Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Moronic Opening of the Otherwise Excellent Closer

Since returning to increased leisure, I've been catching up on my TiVo backlog of TV crime. I hadn't been a huge Kyra Sedgwick fan previously, but I'm really enjoying her in TNT's The Closer. This series has a wonderful ensemble cast that finally includes pleasingly crusty, older cops that resemble the detectives I've met. It has interesting plots enlivened by tiers of political wrangling. Most importantly, Sedgwick's very good as the anchor character of Brenda Lee Johnson, a Georgia-born and CIA-trained interrogator transplanted from Atlanta PD under an ethical cloud to become Deputy Chief of a high profile crime squad in LaLa Land that reports to her former, married lover, the Chief of Police. Enough fish-out-of-water backstory complications for you?

Many "edgy" shows overuse the jarring device of canted camera angles and quick cuts to add action to a program type which needs development of mental conclusions and, therefore, can easily become a Dragnet-style narrative or stilted conversation between people who already ought to know the information they're querying from each other. Instead, in The Closer, there's a notable amount of physicalization in Sedgwick's role and in much of the rest of the cast's which is welcome and enriching. They could add more and I'd still love it. It's nice when the actors get to tell at least part of their stories without voices, otherwise we could listen to an audiobook instead. I don't believe I've ever heard BLJ confess or even discuss at length her weakness for sweets and battle with cravings, though any regular viewer knows about it. Actually, contrary to the common trend of cop-to-cop total disclosure, Brenda reflexively keeps secrets from her superiors and staff, and plays out her hypotheses in front of them and us. That's a real strength of the show, though there are, of course, weaknesses.

The show's premise collapses unless lots of people decline representation, so everyone must recieve his or her rights and decide to walk into the southern-fried woodchipper nonetheless. Apparently BLJ forgot her own CIA roots in a recent episode where she's blasting the FBI under an assumption that they will de facto torture her suspect whom they've coopted as a possible terrorist. I think the writers tried to be "balanced" with this hot topic, but having an American-raised Muslim man assault his mother in a crowd of police at the station while failing to notice BLJ saying "record this" isn't any more believable than Brenda's confidence that if her questioning failed, no one will bother confining him and asking again. Get out the truncheons! Let the Egyptian police beat it out of him! Still, I generally find the series believable, applying the TV standard of the term to a form that would be unentertaining if realistic in comprehensive detail or elapsed time.

The Closer remains surprising, quirky and human (not pompous or disaffected) despite being dark, a tone which always appeals in a crime series. However, for the entire season, I've winced during the warning that precedes the show:

The following program may have content that is sensitive to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Yikes. I think they mean to say that the content may be disturbing to sensitive viewers, and that's true of any program depending on where your hot buttons are located. The current, mushy definition of sensitive is less useful than the simple fact that the graphic consequences of violent crime will be shown. But based on how this statement actually reads, I've been trying to alter the program with my concentrated brain rays all season and I don't believe I've changed one syllable of dialogue or one post-it note on the cluttered set. Guess I'm not one of the "some viewers" to whom the show's content is sensitive. But, if they change this blatant malapropism for next season, I'll change my perception of my own incredible powers. Why start any smart show with stupidity?

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