.
Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) has been brought to LA from Atlanta by L.A. by Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) to lead up a new special murder investigation task force. In the TV world as in real life, the LAPD has taken it on the chin by blowing some high profile murder cases, and the bad publicity has lead to the creation of this new unit. They wanted an outsider to be at the head, and Pope has selected Johnson because of her uncanny ability to 'close' a case; often by obtaining confessions that nearly guarentee a conviction.
The problem that Brenda faces is that all of her fellow officers resent that fact that she's leading the special unit because she's an outsider, but also because she's a woman. Her abrasive personality, she's more concerned with solving a crime than being nice, doesn't help the situation and neither does the fact that she's very good at her job. This last bit really galls Capt. Taylor (Robert Gossett), head of robbery and homicide. He set up the unit Johnson is now heading under the assumption that he would be leading it. To add insult to injury, she out ranks him.
The focus of the show is on the cases that the unit is handed, but they
show enough of Brenda's life to make her a very realistic three dimensional
character. That's the show's first strong point. Brenda is
very disorganized, can't seem to learn her way around Los Angeles, and
her southern accent becomes more pronounces and sugary when she's really
mad. (Whenever she insults someone, she always seems to be smiling.)
She also has a complex relationship with food. Though she tries awfully
hard, Brenda has to struggle to resist junk food, especially when she's
under stress. Which is all the time. This last aspect really
hits close to home and made me instantly like her.
The cases that she solves often have a twist or unexpected development in them, which makes them enjoyable, but the show's really not about who did it. There were several episodes where the identity of the murderer was telegraphed long before it was revealed, and these episodes are just as good as the ones you don't figure out. The plot really revolves around is how Brenda is going to get a confession out of the murderer, especially when even the worst public defender will council their client not to say anything. (And California has the death penalty.) That's always the climax of the show, when Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson reads the suspect his rights, then convinces them to waive their right to a lawyer, and then obtains a confession. The amazing thing about the show is that this part of it is believable and really rings true.
If I have one complaint about the show, it's that during some of the investigations coincidence plays too much of a role. In one show Brenda is in a victim's house alone for pretty much no real reason (with the door unlocked), when someone waltzes in, mistakes Brenda for the victim (whom they have never met), and gives her some key evidence that she would have never discovered otherwise. Though this doesn't happen often there are a few instances that made me roll my eyes. She also calls in a few too many favors from her hunky-yet-sensitive FBI agent boyfriend (Fritz Howard played by Jon Tenney), but that's mainly an excuse for him to make an appearance. The ending of the shows are so strong though, that it's easy to overlook these minor flaws.
Another aspect of this season that works really well is that there's an overall story arc that plays out over these thirteen episodes. When Brenda comes into the department at the beginning, every one of the officers under her direct command puts in for a transfer to another department before they even meet her. As the series progresses she slowly tries to win over these very skeptical men (and one woman.) Not by being nice to them though, but by working them hard and being very good at her job. There's some symmetry between the first episode and the last, and though I usually dislike this overused technique in movies, it did work well in this show.
There wasn't an episode that I didn't enjoy in this season, but a few stand out as being particularly good. The pilot really kicks the show off well, introducing the characters and setting up the dynamics of the LAPD and it's easy to get hooked on the show after that one episode. Good Housekeeping was my favorite installment though, where an illegal immigrant's daughter is raped and murdered and a known sex offender was spotted near her house before the attack. Things aren't as simple as they seem of course, and the ending was particularly good and a bit surprising. Fatal Retraction was also a strong episode, where it comes to light that the person a psychopath was convicted of killing wasn't the victim after all. Brenda has to discover who was killed and try to get proof that the psycho did it, before he kills again. This was a fairly tense show and it sets up some story lines for later seasons too.
In addition to the strong scripts the show has an excellent ensemble cast. Kyra Sedgwick (the wife of Kevin Bacon) is outstanding in the lead role. She manages to walk that fine line of being hard and professional yet feminine and vulnerable also. It's a meaty part, with her character having to come across as very competent yet also worried about the problems in her professional life and she's more than up to the task. Not always relying on dialog, Sedwick makes Brenda Johnson live through her actions; such as the way she eats Hostess Ding Dongs and the near sybaritic pleasure she get from consuming them.
J. K. Simmons (Law and Order, Oz, Spider-Man and many others) also breaths life into his role as the Assistant Chief of Police. His character is on Brenda's side, but you're never sure if it's just because he hired her, or if he'd sell her down the river if it would suit him. He plays his ambiguous role well and is one of the more interesting characters in the show.
While all of the special unit's officers are played by very talented actors, my favorite has to be Detective Lt. Provenza played by G. W. Bailey (M*A*S*H and, ironically enough, the Police Academy movies.) His sardonic character provides a lot of comic relief to the show, and also one of it's most touching moments. His snide under-the-breath comments are hilarious, as is his impersonation of his boss. He adds the right amount of levity to the show without making it seem irreverent.
One last thing that is very striking about the show is that it doesn't have a standard opening. Instead of a theme song with a montage from previous episodes, they jump right into the show after plain white text on a black background gives the name. Over the first minute or two, as the plot starts to unfold, the actors names are intercut with the action. A very nice way to get into the show.
The thirteen episodes that comprise the first season of The Closer are presented on four DVDs. These come in a pair of thinpak cases which are housed in a slipcase. A very nice compact set, slightly thicker than a single standard DVD case.
This series comes with a stereo English soundtrack, which fits the show well. The dialog is clear and the range is adequate. The only subtitles available are French and Spanish. Inexplicably there are no English subtitles which effects the audio grade.
Now we get to the bad news. The back of the slipcase notes that the show is presented in full frame, as originally broadcast, which would be fine except it is wrong on two counts. The show was originally broadcast in widescreen, and these discs reproduce that image, luckily, but it is not anamorphically enhanced. The upshot is that if you have a widescreen TV, as more and more people now, you'll have bars on the left and right to reproduce a 4:3 screen, and inside that smaller you'll have bars on the top and bottom to give the picture it's widescreen aspect ratio. Why they did this is beyond me. It's a significant error that brings the video rating down a lot.
Besides that, the picture was fine. The colors were good, the image was sharp and the detail was fine. The show was a tad dark in some places, but that is undoubtedly the way the creators intended it.
I was disappointed in the sparse extras included with this set. The only thing that is included are deleted scenes for most of the episodes. These scenes were very good, better that your average deleted scene that's ususally cut for a good reason. I can only assume that these were deleted so the show would fit into its time slot. As much as I enjoyed these, I wish they had included more bonus material. A commentary track with the writers and especially the cast would have been great.
This is one of the few current television shows that is really excellent. Kyra Sedgwick does a fantastic job in the title role, and the ensemble cast that supports her is outstanding. The scripts are generally well written and they all have very strong endings. Even if you're a little tired of cop shows, the quality of this one is high enough to win over all but the most jaded sceptics. Women working in typically male dominated industries will particularly enjoy the show, as my engineer wife does. I only wish that Warner Brothers would have done this DVD set right and presented it anamorphically enhanced as it should have been. That knocks it down a bit, but even so this set is Highly Recommended.