I don’t think “The Closer,” which wraps for good tonight at 9, will enter any pantheon of TV series. During its seven-season run, you knew it was never going to be as embedded in the culture and as lasting as, say, “The Wire” or “Homicide” or “NYPD Blue.”
But still, the TNT series has been a consistently intelligent procedural, with highly dramatic moments of justice and the law at cross-purposes. It has excelled not just as a vehicle for the extraordinary Kyra Sedgwick and her mostly male ensemble, but as a crime-of-the-week drama with blind plot turns, unsentimentalized victims, and indelible criminals. Just when you thought “Law & Order” and “CSI” had played out every possible spin on murder cases, “The Closer” writers would manage to invent tension-filled new ones.
That’s a great accomplishment, and one that could easily be overlooked in the light of the show’s colorful characters and Los Angeles setting. When people will remember “The Closer,” the writing is what they may forget, because they’ll think of Brenda and her candy drawer and her cat and her almost preternatural ability to close cases. They’ll think of her spectacular fashion fails and her accent. They’ll think of Lieutenant Provenza and the staccato way Brenda pronounced the name Lieutenant Provenza, especially when she was angry.
But for me, bottom line, it was the crimes of the week — with their inordinately good guest actors, including Billy Burke as rapist Phillip Stroh — that kept me coming back, even more than my great affection and admiration for Sedgwick’s performance. Hugh Laurie was amazing on “House,” but when the writing of the weekly medical cases drifted, so did I.
OK, point made. “The Closer,” created by James Duff, was far more of a hard-hitting “Prime Suspect”-type show than a “Murder, She Wrote” soft-serve, despite one of my dear friend’s insistence. Now I can praise Sedgwick, who created a morally layered woman on TV at a time when morally complex men — Tony Soprano, House, Don Draper — were the thing. Sure, there was a touch of camp in her performance — Brenda’s Southern voice was never too far from Dustin Hoffman’s in “Tootsie.” And in the occasional lighthearted “Closer” episodes — my least favorite — she showed comic agility. But Sedgwick’s Brenda was also fierce and withering.
There were scenes during the run of “The Closer” when Sedgwick was a full-on dramatic powerhouse, often when she was in an interview room with a suspect. She could talk a perp into a corner, then spring on him or her like a leopard. Her rage against the technicalities of the legal system could be blinding, so much so that she once delivered a guilty-but-freed man to his murder by fellow gangbangers. She lied as a matter of course, to get to the truth. Her loyalty to the victims was profound and passionate. Sedgwick has a few of her emotionally devastating moments in tonight’s finale, about which I will say nothing except that it’s very satisfying and true to the spirit of the entire series.
Sedgwick made Brenda’s Southern-belle fluster part of her strength as a detective. It was her trademark technique. She would lure in persons of interest with a flaky facade, trying to disarm, to make the other person underestimate her. It was her way of playing on the other person’s female stereotypes before pouncing, a method it took her sexist crew a while — actually, the whole first season — to fully appreciate. As catch phrases go, “Thank you, thank you so much” is among the strangest and most feeble. But Sedgwick gave it a sly ironic bite and made it irresistible.
For TNT, and for basic cable, “The Closer” has been a godsend. Like USA’s “Monk” and FX’s “The Shield,” the show brought the first large series audiences and Emmy nods to non-premium channels. I’m sure TNT would have preferred to drag its top-rated series out, but Sedgwick knew better. After playing a brilliant closer for seven seasons, she rightly sensed exactly when to close this particular case: when it was on top.