Mary McDonnell and Phillip P. Keene star in "Major Crimes." (Karen Neal, TNT )
Like one relay runner to the next, TNT's police procedural"The Closer" hands its baton, or nightstick, to"Major Crimes" Monday night; the latter series will begin just as the former ends, with the briefest narrative gap between them.
It was star Kyra Sedgwick's desire to move on from playing Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, the head of a fictional LAPD unit devoted to high-profile crimes, that brought down the curtain on "The Closer." But why scuttle the ship just because the skipper's left? Why throw out perfectly good bathwater with the departed baby? It seems likely now that Mary McDonnell's Capt. Sharon Raydor, Brenda's former nemesis and reluctantly accepted ally, was being positioned for this job for perhaps some time.
Significant details aside — new title, characters going or coming, a slight change of focus — this is substantially the same series, maintaining the tone and the pace and the places and many of the faces of its predecessor. As before there is a nice balance between social drama and personal business, the tragic and the comic, exaggeration and authenticity. Los Angeles looks good in close up and long shot.
FOR THE RECORD:
"Major Crimes": A review of the TNT series "Major Crimes" in the Aug. 13 Calendar section failed to include the first name of its star, Mary McDonnell. The article also misspelled the last name of the character she plays, Capt. Sharon Raydor, as Rader. —
Sticking around are G. W. Bailey (as Det. Lt. Provenza), Tony Denison (as Det. Lt. Flynn), Michael Paul Chan (as Det. Lt. Tao), Raymond Cruz (as Det. Sanchez), Phillip P. Keene (as Buzz, the video guy); and Robert Gossett (Commander Taylor, moving up to become assistant chief, as J.K. Simmons' Will Pope is promoted out of the series to be chief of police).
We also lose Corey Reynolds, sadly, whose Det. Sgt. Gabriel follows Brenda to her new job and a series that will live only in our imagination, and fan fiction. (It exists; I have checked.) But we gain Kearran Giovanni as an ambitious new detective who will maintain the ethnic breakdown of the squad, and bring another woman into the room. (The district attorney's office plays a bigger part here, as well — this is a show in which plea bargaining, and the money it saves, are seen as heroic.) And Jon Tenney (who, in the best favor television has yet done him, played Brenda's FBI agent husband in "The Closer") will drop by now and again to liaise.
Where Sedgwick's music was chaotic and bright, McDonnell's (as it was in "Battlestar Galactica") is modulated and cool, but with a blue-flame intensity. (In bop terms, she's like Chet Baker to Sedgwick's Dizzy Gillespie.) She seems to be one who keeps her head when all around her are losing theirs (and sometimes blaming it on her), but also sets us see that her feelings are complicated and that her composure is harder-won than it looks.
Brenda could be unorthodox to the point of illegality — her concerns were more moral than ethical, you might say, which created the problems that brought McDonnell's internal affairs investigator into the picture in the first place. Sharon pays more attention to the Book by Which Things Are Done: "God does she love the rules," someone says. But she is happy to find new ways to make them suit her needs.
As at the beginning of "The Closer," there is resistance to the new boss — not because she's a woman this time, but because she had been the (perceived) enemy of the woman she replaced, and whom they had come finally to respect and (it was that sort of series) love. But if "Major Crimes" lasts, and it ought to, I predict they'll come around. As should you.