August 28, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 2 REVIEW: “Major Crimes”




A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

Three major creative decisions were made by the people and entities behind The Closer spin-off MAJOR CRIMES–those being series creator James Duff, studio Warner Bros Television and network TNT–when they put the new show together.  3 episodes into the run, none of them are working out very well.

The first was to pass the baton of series leadership from Kyra Sedgwick’s departing Brenda Leigh Johnson to Mary McDonnell’s Sharon Raydor, who until now had been Closer‘s dour representative of LAPD Internal Affairs.  It turned a show that had been about a charismatic, daring (sometimes dangerously reckless) protagonist into one about a bureaucrat.  It also gave the new show the feel of a series populated by supporting characters alone, all milling about in search of a star.

The second decision was to change the focus of the show’s Major Crimes Unit itself.  Instead of manipulating criminals into confessions that allowed the cops to lock the baddies up and throw away the keys, the new Major Crimes acknowledged that most of the time, it would be impossible to assemble enough evidence that would stand up in court and guarantee a conviction and maximum sentence.  Therefore, the Unit’s goal was to find just enough evidence so that the suspect would agree to a plea bargain, which would save the city the cost and risk of a full trial and at least keep the criminal off the streets for some period of time.  This is logical enough, especially in the current economy, and may well be far more in keeping with real life than The Closer ever was, but a TNT procedural isn’t exactly The Wire, and reality in this instance has limited dramatic impact.  It’s just hard to get excited about a murderer pleading guilty to manslaughter, which on this show would count as a win.

Finally, in order to loosen Raydor up and give her a home life, the show has provided her with Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), a teen ex-street prostitute who’s now essentially Raydor’s ward, living in her apartment because his real, irresponsible mom has deserted him.  There was a season of The Closer where Brenda Leigh had to cope with a mildly delinquent teen niece who tagged along to crime scenes while she gradually became a nicer person, and the Rusty storyline is like a much worse version of that one.  As it happens, tonight’s third episode, written by Supervising Producer Michael Alaimo and directed by Paul McCrane (forever Dr. Romano from ER), was very Rusty-heavy.  Raydor had gotten Rusty to agree to stay with her on the condition that she find his mother, and tonight she did, and was very kindly supportive (within rigid social service rules, of course) of his reuniting with her–the rest of the squad even raised $500 to pay for the costs of Rusty’s mom coming in from Reno.  Inevitably, the mother never showed in LA, and by the end of the episode–after he and Raydor had a moment, bonding over their respective brands of emotional repression–Rusty was obediently applying for the private school Raydor had arranged for him.  It was all terribly cloying.

Major Crimes is an unsatisfying procedural without a strong star and with a flat plotline outside the station house, and that doesn’t make for much reason to watch.  The ensemble, almost all of them veterans of The Closer, continues to be accomplished (for a couple of episodes, G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Provenza got to stand in for the audience by strongly resisting Raydor and the squad’s new strategy, but now he’s reverting to being a cranky pussycat).  Even when it was The Closer, the show never shined because of its plotting.  Tonight’s episode featured a seemingly drunk driver who mowed down 4 pedestrians, but it was instantly clear that someone must have drugged her into the act against her will, and the show only gave us one viable suspect.  In the absence of Brenda Leigh’s interrogation skills, it was topped with a very hokey scene of the driver surreptiously recording the real criminal into a confession.

Major Crimes held on fairly well in the ratings in its 2d week on the air, with a 0.9 in 18-49s and 5.4M total viewers (meaning that more than 75% of its audience was over 50 years old).  That’s down only about 10% from what The Closer was doing in the weeks before its big finale, and if the new show can hold at that level, TNT will count it a victory.  It’s significantly older-skewing, however, than the successful shows on the network’s arch-rival USA, so it isn’t exactly a smash.  In a way, Major Crimes is television’s version of The Bourne Legacy–a professional but unexciting rehash of work that was done better the first time around.


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."