A couple of weeks ago what I think is the best show on television aired its last original episode.
The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division, ended its network run on August 13 after seven seasons as a limited run summer series on the TNT cable channel and I’m already missin’ me some Brenda Leigh.
Perhaps from what I’ve already written, or if you’ve seen the show yourself, you can guess why I love The Closer so much. Kyra Sedgwick is absolutely spot-on in her portrayal of Brenda Leigh Johnson, a former interrogator for the CIA and former Chief of Detectives for the Atlanta Police who finds herself in the strange new world of L. A. Who would’ve thought that a nice Jewish girl from New York City could so perfectly adopt the persona of a li’l ol’ Southern girl from Atlanta who turns out to be a “steel magnolia,” far tougher than she looks? One of my pet peeves as a native Southerner and a lifelong lover of movies and TV is the way that Northern actors frequently overplay and caricature Southern characters. They exaggerate a Southern accent to a ridiculous, unrecognizable degree and present their characters as buffoons, psychopaths, religious zealots, or some combination of all three.
As played by Kyra Sedgwick, however, Brenda Leigh Johnson is none of these. She is tough, passionate, driven, intensely ambitious, yet also capable of great tenderness and vulnerability, despite the cruelty, brutality, and deceit she sees as part of her job. Kyra Sedgwick nails not only a Southern accent (you’d swear she was from Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta), but the whole Southern way of being, if you will. Brenda is tough as nails at work but otherwise constantly afraid of giving offense, and terrified of offending her parents, especially her sometimes overbearing father. The subtle, ironic twist she can give the phrase, “Thank you,” or “Thank you so much,” (which often implies just the opposite of what it says) has become the show’s tagline. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, here’s the backstory:
After she is accused of misconduct and forced to resign from the Atlanta Police (but later cleared by an ethics inquiry), Brenda Leigh Johnson is approached by her former boss and sometime lover, Will Pope, who is now an Assistant Chief with the LAPD. He offers her the rank of Deputy Chief and command of an elite squad of detectives, at first called Priority Homicide and later Major Crimes. They will investigate especially sensitive, high profile murder cases that will reflect badly on the LAPD if they are not handled correctly and solved quickly. Chief Johnson acquires the nickname “The Closer” because of her unique talent for eliciting confessions from suspects during interrogationconfessions that close cases.
At first her fellow officers and even the detectives under her command dismiss her as a hick and a hayseed, or even worse, an interloper and a bimbo who got her job by sleeping with the boss. Over the course of the series, however, she wins the respect and loyalty of her squad and even the grudging admiration of her critics in the department as she proves she is a very good cop who knows what she is doing.
She’s not perfect, however, either personally or professionally. At the end of Season Six, she makes a highly questionable decision regarding the release of a murder suspect that costs the man his life and nearly ends her career. In the series finale, she essentially sacrifices her career to trap the one criminal who has eluded her because she knows he’s guilty but can’t prove it. She’s flawed, vulnerable, and immensely engaging and sympathetic right up to the end, which is a testament to the show’s fine writing.
Thus far I’ve focused on Kyra Sedgwick’s importance to the show as star and executive producer, but of course the writers and directors also deserve major credit for the show’s success. The stories are compelling, full of twists and turns and tangled ethical dilemmas that leave the audience with something to think about long after the episode is over. The supporting cast is excellent; each detective is well-drawn, a fully realized personality. Some episodes move Chief Johnson somewhat into the background and allow the spotlight to fall on one of the detectives; other episodes have a lighter tone and allow the cast to show off their considerable comedic talents.
If you haven’t seen the show, do yourself a favor and watch it now. All seven seasons are available on DVD for sale or rental, and perhaps even for digital download for you to enjoy. If you did, I’m sure Brenda would “Thank yew!”