Sunday, August 19, 2012

Major Crimes is just The Closer "Reloaded"

TNT's new drama series, MAJOR CRIMES, picks up right where The Closer left off without missing a beat. Airing immediately after the series finale of The Closer, "Reloaded," the first episode of the new show, follows most of the same characters, including Fritz (Jon Tenney) in a small part, in most of the same settings. It is essentially the same show.

Well, without Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda, of course. She isn't the only main character gone, but she is the one leaving the biggest hole, stepping down in a semi-forced retirement as head of Major Crimes. Gone is her personality, which seemed to fill the halls. Gone are her methods of rough and tumble interrogation. And by the end of "Reloaded," gone, too, is her candy draw, a symbolic cleaning out of the office now occupied by another woman.

Replacing Brenda is Sharon Ryder (Mary McDonnell), who already has a presence in the office, but steps into the larger role. Sharon wants to play things a little closer to the vest, go by the rules more often, and favors the more sensible deal-making strategy over dramatically closing the case. It's an adjustment, to be sure, but it's one that makes sense to modern sensibilities and economic realities. Brenda had outgrown the position, and she wasn't what was needed anymore. Sharon is the perfect replacement, moving things forward, continuing the growth of the Major Crimes division.

But even though Brenda is gone, it is eerie how much stays the same. Virtually the entire staff sticks around, and gets more to do as a result of Brenda's absence. Whereas Brenda ran roughshod over her department, even though she was quite fond of her underlings, Sharon has a more laid back approach that gives each officer more opportunity to step up and carve their own niche. Brenda was the lone burning star during her reign; now each detective has the chance to stand out in their own ways.

Not everyone takes these changes very well. After all, they got used to Brenda, and had become quite fond of her. The same will happen to Sharon in time. But as someone already established as an antagonist, it will take her awhile to win the people over.

Most challenging for Sharon will be Provenza (G. W. Bailey). Strong willed and fiercely loyal, of course he challenges Sharon right off the bat. He blames her for running off someone he cares deeply for, and perhaps he thinks that he can get her to leave, opening up the door for Brenda to return. What Provenza has trouble seeing is that Brenda is never coming back. Once that knowledge sinks in, he will begin to come around.

In "Reloaded," Sharon immediately establishes that she has what it takes to put up with the flack she is getting, and begin to turn the negative opinions of her around in her own, non-aggressive way. At one point, Flynn (Andy Denison) berates his new boss for screwing everything up. Rather than get upset or argue with him, Sharon takes his words and uses them to break the case. Flynn has to be impressed with her, as viewers surely are, to see how composed she can be, and that she doesn't let the personal matters distract her. Sharon understands the situation, and she is determined to work through it.

In an effort to give Sharon a home life, as Brenda's was an important part of the show, MAJOR CRIMES quickly introduces a teenage boy for her to take in. Actually, it's the same teenage boy from the finale of The Closer, Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), who will be a main character in this series. Given that Sharon already had been established in the universe, it makes sense to bring in someone new for her, rather than try to force a family that simply didn't exist before. Also, using Rusty lends a continuity between the two shows that will be welcome for fans.

McDonnell is no Sedgwick, but that's a good thing. If Sharon were too similar to Brenda, it would invoke comparisons, which would be enough to kill any show following as popular a series as The Closer was. However, MAJOR CRIMES takes a different tact, letting things bloom naturally, the characters blowing off steam and grieving before eventually moving on with their lives, as anyone would in the same situation. It's a worthy follow-up.

Now, that's not to say things are all a bed of roses. There are still a number of issues with MAJOR CRIMES. The biggest is the same disease that afflicted its parent show. MAJOR CRIMES, like The Closer, is largely a formulaic procedural. This means that, while some larger arcs may appear, there will never be that much introduced to rock the boat, episodes will almost always end with a return to status quo, and the majority of screen time is taken up by the case of the week, which will not impact upon any other week's case. These elements automatically knock the score down, lending a shallowness to the show that is unfortunate, especially given how fantastic most of these actors are.

That being said, as far as procedurals go, MAJOR CRIMES, like The Closer, appears to be pretty strong for the genre. It's writing is relatively tight, and the first story was suitably compelling. The guest actor playing the dad of the perp lacked a bit in the believability department, but it's hard to find fault with the rest of the crime, if you're into that sort of show.

In short, MAJOR CRIMES should adequately fill that gap left in the souls of fans by the departure of The Closer. Continuing a successful franchise is a smart move for TNT, and it seems like much care and thought went into making sure it was done right. These efforts show, and will likely maintain plenty of viewers in the coming years.

MAJOR CRIMES airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.

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