Sometimes Sedgwick's character is a little, shall we say, heavy handed.
By HAL BOEDEKER
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
"The Closer" has a so-so opener.
Mystery fans will figure out the big plot twist before the heroine reveals it, and yet she works in a flamboyantly dramatic style that commands attention anyway.
She is Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), who repeatedly irritates her new colleagues in the Los Angeles Police Department. The CIA-trained interrogator has leapfrogged over them to lead a unit that handles celebrity murder cases. She barges in at crime scenes and questions underlings' abilities. She makes an impression, all right: Every member of her unit longs to transfer.
Whether viewers will want to follow them is unclear from "The Closer," which debuts commercial-free Monday on TNT. The dramatic series represents another example of a main character being more intriguing than the plots. The same setup has produced big ratings for Fox's "House," with its brutally frank physician played by Hugh Laurie.
The small stuff
On "The Closer," Brenda is most interesting in the small moments, when she speaks cryptically about her broken marriage or an ethics inquiry in her past. She hints at a romantic history with her boss, Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons). She wrestles with her fondness for sweets, from doughnuts to chocolate.
Brenda is less riveting in the grand moments, which are predictable. She must demonstrate to her unit that she's brilliant. She uses the interrogation as her theater, wowing colleagues with her questioning and reinforcing her gift for closing a baffling case.
Detective buffs know the routine. Helen Mirren has played it to perfection as Jane Tennison on "Prime Suspect." The highly appealing Sedgwick works diligently. But Brenda's first case, a woman's grisly slaying, is nowhere near as complex as "Prime Suspect."
Early on, Brenda sums up the situation, "All we have is a woman we can't identify murdered by a man who doesn't exist."
Unfortunately, "The Closer" keeps the focus so tight that the possible explanations quickly dwindle. You probably won't be as shocked as Brenda's detectives at the revelation.
Still, the raging turf battles in the police department seem true to life. The existence of Brenda's unit is designed to keep the department from "sliding back into O.J. (Simpson) territory," her boss says. Perhaps some authentic touches come from Gil Garcetti, the former L.A. district attorney, who serves as a consulting producer.
With crime procedurals dominating prime time, it's refreshing to see one that puts the emphasis on character. Sedgwick is surrounded by actors who fume expertly. Allison Smith gives a delicate performance as the secretary to a missing suspect. Jon Tenney puts in a dashing appearance as an FBI agent who is obviously interested in Brenda, although she seems oblivious to him.
"The Closer" could follow a rich storytelling path by having Brenda try to balance some sort of private life with her career.
"I never bluff," she says. "I just express my optimism forcefully."
I can't be forcefully optimistic about "The Closer" on the basis of one episode. But with stronger writing behind her, Sedgwick could close the deal.