How the Spin-Off That Is ‘Major Crimes’ Holds Up in Its First Season

[11 June 2013]

By Jedd Beaudoin

Major Crimes is essentially The Closer with a few minor alterations. Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) steps in for the departed Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick). Raydor wants a stronger sense of team but her colleagues, especially Lieutenant Provenza (G.W. Bailey), are more than a little unsure of how this new arrangement will work. The early episodes of the season aren’t just comprised of tense and awkward moments between the characters, they’re comprised of truly awkward writing and performances from the cast. The tone feels wrong––the humor’s weak, the script’s stiff; by the second episode you begin to wonder how The Closer ever became an acclaimed series with this lot hanging around.

However, the episodes do get better. Graham Patrick Martin (Two and a Half Men) plays Rusty Beck, a juvenile under police protection who’s having more than a little trouble adjusting to his current environment. The moments that he shares with McDonnell are frequently touching and genuinely interesting even though McDonnell is, elsewhere in the series at least, sometimes icy, even robotic.

There’s the problem of Kearran Giovanni’s (One Life to Live) character Detective Amy Sykes, who’s a suck up and at times frightening in her ineptitude. It’s not so much that Sykes is annoying, it’s that Provenza’s overreactions to her are often unbelievable. (Bailey’s acting faucet has two settings––full blown and completely off.) After awhile you start feeling bad for both the character and for Giovanni for being saddled with some of the crap written for her.

Some of the episodes even feel like retreads of previous television shows: “Medical Causes”, in which a policeman dies under mysterious circumstances, feels a whole lot like at least one episode of Quincy and The Ecstasy and The Agony. It only features some weak attempts at humor, but humor that was already stale during the first season of NBC’s Riptide in 1983.

There are some thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful episodes, including “Out of Bounds”, in which a teen’s murder sends a community reeling, and “Dismissed with Prejudice”, in which an eight-year-old murder conviction is overturned. Roughly half of this first season features material that’s entertaining, smart, and believable. But those good moments can’t entirely erase the bad. Because the series itself never really seems to find its footing in season one, the viewer is left feeling adrift, even disinterested. You begin to wonder if there’s anything here that you haven’t already seen on Law and Order or any number of other police dramas.

Major Crimes is ultimately that thing that is all-too-common in television: an ill-conceived spin-off that will find a temporary audience but will never quite live up to the original series. Of course Major Crimes has an audience, and a significant one at that, but one wonders how long this series can hold its attention.

This three disc set includes a number of bonus features: two featurettes about the series itself, a shorter segment introducing Giovanni and an interview with Martin. There’s a gag reel and a number of deleted scenes to round out the experience, though nothing so amazing that it couldn’t have been left out of the collection without worry.

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