Arguably the most popular of cable TV's eccentric-cop shows, The Closer returns for its sixth season on TNT with Kyra Sedgwick's police chief Brenda Leigh Johnson irritated and distracted. She and her team have just moved into an expensive, state-of-the-art headquarters, and of course, very little of the high-tech equipment works. (Brenda is the sort of person who can exclaim and moan simultaneously: ''Those horrible new interview rooms, oh my!'')
A dithering Brenda is an entertaining Brenda, and in the season premiere, she's also a thwarted Brenda: Early on, she conducts a suspect interview in her patented deceptive, aren't I silly? manner, only to be shut down by the guy being grilled, who sees through her shtick.
By this time, you'd think we'd be tired of her shtick too, but The Closer has retained an amusing, compelling edge. This is thanks primarily to Sedgwick and the less ostentatiously frantic of her costars (I'm thinking of Jon Tenney as her husband, and the calmer office presences such as Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, and Raymond Cruz). Following The Closer is the premiere of a new series, Rizzoli & Isles, starring Law & Order's Angie Harmon and NCIS' Sasha Alexander as Boston crime solvers. Based on characters created by best-selling thriller writer Tess Gerritsen, Harmon's Rizzoli is a tomboy cop; Alexander's Isles is a fashionplate medical examiner.
In other words, Cagney & Lacey this is not. Laverne & Shirley is more like it ith guns and lab coats. Meticulously designed to play up their disparity for humorous effect (Rizzoli's a slobbo jock; Isles is a neatnik!), the first episode establishes that the title characters have good chemistry neither star strains for likability or wacky humor. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, well, we'll see how the series develops.
TNT and USA (Burn Notice and White Collar) have staked out the territory for crime shows that blend elements of comic relief with mystery-solving. And the broadcast networks, which used to have great success with follow-the-evidence, avoid-the-private-lives series (such as the CSI and Law & Order franchises), are trending in cable's direction with personality-driven series like Bones and Castle.
All of this is a reaction to two things: the more serious shows on HBO and Showtime with which the networks and basic cable can't compete (from The Sopranos to Dexter), and the string of ratings failures for ''dark'' cop shows on the networks (from EZ Streets to Boomtown). With The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles, you're in the company of smart women who know how to laugh at themselves and close cases. The Closer: B+ Rizzoli & Isles: B