October 30, 2014

TNT’s ‘Major Crimes’ Finishes Successful First Season

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Image from Major Crimes pilot episode

Tonight brings the season-ending episode of Major Crimes, TNT’s replacement for The Closer. Major Crimes reprises nearly all of the police team from The Closer—lacking only the former protagonist played by Kira Sedgwick  and a couple of other central charactersand replaces Sedgwick’s character with a new boss of the LAPD Major Crimes unit, Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell).

Comfortably filling the time slot previously occupied by its popular predecessor The Closer, Major Crimes was the top-rated new cable show this year. TNT has renewed the show  for next summer, when fifteen new episodes will air. If you haven’t been watching the series (or even if you have), full episodes are available at the TNT website (if your TV provider is included in their options; I couldn’t get the darn thing to run at all, but you may have better luck) and are available for a very reasonable $1.99 per episode on amazon.com.

For Major Crimes, the producers retained the police-procedural format of the show’s progenitor, but they wisely have made sufficient changes to give this show a fresh approach. For one thing, they have placed a bit less emphasis on the central character’s private life. That is all to the good: the mystery stories in Major Crimes are just as compelling as those in The Closer were, and hewing more closely to the story plays to that strength.

There is a new subplot, introduced in The Closer and developed through the first season of Major Crimes, involving a homeless, abandoned teen male who has witnessed a murder and thus requires police protection until he can testify. Raydor takes him into her home—she is married but has lived alone for many years because she and her husband don’t get along but won’t divorce because they’re Catholics—and as is to be expected, there are dramatic conflicts between the two.

Their relationship, however, develops into quite a strong attachment to each other, even though they are very different in surface elements such as age, family background, education, and the like. Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) starts out surly, suspicious, and rebellious—in the manner common to teenagers all over—but he warms to Raydor when he realizes just how hard she has been trying to help him while not asking for any credit or anything in return. Raydor is clearly interested only in what’s best for Rusty, and her religious faith is an evident motivator of her benevolence.

The rest of the major crimes team gets a bit more attention than I recall being the case with The Closer, which is another salutary development. Their personalities are distinctive, and their characterizations create moments of real comedy and drama. G. W. Bailey’s depiction of Lt. Provenza is a highlight of the show, as it was in The Closer, but Tony Denison’s Lt. Flynn also merits notice, as his character’s struggles and personal strength are both brought out in greater detail in Major Crimes. Similarly, Raymond Cruz’s Det. Julio Sanchez is given further development: his quickness to anger (much on display in The Closer) is consistently shown in Major Crimes as a sense of righteous anger. It makes his character even more impressive.

Other characters, such as Lt. Tao and video expert Buzz, are given additional development as well, but the real attraction of the show is the way it pursues the crime stories. In The Closer, Brenda Johnson’s specialty was tricking suspects into confessing their crimes, and a central element of the show’s appeal was her manipulative nature. Although Brenda’s skirting of the law in order to get real justice was an appealing characteristic, it led to her downfall, as it probably would have done in real life. Bureaucracies are not about justice; they’re about following the rules.

And that’s the big theme of Major Crimes: following the rules. Raydor’s recipe for success is to follow the rules to the letter, and to use those very rules to ensure that justice is done. It’s a new spin on the same themes as its progenitor: the tension between law and justice, between law enforcement and individual rights. It’s a theme that has suffused TV crime shows and police procedural novels from the beginning, and it’s an important one. That Major Crimes has found a good angle on the theme and populated the show with interesting characters makes for good television.

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