The first season of The Closer spin-off Major Crimes continues to head into the final run of episodes with “The Shame Game,” the seventh of a ten episode run. At this point, the show is already chugging along like a well-oiled machine…perhaps a little too well-oiled, if you ask me.
To be sure, the crime procedural drama is a genre unto itself, and by now, everyone knows how it works: a crime is committed and, more often than not, our team, typically with prominent help from one key member, solves the crime and fingers the wrong-doer, all within a single episode. Sure, occasionally someone foils the cops or gets away, more often than not in service of an ongoing story arc that carries over the season, sometimes into the next; but eventually, the criminal is caught or killed.
Major Crimes had a lot going for it going in, more than most of its ilk. Namely, a cast viewers were already familiar with, thanks to the enormous success of The Closer, which will no doubt continue to run ad infinitum in reruns for the foreseeable future. One can never underestimate the value of a solid supporting cast, and Major Crimes certainly has that going for it.
On the other hand, shows like this also need a strong lead, and The Closer certainly had that in Kyra Sedgwick, who won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her efforts in the career-defining role. One of my favorite things about TV is that it often gives actresses who never quite broke through-or whose careers were on the wane- a second chance at the brass ring.
Mary McDonnell already had hers’ with Battlestar Galatica, where she landed the plum role of President Laura Roslin. There’s nothing to say she can’t have another, but the interesting thing about her role on Major Crimes is that her character on The Closer was one that was brought in as a foil to Sedgwick’s. In other words, we were supposed to root against her, not for her. Then Sedgwick opted to bail out and the show was faced with a choice: continue on with a new lead, or close up shop.
Far be it for me to not wish the cast well in their endeavors, but the jury’s still out on whether the right choice was made. As ever, G.W. Bailey still gets the best lines, and he and McDonnell have a nice prickly anti-chemistry. Basically, Major Crimes resets the cast so that it’s back to square one: just as our now-familiar supporting cast bristled at the arrival of Sedgwick early on in The Closer, so do they have an uneasy relationship with McDonnell. The problem this time around is that our predisposition is to dislike McDonnell’s character right along with them.
In the most blatant attempt to soften McDonnell’s character, a teenage character was brought in towards the end of The Closer, which she has been saddled with living with. More jaded viewers might see this as thinly-veiled attempt to recruit a younger audience, but the fact is, if they weren’t onboard by the end of The Closer, they sure won’t be interested in watching Major Crimes. After all, the median age of the entire cast is 40-and-up at best, which means its audience is probably the same age, for the most part.
Nothing wrong with that, but said character, Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) isn’t particularly endearing. Yes, his character is a former gigolo that has undeniably had a hard life and has good reason to be surly, but still, it’s not really doing the show any favors, save maybe a nice scene where McDonnell was almost driven to tears. Even I almost got a bit choked up, finally seeing a softer side to that thorny veneer.
Wherein lies the show’s true problem. As nasty as Brenda could be on The Closer, she had just enough quirks to make her likable: that twangy Southern accent that was often deployed both seductively and as a concealed weapon, plus her love of junk food and her cat(s). McDonnell has no comical side, nor seemingly any sense of humor whatsoever. That’s a problem in a lead, unless you’re playing it completely straight, and The Closer never did. If The Closer was like a comfy new slipper in a style you liked that fit just right, Major Crimes is that slipper almost ten years later- still somewhat comfortable, but showing some wear, nonetheless. Not that it has to be the exact same show as The Closer, but it does feature almost the entire cast from that show, so…
“The Shame Game” was a decent enough episode, if predictable overall. It was nifty seeing David Naughton, of “An American Werewolf in London” fame, for the first time in ages. Unfortunately, he was wasted in a small role that didn’t turn out to mean much in the grand scheme of things. However, the door was left open for his return, so we’ll see if that pans out later.
The plot revolved around prostitution and a man supposedly trying to help teens get off the streets who was murdered. Was he a pervert, or a saint who got in the middle of a situation with a pimp? Or did he see something- or someone- he shouldn’t have?
The answer was vaguely predictable, but I’ve seen better episodes of TV involving a similar plotline, notably on CSI: Miami” I’ve no doubt Major Crimes could make a comfy living churning our episodes of TV just like this, but if it doesn’t fix the inherent problems keeping it from rising to the heights of The Closer at its finest, it might just be case closed before it begins for the freshman series.