July 9, 2012



THE CLOSER:  Monday 9PM on TNT


WHERE WE WERE:  The LAPD, where Atlanta emigre Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), having triumphed over the initial prejudices of her all-male squad, has forged a well-earned reputation as the person a guilty suspect would least want to face in an interrogation room.

WHERE WE ARE:  Nearing the end.  Sedgwick made it clear in advance that after 7 years, this would be her last season of THE CLOSER, which allowed the network and producers to put a final season plan into place.  The series will segue–they hope seamlessly–on August 13 into the launch of spinoff Major Crimes, which will feature most of the same cast members (notably absent J.K. Simmons, currently LA Chief of Police Will Pope–Simmons has chosen instead to topline the ABC sitcom Family Tools), with the squad to be headed by Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell), who until now has been an Internal Affairs investigator alternately pursuing and helping Brenda Leigh at various times.

THE CLOSER has evolved a surprising amount for a relatively straightforward procedural.  For the first couple of seasons, Brenda Leigh was a semi-comic Columbo figure, all fruity Georgia accent and barely-hidden yen for chocolate bars when she was stressed out, unable to find her way around Los Angeles, who of course had a razor-sharp mind beneath the magnolias.  The show was essentially a US transposition of the British Prime Suspect (years before NBC failed at doing it the old-fashioned way), with the central drama being that the men serving under Brenda Leigh, including Detectives Gabriel (Corey Reynolds), Provenza (G.W. Bailey), Tao (Michael Paul Chan), Flynn (Anthony John Denison) and Sanchez (Raymond Cruz) treated her with no respect, especially once it became known that then-Assistant Chief Pope had an affair with her in Atlanta before bringing her to LA. It took a while, but as Brenda Leigh locked down one killer after another, and had her men’s backs as they needed her, eventually the other cops came to appreciate and even revere their boss.  (Although one of the ticking time-bomb plotlines suggests that a member of her squad has been providing damaging information to her foes.)

Since that initial situation could only last so long, the show went in an interesting direction, probing  just how far Brenda Leigh would go to catch a murderer, and making her character progressively darker and less thoroughly likable.  Last season was dominated by a lawsuit brought against her and the city because she’d essentially offered a suspect up for murder when she couldn’t get him to confess, releasing him openly and with no protection in the territory of a rival gang.  Even Brenda Leigh’s loyal hubby, FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) has had to take a step back when his wife and colleague is singlemindedly willing to do anything to break a suspect.

The final season premiere, written by Co-Executive Producer Steven Kane and directed by Steve Robin, returned to the closest the show has had to a Hannibal Lecter figure:  the rapist/killer lawyer Philip Stroh (Billy Burke), whose M.O. is to partner with another criminal and then represent him, tainting any possible evidence that could exist against him.  Stroh is very smooth, and Brenda Leigh has never quite been able to shut the door on him.  As she gets more intent on putting him away, she becomes more ruthless, and in tonight’s episode she manipulated a bipolar rape victim, in the hope that the woman would identify Stroh–but it turned out that Stroh wasn’t guilty of this particular crime at all, providing a rare instance of Brenda Leigh looking like a fool, and doubtless setting the stage for her to really break all the rules as she goes after him in these ultimate episodes.

The Closer is of course dominated by Sedgwick, who’s shed most of the fluttery mannerisms that marked the first seasons of the show, and now is as tough as any cop on television.  She’s backed, though, by a first-rate ensemble, each of them able to step forward when a particular episode demands, but also forming an expert support corps when the focus is on Brenda Leigh, as it was most of tonight.   Many of the storylines are routine, with easy-to-predict killers, but especially in the last few seasons, there’s often an unexpected edge or twist along the way.

TNT will miss The Closer, the show that put it on the map for original programming and still one of its higher-rated efforts.  It’s not every show that improves with age and success, and transferring that combination of skills into Major Crimes will be a challenge for the network.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."