For some time now, a shadow has haunted Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer: It’s Mary McDonnell’s Capt. Sharon Raydor, a cop who is as orderly and commonsensical as Brenda is frowsy and intuitive. Many of the producers who are behind both The Closer and its new spin-off, Major Crimes, are trying mightily to make as smooth a transition as possible to maintain The Closer’s large, loyal audience. But there are fundamental distinctions between these two characters that render the shows very different.
Over the years The Closer had become a light-comedy crime show with heavy-handed humor used not just by Sedgwick but also the supporting squad-room cast that has migrated over to Major Crimes, including G.W. Bailey and Tony Denison. The show’s increasing silliness had begun to verge on self-parody — not the right drift for a vehicle that had won Sedgwick a drama Emmy.
The Closer’s series finale brings a fitting, if rushed, conclusion to Chief Johnson’s career, as she faces off against her longtime archnemesis, serial rapist Phillip Stroh (The Twilight Saga’s Billy Burke). Since her introduction in 2009, McDonnell’s Raydor, with her maddeningly methodical, by-the-book manner, has clashed with Johnson and her crew. Me, I’ve always found Raydor’s serene assurance a palliative to the twitchy eccentricity of Sedgwick’s Johnson. (As she proved on Battlestar Galactica, nobody does soothing sensibleness better than McDonnell.)
And so while Raydor initially bruises a few egos — notably huffy Lieutenant Provenza’s (Bailey) — by the end of the Major Crimes premiere, we see how things are going to go from now on. Relying less on instinct and showy interrogations, Raydor commands her unit with a nice brusqueness, gathers clues, and solves cases with airtight logic. The primary problem with Major is its slow pace. (Crime details are repeated for any viewer who dozed off during a commercial.) The second flaw is Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), a homeless lad who is introduced during the final Closer and taken in by the single Raydor in the first Major to lend her personal life some drama.
McDonnell doesn’t need this subplot. Her air of faintly mysterious gloom is reason enough to watch her, even if the scripts are not sufficient motivation to tune in every week. Seeing The Closer close and Major Crimes open in back-to-back episodes on Aug. 13, I found a pronounced difference in tone. If I had to guess, I’d say poor Raydor is going to encounter as much initial resistance from Johnson fans as she endures from the familiar team of cops caught in the middle. C+