August 15, 2012

TV: Major Crimes (TNT, Monday 9)

TNT's Major Crimes isn't a spinoff from The Closer so much as it is a direct continuation. Gone are Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson and Detective David Gabriel, off to work in the District Attorney's office (leaving them close by for the occasional guest appearance).

Taking over as the new head of the LAPD Major Crimes Unit is Sharon Raydor (Mary McConnell), and none of the returning detectives are thrilled with her by-the-book approach. Even worse, the city is insisting on a new approach; getting confessions is being downplayed in favor of making deals, because plea bargains are cheaper than trials.

Two new cast members join the old Closer crew. Kearran Giovanni is Amy Sykes, an ambitious young detective who's just been assigned to Major Crimes; she doesn't get enough to do in the first episode to give us much sense of the character. Graham Patrick Martin is Rusty, a homeless teen who Raydor takes into her home for safekeeping before he testifies in an upcoming murder trial. That's a risky plot, and Rusty could easily become the Cousin Oliver of crime dramas, but Martin and McDonnell have a sharp chemistry, and the producers have enough residual goodwill with me from the seven season of The Closer that I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Given that 90% of the cast and the setting are the same, the differences between the shows come down mostly to the differences between former lead Kyra Sedgwick and new lead Mary McDonnell. By the end of its run, The Closer had taken advantage of Sedgwick's scattered, frantic energy to turn Brenda into a marvelous comic character; some episodes of the show bordered on farce.

McDonnell, on the other hand, couldn't do scattered to save her life, and her chilly laser focus brings a very different energy to the show. She's not without humor, but her style is less about broad dialogue and physical comedy, and more about impeccably timed reaction shots and droll understatement.

In part because of the change from Sedgwick to McDonnell, it looks as if Major Crimes will be a darker, less broadly comic series than The Closer was. But then, The Closer began as a more conventional crime drama and only gradually developed its comic edge, so it's possible that Major Crimes will lighten up over time, as the writers get the hang of writing to McDonnell's strengths.

Major Crimes is a perfectly safe and seamless continuation of the franchise, and there's no reason it shouldn't run just as long as The Closer's seven seasons.

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