Reviewed by C.J. Bunce
The first season of Major Crimes was better than the last season of The Closer. It even had individual episodes that out-performed several episodes of the entire run of The Closer. Since the production was working with pretty much the entire cast of The Closer sans the series lead, is that a commentary on Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Lee Johnson? Heck no, but the freshman year of Major Crimes convinced me that The Closer picked the right time to end a good thing. Major Crimes is a good series in its own right that should be judged on its own merits. Yes, it has its faults, including some clunky writing in its season finale. Yet considering it was set up for failure from almost the beginning of the last season of The Closer, Major Crimes surpassed the typically lackluster performance of any season one effort.
Mary McDonnell, playing series co-lead Captain Sharon Raydor, expanded her one-note character from The Closer into a multi-faceted, intriguing role. Raydor has every bit as frenetic a daily schedule and home life as Captain Johnson, yet she chooses to deal with stress differently. Where Johnson was a drama queen, Raydor compartmentalizes her angst, but up to a point–a point where she can’t hold back and is forced to let loose on the criminal of the week, Assistant Chief Taylor (Robert Gossett), Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), or her crew. Raydor is swift and level-headed where Johnson was knee-jerk and reactionary. Where series fans began tiring of Johnson’s never-ending craziness, Raydor has restored some Dragnet-esque drama that was missing. The lynchpin of an episode of The Closer was Johnson’s closing the deal with the week’s bad guy and putting off or ignoring her personal life. The audience for Major Crimes gets to see Raydor connect the dots of the week’s case with a well-oiled ensemble cast, deal with her personal life, and, unlike Brenda, keep her composure. Her role was further highlighted when contrasted with new addition Kearran Giovanni as the smart but green Detective Sykes, whose annoying nature was finally smoothed out (after a near fatal encounter mid-season which earned her some street cred for viewers) into a good-humored member of the team by season’s end.
McDonnell is facing this leadership role as she did with the role of President in Battlestar Galactica. At first she seems hesitant and uncertain of her abilities–both as an actor and character–and then she moves comfortably into the role for the remainder of the series. The key moment of season one for Raydor’s character was co-lead Lieutenant Provenza (G.W. Bailey) admitting to Rusty that he didn’t like Raydor–Provenza felt bad enough for Raydor despite resenting her– and then tells Rusty that he should realize how much she cared about him in a very guilt-inducing manner. If Provenza could turn the corner, then the audience could, too. And we did.
G.W Bailey can really do no wrong. He may be the most likeable and sincere-seeming fellow on television. And his character reflects something many people feel or at least have felt before–under-appreciation–and here, in the workplace when he doesn’t get the promotion he thinks he deserves. Provenza has little choice. He just must “deal with it.” And instead of whining and kicking the sand with his heels like a little kid, he assumes his own leadership role. His influence causes the rest of the staff to follow suit. And no one needs this influence more than his old partner of sorts, Lieutenant Flynn (Tony Denison). Both Provenza and Flynn were often relegated to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum roles in The Closer, and here they get to fully show they are detectives in every sense, on par with the cops on the original Law and Order or even Joe Friday and Bill Gannon in Dragnet.
The members of the force that don’t really need the positive influence are Lieutenant Tao (Michael Paul Chan) and Detective Sanchez (Raymond Cruz), who bring to the table their own good work ethic, almost hanging behind the scenes until its time to reveal their hidden genius. One highlight of Season One was “Dismissed with Prejudice,” an episode centered on Tao, on a case from his past where he supposedly convicted the wrong guy. Tao is an incredible source of obscure information and his knowledge of the trivial that becomes critical keeps the series exciting. Challenging this icon of integrity was a little bit jarring, yet typical of a season where the writers shook up each and every character like never before done in The Closer. No one gets off easy, and throwing the characters and actors into turmoil really brought out a season of great performances.
In contrast to the prior week’s episode that was more light-hearted fare that dealt in part with Provenza’s self-doubt and entertaining the use of a “life coach” tied to the week’s case, the best episode of the season may have been the best episode on TV period this year. The fifth episode “Citizen’s Arrest,” focused on the disturbing case of bodies found around L.A. in canisters that become tied to a kidnapping. Reaching a new level of violence and realism for the Closer/Major Crimes franchise, viewers were frozen to the screen for the entire hour leading up to the final chilling rescue at the end of the episode. And Detective Sanchez was able to shine with his own mastery of detail and common sense, and show us as both the soul of Major Crimes–and the supercop we almost lost for his heroics in The Closer.
You also have to mention the consistently great yet subordinate roles of regulars Fritz (Jon Tenney), Dr. Morales (Jonathan Del Arco), Buzz (Phillip P. Keene), and Assistant Chief Taylor (Robert Gossett). Juggling such a huge cast cannot be easy, yet all these characters are fully fleshed out, likeable and watchable. When given the chance by the writers, these characters upstage the rest of the cast.
Although the last episode of the season “The Long Shot” seemed to be written by a different crew, it came together in the end, in a story element that seems pretty strange when standing back–the cheery and successful removal of a boy from his father. That boy of course is Rusty, and the father was his father by biology only, who slugs him in the prior episode, “Cheaters Never Prosper.” In every other series I can think of, my absolute least favorite TV element is the child member of an ensemble cast. With an ensemble cast all in excess of 40 years old, Rusty still fills that kid role here, albeit this “kid” is a 16-year-old former gigolo played by a 21-year-old. But here Rusty is the very thread that held the series together all year. His character reminded us that this L.A. crime stuff has its roots in grim reality. And it expanded the idea of family in a prime time TV show–a family that goes beyond traditional roles. Lieutenant Flynn played an uncle of sorts, standing with Rusty waiting for his mother to arrive at the end of the episode “Medical Causes.” In fact Provenza, Tao and Sanchez stand ready to beat the pulp out of Rusty’s dad in the season finale like wolves ready to protect a member of the pack. Buzz gets to be that older brother that is tired of taking care of his sibling. And Raydor gets to fill a void missing in her own life–family at home–while giving Rusty more motherly concern and care than he’s ever known.
This season definitely gave viewers a lot of ups and downs, humor, intrigue–drama–the thing the TNT cable network brags about. It’s reflected in no better series on the network than Major Crimes. Happily for fans of the show, the series has been renewed and will return next summer.