There's been some mild hoopla over the current crop of female detectives on TV crime dramas. The most recent addition is Glenn Close as the steely Capt. Monica Rawlings on The Shield. Close's Rawlings joined a cohort that includes Kathryn Morris' Lilly Rush on Cold Case, Sonja Sohn's Kima Greggs on The Wire, Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU, Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace), Marg Helgenberger and Emily Procter (both from the CSI franchise), and Patricia Arquette (Medium). My feeling is that each of these women, while suitably attractive with interesting backstories, pale considerably when compared to the newest addition to this field of crime-solving women, Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, played by the sublime Kyra Sedgwick on the new TNT series The Closer.
Now, anyone who's read "TV Eye" for any length of time knows that I'm not a big fan of police or procedural dramas. But Sedgwick and The Closer are superb. As with other contemporary crime shows, it starts with a case, usually a grisly murder that's become par for the course on these series. But as soon as Sedgwick's Johnson steps onto the screen, you know things are going to be different. A lot different. First of all, everyone hates her. Imported from Atlanta to head a special crime unit of the Los Angeles Police Department, her mostly male colleagues are miffed when the outsider is promoted over them as deputy police chief. Johnson is not given the ghost of a break. The good news is she can dish it out as well as take it. When a male detective twice her size tells her she "doesn't need to be a bitch" about following procedure, Sedgwick's Johnson looks the detective in the eye and says with the silky intonation of a steel magnolia, "If I didn't mind being called a bitch to my face, I would have stayed married."
No, she didn't.
Oh, yes, she did!
The character of Brenda Leigh Johnson among TV's female crime solvers is not a natural addition. No, she owes her appearance to earlier characters like Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote), Peter Falk's Columbo, and Angie Dickinson's "Pepper" Anderson from Police Woman. Sedgwick's Johnson is quirky, intellectually sharp, emotionally grounded, and, yes, vulnerable. But when worse comes to worst, Johnson is exceptionally polite in that Southern manner that can be as cutting as it is kind. In Brenda Leigh Johnson, we have a poised woman who is damn good at her job and knows it. She also has a knack for choosing the wrong men and fights a peculiarly wicked sweet tooth. Sedgwick's closing scene in The Closer's pilot with a chocolate covered snack cake is deliciously erotic and humorous at once. It's hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off with as much aplomb.
Sedgwick is indeed splendid, but gets plenty of help from head writer James Duff (The D.A., The Agency) whose pilot episode lays the groundwork for the series and introduces viewers to an exceptional character who transcends the genre she was born into. Co-stars include J.K. Simmons (Oz, Law & Order), Corey Reynolds (The Guardian), and G.W. Bailey (who starred in and directed Larry L. King's The Dead Presidents' Club at the State Theatre).
The Closer premieres commercial-free Monday, June 13, 8pm on TNT.
Around the Dial
The Al Franken Show returns to the Sundance Channel for a second season. For those unable to listen to Franken's three-hour program carried on Air America Radio, this is an hourlong version of the humorist's radio show. Katherine Lanpher co-hosts. The Al Franken Show returns June 6 at 10:30pm on Sundance.
Six Feet Under begins its fifth and final season Monday. At last season's end, everything was in flux. Nate and Brenda were trying to navigate a relationship. David and Keith were reaffirming theirs with discussion of raising a child. Ruth was dealing with a troubled husband. Claire's artistic life was beginning to take flight, and Federico was living with the repercussions following an unfortunate dalliance. In addition to the regular cast, guest stars in the fifth season include Kathy Bates, Joanna Cassidy, Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, and Jeremy Sisto.
New episodes of Six Feet Under air on Mondays (moved from Sundays) at 8pm beginning June 6 on HBO. Check local listings for other play dates.